Foreign Minister: Reform, Center talks started before Ratas' resignation

Outgoing foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa).
Outgoing foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The current negotiations between the Reform and Center parties started behind the scenes earlier than Thursday, the day when the talks 'officially' began, ougoing foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) says.

Reinsalu points to policy sacrifices Reform has so far made to back up his claim, noting that this could not have happened in the space of a few hours.

Reinsalu: I am 100 percent convinced behind-the-scenes talks had already been going on

Writing on his social media account Saturday, Reinsalu said: "Looking at the items of the domains of the economy and finance agreed, so to speak, yesterday, that Reform is giving up their main pre-election promise, that achieving of balance will continue based on the [rules of the] old government, or actually on the proposal worded by myself in the fall, and other matters of principle, I am 100 percent convinced that actually the negotiations got their start much earlier."

"It is just not possible otherwise to imagine that political parties holding different positions would agree on such issues entailing differences in a few hours. This is unrealistic," Reinsalu continued, calling the current talks, which started Thursday and are headed by Reform leader Kaja Kallas and Center's Mailis Reps, a former education minister, "post-negotiations.".

Following revelations Tuesday that the Internal Security Services (ISS) were investigating claims of bribery and influence peddling involving Center Party members and financial donors and the issuing of a €39-million state loan to a half-finished Tallinn property development, Jüri Ratas resigned as prime minister, in the early hours of Wednesday.

Reinsalu: Center wants to get things moving to deflect suspicions

This led to the ending of the Center-EKRE-Isamaa coalition, with the latter two parties soon to be out-of-office while Center will remain, despite the corruption allegations falling on that party the most (an advisor to finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) is also one of five suspects in the case – ed.).

Reinsalu went on to say that he feels Center got wind of the investigation ahead of it becoming common knowledge, with the change in government a way of throwing out media flak to distract attention from the corruption claims.

Mailis Reps herself had to resign as education minister in November, following media reports that she had misused a ministry people-carrier and driver to ferry some of her five children to or from school.

The rapid progress in the negotiations adds weight to Reinsalu's argument, he says.

"The Center Party is interested in rushing things through, as more information about the criminal proceeding may become public shortly, which would give rise to bigger questions in the public about the Center Party's legitimacy to govern the country," Reinsalu continued in his social media post.

Foreign minister: If you want to talk about reputations, look at Center

The pandemic has also been presented as cause for squaring away a coalition deal as soon as possible, with President Kersti Kaljulaid, who invited Kaja Kallas to form up a new government on the same day Ratas resigned, keen to move things along also.

"When we speak about the reputation of Estonia, then with this case the reputation of Estonia unfortunately took a heavy blow," Resinalu added.

The exit of Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) in particular from office has been reported as the first step in rebuilding Estonia's reputation internationally, even as Center, with a suspended sentence to its name following an earlier large-scale illegal donations conviction – part of the long-running corruption hearings which investigated the party's founder member, Edgar Savisaar – remains in the game.

Who might replace Reinsalu as foreign minister is largely a matter of conjecture, since the negotiators are unlikely to announce their cabinet lineup until the 11th hour, which could be any time from next week to early February.

Jüri Ratas remains Center's leader and is set to return to the Riigikogu.

A Reform-Center alliance was in the aftermath of the March 2019 general election seen as unfeasible. Kersti Kaljulaid invited Kaja Kallas, whose party had won the largest number of Riigikogu seats at 34, to form a government, but only the 10-seat (now 11) Social Democratic Party (SDE) was interested in negotiating with them, which wouldn't have provided a majority at the 101-seat Riigikogu.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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