Toomas Sildam: Ratas or Helme misleading the public on Rail Baltic?

PM Jüri Ratas with Latvian and Lithuanian colleagues in February.
PM Jüri Ratas with Latvian and Lithuanian colleagues in February. Source: Office of the Government of the Republic of Estonia

One of the two is misleading us – either Prime Minister Jüri Ratas who says his government wants to move forward with Rail Baltic as quickly as possible, or Minister of the Interior Mart Helme who recently said his party has stopped Rail Baltic, journalist Toomas Sildam writes.

The coalition of the Center Party, Conservative People's Party (EKRE) and Isamaa celebrated a year in power on April 29. To mark the occasion, Ratas' government sent the media an overview of its activities where it communicated, under the chapter "Development of rapid links," that Baltic prime ministers have agreed to keep a regular eye on Rail Baltic progress to make sure "the international railroad is completed during the next long-term EU budget period."

A clear message

Jüri Ratas met with his Latvian and Lithuanian colleagues in early February, after which he told journalists that the three Baltic PMs want to move forward with Rail Baltic as quickly as possible. "We want Rail Baltic to be completed by 2026," the premier said two months ago.

Therefore, the position of the Estonian government should be absolutely clear.

Except it's not.

EKRE chairman, Minister of the Interior Mart Helme recently said on Tre Radio: "Rail Baltic will not move forward. Yes, there is land acquisition and people sitting around being paid. But the project is stationary. It's as simple as that. And it is largely because we have brought it to a halt."

Does that mean EKRE have also halted PM Ratas' promise of moving forward with Rail Baltic as quickly as possible?

Of course, EKRE's program for Riigikogu elections last year, a strong result in which propelled the national conservatives to the government, included a clear promise to end the Rail Baltic project.

The coalition agreement – that also bears the signature of Mart Helme – includes the promise of going over the project's cost-effectiveness, route, timetable and local stops "if the next European Union budget period fails to ensure 81 percent co-financing."

However, the European Union is currently counting on paying for up to 85 percent of the railroad that would connect the Baltics with the rest of Europe.

Naturally, there are different opinions regarding the cost-effectiveness and construction of such a colossal project, with some people in favor and others against it. The same goes for political parties. EKRE positioned itself as clearly anti-Rail Baltic before going to the government, reflecting where many of their voters stood. Could these voters feel betrayed when reading PM Ratas' positive messages regarding the project? Yes, of course. They are the ones Mart Helme was trying to appease and assure that everything is fine and that Rail Baltic will not happen.

However, Mart Helme first needs an agreement with chairman of the Center Party Jüri Ratas and head of Isamaa Helir-Valdor Seeder with whom he shares a government. The three need to discuss whether Rail Baltic has a future and what that future is. It would also be fair to our partners Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Finland whose participation in the project is bound to come up sooner or later.

Estonia's recent allies in the Rail Baltic project have the right to know whether to believe PM Ratas' optimism or suspect Estonians of pulling the wool over their eyes. After all, Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) said on the same Tre Radio talk show how Rail Baltic funds are "spent on things that are beneficial and useful for us but don't really help build the railroad." He gave the example of the airport tram line in Tallinn.

None of it paints Estonia as a trustworthy international partner.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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