EKRE's environment minister candidate would not put logging ban to a vote

EKRE's candidate for environmental minister, Rain Epler.
EKRE's candidate for environmental minister, Rain Epler. Source: ERR

Rain Epler, advisor to Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) and EKRE's proposed candidate for environmental affairs minister, said he is up to date with environmental topics and hopes to end the logging war, but is not in favor of posting the question on the plebiscite set to take place on April 25, 2021.

On Wednesday, Minister of Environment Rene Kokk (EKRE) announced he will step down from his position due to health reasons, but will still keep his seat in the Riigikogu.

On Thursday, ERR reported that advisor to the Ministry of Finance Rain Epler is likely to be the candidate for the role. Epler has a background in insurance but is also a member of the supervisory boards of the State Forest Management Center (RMK), Kredex and Enterprise Estonia.

ERR: Ministry adviser Rain Epler, can you confirm that you are EKRE's candidate for the seat of environmental affairs minister?

Epler: Martin Helme has made a proposal to me. He asked if I would agree to be the candidate but there are more candidates, as far as I know. And there is a council meeting on Saturday where the final candidate will be decided.

It is undoubtedly an interesting proposal. Having worked as a finance ministry advisor for 18 months, topics regarding the environment ministry's and European Union's green initiatives have been on my table. I have dealt with these issues in depth. As a member of the supervisory board of the State Forest Management Center (RMK), I am up to date with passionate logging topics. The decision came from the symbiosis of these things.

The forestry development plan for the next 10 years is still unapproved. Where do you stand on it, do you consider yourself a carrier of a green worldview?

I would ask the media for a little more time to get acquainted with the subject further. I personally think that forests need to be managed. But the logging war in Estonia must be ended, parties need an agreement, the pressure from both sides is great. So that is the first thing I will deal with.

What kind of education do you have?

I have finished secondary education, I studied economics at the University of Tartu and two years in [TalTech] IT College, but both courses were left unfinished.

How boldly will you head to the environmental ministry with your education? Are you not afraid of the officials there wrapping you around their finger?

The legend of doing that to new ministers lives strong. I have seen that in the finance ministry before, how the tension between politicians and officials works. I have dealt with these subjects for a year and a half now. I have learned in the private sector that you cannot do anything alone and the team is important. That is why you must create your own team of advisers and the building is filled with specialists you can lean on. I hope I can manage.

You became a member of EKRE on October 30 this year. Why so late?

I sent an application well before then, I was confirmed as a member at the end of October.

Why did you not join earlier? Usually, ministry advisers are part of the ministry's party.

I cannot say why I did not join the party earlier. I guess I did not think of it, was doing substantive work then. And the thought came to me in October and that is when I joined.

Am I concluding incorrectly, when I say that you joined because the minister (Martin Helme - ed.) said there is something that needs to be formalized, because an important leap upward in your career is approaching...

I did not have a discussion with the finance minister about joining the party. When I came to be an adviser, we had an agreement that I would advise on the topics I can advise on. I believe I managed well and there was no pressure to join the party.

What impression have Estonian officials left, are they stubborn? Was it unusual for them that a finance minister came and really began to exercise his political agenda?

It seems to me as if the situation was truly unusual to them at first that a minister and his advisers are doing substantive work. But I only received praise from finance ministry officials, they are very professional and used to the situation. Officials have a clear vision of how to do things and move things in the direction.

What do you think of the Estonian Greens' proposal to add questions regarding forestry and logging to the marriage-themed plebiscite? Discussions regarding the forestry development plan have crashed, could the public decide?

I would not say right away that I would put that question to a public vote. I would rather not. The public should decide on some important questions but not on more specific topics.

A narrative has emerged in Estonia that a dumb public will make dumb decisions, let decisions then be made by a smaller and wiser circle. That is cynical. There is nothing bad in the general plan if important questions are decided by public surveys but I do not consider it necessary to set forestry questions on the plebiscite.

One important strategic decision for Estonia is also the use of shale oil in the future. The European Union's ambitious climate change program will practically draw a line over the mining of shale oil. Are we moving too fast?

I am not certain it would mean a sudden stop in mining. Having seen the European Union's green policy and initiatives of the green pact, we have interpreted European recommendations as an order to do something immediately.

It must be read thoroughly, how much has been obligated to us and how much is left for regional decisions. We must have a good plan on what to do with Ida-Viru County going forward.

Should phosphorite mining studies be permitted in Estonia? Some Estonians are even against studies.

We should certainly do research. Denying research on our land is not reasonable behavior.

Should the development of a pulp mill near Tartu have been permitted? Did something go wrong there?

I think it is wrong to build off emotions and then it is thought we should rather not study it. That is the incorrect approach. We must research topics that seem unacceptable and incorrect at first, then the picture must be made clearer for ourselves.

Since the public does not know you well, I will finally ask, are you married? Do you have any kids?

I am married and have three children.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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