Former prime minister and current Reform Party MP Taavi Rõivas told ERR in an interview that he has climbed his political heights and has reason to be satisfied with his time in politics. Rõivas is not planning to leave the party, while he will not be running for its boards or the Tallinn city council in the future.
Why did you decide to leave politics and go into the world of business?
I have spent over 20 years in politics and have reason to look back on that time with gratitude. I have seen politics in very different roles having been elected to four compositions of the Riigikogu, and I believe this is the right moment to make that choice. Whether to stay for another 20 years or go and do something in a field where major achievements are still in the future. And I choose challenging myself in a field I'm less acquainted with but one that is definitely exciting.
You also ran for the European Parliament but were narrowly left out. How much of a factor was this in your decision?
I have been elected to the Tallinn city council and the Riigikogu and could continue in the parliament for quite a long time. So, this is in no way a forced choice. It is good to make the decision as a free person, not constrained by circumstances. It is also made simpler by the fact there is strong support from the Reform Party and that we have a very good team. I feel the party will do just fine even if I'm doing something else.
Would you have made the same decision were the Reform Party in the government today?
Sooner or later. Estonian politics would be far more pleasant, I have no doubt. But I told the board some time ago that I will not be seeking ministerial office should Reform be included in a government again. I have achieved my political heights and I have reason to be satisfied with that.
Several other young and active members of the Reform Party have left politics recently – Remo Holsmer, Kalle Palling, Lauri Luik, Arto Aas. What effect will this exodus of young yet experienced politicians have on the party?
I believe it is entirely normal when people move from politics to the private sector, just as it is normal when this traffic is reversed. We can give Andres Sutt or Kristiina Šmigun-Vähi as examples of people who joined the Riigikogu after reaching the top in their previous fields.
What the people you named have in common and what I find very important is that leaving the Riigikogu was not a forced choice for any of them. They could all take that decision after getting a strong mandate from the people. I have been very sad to see people forced to leave politics, often very unfairly because voters no longer support them.
Is the Reform Party on the correct path today or how do you see its future?
The Reform Party is definitely on the right track. Unfortunately, Estonian politics in general is not living its best days. I'm not just referring to specific ideological differences but also political culture in general, how open or closed we are in our allied relationships, what are our strengths and weaknesses internationally.
As concerns the Reform Party, I believe no government is perpetual and the current one is no exception. The times we are living in Estonian politics once again demonstrate that the Reform Party is truly needed. And Reform Party leadership is truly needed.
It turns out that a balanced budget is not a given as alternative governments seem to have trouble achieving it. Nor does seem given that Estonia's national defense can only grow stronger. Sadly, alternative developments are also possible. People are realizing today that things that might have seemed self-explanatory a little while ago have really been the result of great efforts.
Could we see Taavi Rõivas return to politics in a few years' time?
Former Reform Party secretary general Heiki Kranich told me 20 years ago, when we were discussing a politician leaving, that politics is a lot like "Hotel California" in that you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
I have no plan of returning to politics today – far from it. But I know that even if I tried to switch off completely and not keep an eye on politics, I would surely fail. I feel very much responsible for how Estonia is doing. We have made great efforts with fellow Reform Party members and coalition partners in very different governments to make sure Estonia thrives and it would be rather strange to expect me to be disinterested all of a sudden. On the contrary – I will definitely be keeping a close eye on politics, while making an effort not to butt in. I believe that if one leaves politics, they should do it in a way that leaves others room to act and make statements.
Will you be leaving the board or the party and what about the city council?
I will serve out my mandate on the board and in Tallinn city council, while I will not be running for either again. That said, I see no reason to leave the party. I remain a liberal and a supporter of Reform Party policy and want to cheer Reform on. Rather, I believe that people outside of politics could demonstrate their ideological support by joining political parties.
Editor: Marcus Turovski