Timeline: Center-EKRE-Isamaa coalition's first year in office ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

President Kersti Kaljulaid oversaw the swearing-in of Jüri Ratas' Center-EKRE-Isamaa cabinet on April 29. Ratas had been prime minister since November 2016, previously heading up a coalition of Center, Isamaa and SDE.
President Kersti Kaljulaid oversaw the swearing-in of Jüri Ratas' Center-EKRE-Isamaa cabinet on April 29. Ratas had been prime minister since November 2016, previously heading up a coalition of Center, Isamaa and SDE. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

April 29 marked the first anniversary of the current Center Party-Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE)-Isamaa coalition formally entering office.

Born in controversy after the Reform Party, which had clocked up the largest number of seats for any single party at the March 2019 general election, was locked out of coalition negotiations and failed to form a minority coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SDE), the administration's first year has been peppered with incident even ahead of the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, though several key laws have also been passed.

Predictions both externally and even, on occasion, internally, that the coalition would not survive more than a few months have proven not to have come true, and the lineup or its members have survived a total of four no-confidence votes to date, the last one in December.

ERR News takes a look at some of the waystage events of the past year.

2019

April 29: Having concluded an agreement, the Center-EKRE-Isamaa coalition takes its oath of allegiance at the Riigikogu before President Kersti Kaljulaid. The latter makes her feelings known about EKRE, founded in 2012, entering office for the first time by donning a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words "Sõna on vaba" ("speech is free"), a play on an earlier EKRE slogan, and leaving the chamber altogether when the candidate for IT and foreign trade minister, Marti Kuusik, steps up. Kuusik had faced media allegations of domestic violence, and is ousted from office the next day.

President Kersti Kaljulaid vacated the Riigikogu chamber when it was Marti Kuusik's turn to take the oath of office. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Also at the end of April, the Reform Party enquires what had happened to the EU flags which had been in the parliament's White Hall. New Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas is also an EKRE member.

The new alignment sees regular, organized protests every Thursday held outside the Stenbock House, seat of the government, and moving online when the coronavirus restrictions forbade such public gatherings.

Regular protests have been held by the "Jah vabadusele, ei valedele" ("Yes to freedom, no to lies") group on Toompea from the coalition's inception until coronavirus restrictions forbade it. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

May 16: Reform initiates its first vote of no-confidence in the current administration, in interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE). The vote is later defeated. Kert Kingo is nominated IT and foreign trade minister, but faces a rocky few months in the post, regularly criticized for not traveling abroad in a role which requires it, refusing to use English as a working language internationally, and using a Huawei mobile phone.

May 26: European elections results announced. Elected are Marina Kaljurand (SDE), Andrus Ansip (Reform), Urmas Paet (Reform), Yana Toom (Centre), Jaak Madison (EKRE), and Sven Mikser (SDE). This also marked EKRE's debut in the European Parliament. Riho Terras (Isamaa) is later confirmed as the seventh Estonian MEP, following the U.K.'s formal leaving of the EU on January 31.

June 7: In a second-round vote at UN Headquarters in New York, Estonia wins the Eastern European group's non-permanent seat for 2020-2021 on the UN Security Council, clinching the vote over Romania.

July 1: Excise duty on beers and wines is slashed by 25 percent, reversing a trend for excise hikes in recent years by the previous administration and prompting retaliatory cuts by neighboring Latvia, which had for some time been a destination for Estonians seeking cheaper booze prices.

Mid-to-late August: An effort to remove PPA chief Elmar Vaher from office is thwarted by Jüri Ratas. Interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) had tried to remove Vaher, saying a leaked document in which Vaher said redundancies were imminent in his organization represented an abuse of trust. Finance minister Martin Helme had in fact initiated the attempted removal in mid-August, while the interior minister was on vacation. Martin Helme later issues an apology for having acted unilaterally.

PPA chief Elmar Vaher. Source: ERR

August 30: Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) survives a vote of no-confidence, the second put forward by the opposition Reform and Social Democratic parties.

September 11: Interior minister Mart Helme says working visas for Ukrainians in Estonia should be suspended.

October 23: Kert Kingo (EKRE) submits her resignation as IT and foreign trade minister. Kingo's replacement appointed the following month is a relative outsider, Kaimar Karu, who had been working in London in recent years in the IT sector and was not an EKRE member.

Kert Kingo. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

November 19: Interior Minister Mart Helme tells Finnish newspaper Iltaleht that Estonia, along with Latvia and Lithuania, is planning a plan B to NATO in case the alliance's collective defense fails. Helme's comments spark widespread denial and condemnation.

Minister of the Interior Mart Helme at the EU ministers' video meeting on April 28. Source: Ministry of the Interior.

November 25: Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik (EKRE) is removed from his position after an inquiry found he exceeded his powers. An official, Illar Lemetti, who reported Järvik's activities is also removed from his position on the same day, and receives an apology from President Kersti Kaljuliad. Lemetti says he plans to take the state to court over the decision.

December 16: Interior Minister Mart Helme refers to newly-elected Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin as a 'salesgirl', during a radio broadcast. Helme issues an apology, following personal apologies from President Kersti Kaljulaid to her Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö, though blames the media's role in the incident.

Finnish premier Sanna Marin. Source: YLE

Also in December, a third no-confidence vote in the coalition, this time in Mart Helme, fails at the Riigikogu.

2020

January 1: Estonia formally takes up its non-permanent, two-year UN Security Council seat.

President Kersti Kaljulaid raising the UN flag at Kadriorg on New Year's Day this year, the date Estonia took up its UNSC non-permanent seat. Source: President's office

February 7: President Kersti Kaljulaid declines to sign into being the pensions reform bill, returning it to the Riigikogu as per protocol. The bill aims to make membership of the so-called second pillar of the Estonian pensions system, referring to employee contributions, optional, where it had been mandatory for most wage-earners since 2010.

February 27: The first coronavirus case in Estonia is detected. The individual had been returning to Tallinn from Turkey, via Riga.

Early March: A volleyball tournament on Saaremaa featuring a visiting team from northern Italy, the region worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic at the time, and a champagne festival a few days later, are thought to have been major contributory factors to the island experiencing a far higher incidence of the virus than anywhere else in Estonia.

'Infected with COVID-19' reads the sticker, on a vehicle in Saaremaa. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

March 12: Riigikogu votes in favor of passing the pensions reform bill.

Government declares emergency situation in response to coronavirus pandemic, initially set to end on April 30, this is later extended.

Subsequent measures in March and April see a 14-day quarantine period for those entering the country, all schools in Estonia closed, with students learning remotely from home, travel bans on Estonia's islands, residents excepted, public playgrounds and sportsfields closed, all public events off the table and the imposition of the 2+2 rule (maximum two people to congregate in public, families excepted, minimum two meters' distance from others in public).

March 29: New restrictions announced. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas announces new movement restrictions for the residents of Saaremaa and Muhu islands.

April 1: Pharmacy reforms come into effect, a requirement of an act passed five years before which had faced several challenges at the Riigikogu in late 2019 and early 2020. Under the terms of the reforms, pharmacists should own a minimum 51 percent stake in the pharmacies they work in.

Interior ministry starts preparing bill aimed at returning non-EU, third country citizens who are unemployed to their home states.

April 7: Interior minister Mart Helme says foreign workers, meaning non-EU, third-country citizens, in the agricultural sector in Estonia can remain in the country for the time being. A law passes on April 20 to this effect.

April 15: Government's supplementary budget, issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic effects, passes its third Riigikogu reading.

April 17: Kaimar Karu is removed from his post as foreign trade and IT minister. A lack of cooperation with the EKRE leadership is cited as the reason. Raul Siem is sworn in as his replacement three days later, the fourth person to have held the post in the space of a year.

April 21: Raft of 33 legal amends, including extensions to weapons permits, issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic passes the Riigikogu.

Late April: Estonian hospitals start to resume treatments scheduled before the start of the coronavirus pandemic which had been put on ice as a result of the crisis, the first phase of the government's coronavirus exit strategy.

April 24: Government says the emergency situation is to be extended to May 17, the current expiry date at the time of writing.

April 29: Center-EKRE-Isamaa coalition has been in office for one year. Jüri Ratas hits out at the Health Board's (Terviseamet) handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

May 1: Estonia starts its one-month presidency of the UN Security Council. Meetings are conducted via video link, which foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) says actually attracts more attendees than an in-person meeting in New York City normally would do.

May 2: Since the first COVID-19 case was recorded in Estonia in late February, 1,699 positive cases have been identified, more than two-thirds of these in Harju County, the most populated region of the country, and Saaremaa, by far the hardest-hit region of Estonia per capita. Several outbreaks in nursing homes on Saaremaa and elsewhere in Estonia are recorded in March and April. 53 people have died from causes directly related to the virus.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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