Reform-Center coalition would rebuild defense, security, eastern border

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Kaja Kallas (Reform) and Mailis Reps (Center) talking to the media Friday afternoon, after day two of their two parties' coalition negotiations. Source: ERR

A Reform-Center coalition would put a premium on defense and security, leaders from both parties say, and would seek to rebuild Estonia's international reputation from a security perspective. Pressing on with a properly demarcated and equipped eastern border would also be a priority, they said.

Speaking during ongoing negotiations between the two parties, Reform leader and likely next prime minister Kaja Kallas mentioned cooperation with the incoming Joe Biden administration in the U.S. as a key security point, as well as improved defensive cooperation with Latvia and Lithuania, which might involve an annual, high-level, pan-Baltic defense policy meeting.

A coalition of Reform and Center would also need to start restoring Estonia's international reputation in defense and security matters, and improving cooperation with its allies, Kallas said.

Making friends on a political level with NATO and the US again

Former interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) had, while in office, said that Estonia needed an alternative "plan B" to NATO membership. Remarks Helme made over the November U.S. elections being rigged, and disparaging comments about president-elect Joe Biden, led to his swift resignation as interior minister, though earlier this month he and outgoing finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) called recent elections in Lithuania rigged also.

Mailis Reps, formerly in office with EKRE when she was education minister and now heading up Center's negotiating team, agreed, saying: "It's no secret that in 20 months, the submissions that both the prime minister and the foreign minister have had to make have been made," meaning Ratas and outgoing foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) repeatedly having to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of Mart Helme's remarks as interior minister.

Reps also said that Reform and Center – the latter traditionally seen as more Russia-friendly, drawing much of its support from the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia and still with an agreement with United Russia, Vladimir Putin's party, to its name – had common ground on defense, security and foreign policy issues.

Estonia receives NATO, EU support for eastern flank in return for giving support to southern

Reps said: "We contribute to the field of defense, we follow development plans and also the pledges made to the allies.

The NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroup based at Tapa is U.K.-led, in turn under the nominal command of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) flagship 1st Infantry Brigade, and NATO and EU countries regularly contributing to it and to Baltic Air policing duties at Ämari base have included Denmark, France, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Poland and Spain.

In return, the EDF contributes to several foreign missions, including the French-led counter insurgency Operation Barkhane, which sees an EDF infantry platoon based in the West African nation of Mali.

The EDF also contributes to several other EU and NATO missions focussed on its southern approaches – principally the Mediterranean region – with the logic being NATO and EU help to Estonia as making up part of its eastern frontier should be repaid with Estonian help on the southern approaches.

Estonia also holds a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a stint which has just entered its second year (of two).

Kallas, Reps: Eastern border infrastructure work should continue

Kallas and Reps also said that progress on another long-running project, the construction of the eastern border infrastructure, would be priority.

Kallas said: "The big question is the eastern border, and we will continue to build this up.

Kallas added that this would include involving the private sector Estonian defense sector.

The eastern border, particularly the southeast, has long been neglected and is in places not well demarcated; Google Maps has reportedly taken users perilously close to crossing the border in error.

Border work would give boost to defense industry

Mailis Reps said the eastern border project would be resource-intensive, but necessary.

 "With this, we want to continue to implement using technical and other means," she said.

Reps added that a ministerial post may be created, devoted solely to foreign trade.

New minister post focussing solely on foreign trade may emerge

At present, the role is twinned with the IT role, and has seen a carousel of no less than four EKRE or EKRE-appointed ministers taking the role.

Expanding Estonia's representation abroad plays a very important role in the economic and business environment, Reps said.

Kallas concurred:  "It is crucial that there is a position that will help Estonian companies open their doors."

The two parties are unlikely to announce ministerial lineups until the 11th hour, which could come at any time between now and early February. The coronavirus pandemic has made matters more pressing, however, with President Kersti Kaljulaid also keen to get things moving as soon as possible.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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