Vikerraadio show looks back on one year of coalition in office ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE).
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Government Communication Office

The end of April marked the first anniversary of the current coalition of the Center Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa entering office. Leading journalists Huko Aaspõllu, Taavi Eilat and Heidit Kaio looked at how the alignment, seldom far from controversy, had managed so far.

Aaspõllu: EKRE finding its feet

Huko Aaspõllu said that EKRE had been surprising in its general ability to find people able to step up to the responsibility of office, despite some setbacks, given the party, founded in 2012, had never been in office before.

"[Minister of the Interior and party leader] Mart Helme has completely flown in the face of the ministry," Aaspõllu said, speaking on Vikerraadio show "Rahva teenrid" Saturday morning, adding that in his opinion, cooperation with the head of the Police and Border Guard Board, Elmar Vaher, whom Helme and EKRE had previously attempted to dismiss, was now taking place.

"[Finance minister] Martin Helme is doing very well, or at least he is certainly does not number among the worst finance ministers Estonia has had," said Aaspõllu. 

"He is well acquainted with the issues and although I may not agree with all his financial choices, this is acceptable inasmuch as these are political choices," Aaspõllu added.

Aaspõllu also noted a focus on the part of the current coalition compared with some of its predecessors.

"At the same time, one might also ask what the goals of the previous administrations were. I think that the goal of the current government is to change some of the existing truths and rules, and show the disenfranchised that their concerns are being heard," Aaspõllu said.

EKRE support has generally been held as being drawn from rural and small town Estonia in the main, compared with the more cosmopolitan Tallinn and environs.

Aaspõllu also said that EKRE seemed to have calkmed down more recently and had become more aware of how statecraft works and where the limits lie. As well as the Vaher controversy last August, leading EKRE members have been involved in internal strife at the rural affairs ministry and relating to conflict of interest alelgations and allegations of a cover up over a listeria outbreak at a fish-packing plant, culminating in the removal from office of both then-minister Mart Järvik and long-term secretary general X Illar Lemetti last fall.

EKRE's support had not only eaten away at Center's, but also that of Isamaa, Aaspõllu found.

If this government lasts its entire term, ie four years, then EKRE will now also be part of the elite at the next elections, meaning they will not be able to go to the polls with the same rhetoric they had done in March 2019.

Eilat: Government needs a purpose, not just maneuvering

Taavi Eilat pointed out that once the reduction of alcohol excise duty last summer, and the long-debated pension reform, are done and dusted; the question remains for him - what is the main task, in other words why is something [like the above reforms] being carried out?

"It has not been possible to formulate it, in addition to the political machinations that allowed Ratas to continue as prime minister block the Reform Party from office," Eilat said.

"There must still be a goal to be achieved," he said.

Eilat also noted that the hope of the Center Party's leadership could have been that bringing EKRE to the government would silence their sharp rhetoric. "

But in fact, EKRE is now eating the votes of the Center Party itself - the question is, will the Center Party also benefit from bringing EKRE to government?" he added.

At the same time, Eilat noted rumors of growing dissatisfaction with the party among EKRE supporters, and somewhat of a dissipation in support.

Kaio: Coronavirus led to greater intra-coalition harmony than before

Heidit Kaio pointed out that the current coronavirus crisis has given the coalition an opportunity to improve its internal cooperation. 

"They are definitely working better together now than in the previous three quarters," Kaio said.

Referring to the words of Ardo Hansson, former Bank of Estonia governor, that the current government would be standing on the shoulders of former Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's (Reform) administration, as decisions made in the Ansip era could continue to bear fruit, it was not clear if any future governments could do the same with the Center-EKRE-Isamaa lineup.

" I don't know if anyone can ever stand on the shoulders of the current government," Kaio said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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