Mart Helme: I am not old and tired

Mart Helme.
Mart Helme. Source: Vladislava Snurnikova/ERR

Interior minister and outgoing chairman of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) said he has no plans to distance himself from Estonian politics because in terms of age, 70 is the new 50. He also did not rule out working in the Riigikogu or running for president in the future.

Helme said of his future plans: "None of us know what the results will be after the next Riigikogu elections. I can't predict what kind of coalition will be formed and which ministerial posts will be available. I will stay in politics for now."

He said he has worked well with other members of the Ministry of the Interior: "I've built a strong team spirit there. We have built a very good tandem with permanent secretary Lauri Lugna and we have active and flexible cooperation with deputy chancellors, also with the heads of agencies."

Speaking on ERR's Russian portal discussion show "Otse uudistemajast", he said: "And I've launched a number of initiatives which I would like to see through if possible, in other words I hope that this coalition will last until the elections. That is the plan for the next couple years."

70 is the new 50

Helme said: "There has been speculation that I am old and tired. Kaja Kallas (Reform) has tried to speak on this somehow. I am not old and tired. A 70-year old in the 21st century is the same as a 50-year old at the beginning of the 20th century. I have no health problems. I don't see how there could be any obstacles to stay active in politics in this regard."

Helme said he does not think that him stepping down as party leader will reduce his chances of influencing the policies of the party.

He said: "I think I will still influence the party and Estonian politics in general. I get along well in the coalition with the Prime Minister [Jüri Ratas], get along well with Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa). We are working toward getting a better result in this election cycle than we got the last time."

On relationship with MEP Jaak Madison

Helme said he has no plans to be part of the European Parliament because MEP Jaak Madison (EKRE) was chosen for that seat.

Helme said: "He really wanted to be in the European Parliament and he is there currently. That mandate will last for five years and he's been there for barely a year. I think he will have to walk that road and obtain international experience there and mature. Because he has now said he would want to be at a more influential seat in Estonian politics, I think as a place to gain experience and influential reach, the European Parliament is an excellent school for him.

"I think he will be a serious candidate after the next elections, why not for a ministerial post if we were to be in government."

In an interview given to ERR (link in Estonian) in June, Madison said he was ready to become a minister in the current government and he would not have gone to Europe from a ministerial post. Mart Helme formed the current government and there was no seat for Jaak Madison.

Helme said he has no conflict with Madison: "This is journalistic speculation. There are so many people who want to become a minister in the party. Not all of them are well-known. When we are looking for the people who can handle the pressure that comes with a ministerial post, they are not easy to find and still, expertise is never a bad thing."

Helme said the coalition is currently set: "I do not see a reason to reconstruct the government just to make room for someone. That would create so much trouble that it is just not conceivable."

Does not rule out running for Riigikogu or president

Helme did not rule out being part of the Riigikogu after the next election cycle: "After the next Riigikogu elections, we do not know anything. We see former prime ministers and other ministers sitting in those chairs today. It is how the patterns of a kaleidoscope form and we can not predict how that will be."

While speaking of running for president, Helme chose his words carefully.

Helme said: "The presidential seat is something for which the coalition wants to find a common candidate for and I have said that I am not convinced that I am someone who would receive an enthusiastic reception. I am more like a hammer."

If such a proposal does, however, end up being on the table for the interior minister in the future? "Then I will ask my wife if she would let me do it."

Martin Helme is better at economical questions than Jüri Ratas

Helme praised finance minister and son Martin Helme, who is becoming the frontrunner for the now open chairman of EKRE position, saying that he is stronger when it comes to questions about the economy than Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center).

The outgoing chairman of EKRE told the Russian portal of ERR: "Martin is one of the most effective ministers. We have a great relationship with the Prime Minister but Martin would be much more effective when it comes to the economy. Jüri Ratas is an excellent diplomat and that deserves respect. But I consider Martin much more capable when it comes to the economy."

Speaking about the opposition Reform Party, Mart Helme emphasized that Martin Helme would make for an excellent partner for businesses.

Sees dissatisfaction within Reform

He touched on Reform Party repeatedly saying it has started to support state capitalism and there is dissatisfaction within the party in regards to chairwoman Kaja Kallas.

Helme said: "We can also win votes from the Reform Party. They want to develop state capitalism, we want a free market economy. Entrepreneurs are not satisfied with the Reform Party currently. Kaja Kallas is a lawyer, Siim Kallas (founder of Reform and long-time chairman) was a financier and that instilled confidence."

He added: "People were counting on Kaja Kallas but she failed. And now, more and more people are saying changes have to be made so Reform will not push other parties away, including EKRE. Kaja Kallas has pushed everyone away, including the Social Democrats."

The interior minister said: "We could find common ground with Reform in regards to the economy but they keep on supporting state capitalism, we instead want a return of the free market economy."

EKRE has a plan for Ida-Viru County

Commenting on his plans to increase support for EKRE by 10 percentage points, Helme confirmed the party hopes to increase their support at the expense of other parties and also among Russian voters.

He said: "If we can take 3-4 percent of Reform's support, 2-3 of Isamaa's and as much from Center, we can add 10 to our existing support.

"We have a plan for Ida-Viru County. Center is losing support there. They have a strong leader in Tallinn in the form of Mihhail Kõlvart but there is no such leader in Ida-Viru County and that is where we could compete."

Answering for some of EKRE politicians' anti-Russian comments, Helme noted that people are interested in more than just questions of nationality.

He said: "People are interested in investments, environment and employment. Those are the questions we will deal with.

"Martin has visited Ida-Viru County repeatedly and met with local businesses and people. Russians are conservatives, Estonians are much more liberal. Many of our platform's ideas are suitable for Russians."

Isamaa needs to look in the mirror

Answering a question by host Ildar Nizametdinov on why he called Isamaa the weak link of the coalition, Helme said: "I criticized Isamaa so that they would start to think of their situation. If it continues, they will lose their position in the coalition and their political group in the Riigikogu. They need to reconsider all of their members in the government and think of what their role should be. We would like to have a dialogue with them."

Helme concluded: "They will disappear if they do not handle their party. It would not be useful for us if they lose their political group. It would be even less beneficial for them."

Currently, Isamaa is polling around the 5 percent support threshold.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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