Helme threatens oil plant opponents with leaving EU

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A petition titled "Suspension of the oil plant construction permit" was debated at a sitting of the Riigikogu economic affairs committee for almost two and a half hours on Tuesday - to the surprise of all present, Finance Minister Martin Helme (EKRE) taking part in the sitting called the initiators of the petition dunderheads and, at one point in his remarks, threatened with leaving the European Union, daily newspaper Postimees reports.

The petitioners want clean water, clean air and clean land to be provided to all Estonians, therefore they expect solutions from the state that would support and develop, ensure a livable environment for future generations and achieve carbon neutrality as a state. "This means that our collective greenhouse gas production would not exceed the carbon capture that is mainly carried out by our forests and bogs," they argued.

As the initiators accuse the state that the construction of the oil plant is contrary to the goals of sustainable development and the commitments made in the Paris Agreement, they wanted a discussion on how the country came to the decision to build such a plant.

The economic affairs committee held the debate behind closed doors. Laura Kuusk, the initiator of the petition, admits that she found it strange that the sitting was held behind closed doors, especially as the government supports the construction of the Eesti Energia oil plant with a huge amount of money, 125 million euros. "Martin Helme had decided that they did not intend to withdraw the investment," Kuusik said.

In his remarks, Helme called the initiators of the petition dunderheads and children who should direct their energy to do something better. "It is not a matter of insulting, people may use different language," Kuusk said. "When Martin Helme was asked what the forecasts and the worst case scenario were, he replied that if these become stricter, Estonia would leave the European Union," Kuusk said according to Postimees.

According to Kuusk, the other members of the committee remained rational and deliberate, and quite a few had counterarguments for Helme. "For example, Jevgeni Ossinovski said that a person employed by the state could still be polite to other people. Other members also called on the minister to use reason," Kuusk said.

Henri Holtsmeier, climate activist and co-author of the petition, added that the chairman of the committee, Sven Sester, had made every effort to make them feel welcome at the meeting. "While at the beginning everything was fine and seemed even democratic, then the speech of the finance minister drew an end to all that," Holtsmeier, who belongs to the ranks of the Estonian Green Movement, said. "It cannot be said that Helme did not provide any arguments, rather his arguments were not the most relevant," he added.

Jevgeni Ossinovski, a member of the board of the Social Democratic Party (SDE) and a member of the SDE parliamentary group, said that Eesti Energia management board chairman Hando Sutter also acted arrogantly at the sitting. Ossinovski recalled that he indeed called the minister to order. "I called on him to treat citizens with dignity, to which the finance minister said that dignity must be earned. In addition, someone had also been a dunderhead," Ossinovski said, adding that the committee meeting was very repulsive to him.

According to him, politicians generally behave with dignity, but the attitude of Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) members and their chairman towards a dignified political culture is different. "There is nothing new here, that people, with whom values do not coincide, are insulted. I imagine that it was very shocking for the initiators of the petition," Ossinovski said.

It is difficult to have a dialogue when the fundamental understandings are completely different, Holtsmeier also stated. "When we talked to the finance minister and Hando Sutter, we did not find common ground on whether we have a climate crisis or not," he added.

According to Ossinovski, the arguments of the finance minister and the head of Eesti Energia have not changed since spring. "The finance minister did add an ideological abetment to them about how the global climate crisis is fiction and, as a result, the Estonian environment should be further polluted, as this is economically beneficial," Ossinovski added. "Sad, but no longer surprising," he said.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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