New foreign minister wants to bring her expertise to Center and government

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Eva-Maria Liimets. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

New Minister of Foreign Affairs and previous ambassador to the Czech Republic Eva-Maria Liimets says that she is joining the government to offer her foreign and security policy competence.

"I came to this position to share my foreign and security policy expertise and to also work with the party," Liimets responded to a question about her relationship with the Center Party, under which she was appointed as the foreign minister in the new Reform-Center government. While a Center candidate for the foreign minister position, Liimets is not a member of any party.

According to the incoming foreign minister, there is no reason to expect a sudden turn in Estonia's foreign policy and the new government will continue in a steady direction. "Estonia's goal is to continue with its current foreign policy - embedding relationships with NATO allies, working with European Union partners, promoting European values - those are the main topics that we will work and continue on," Liimets told ERR.

When it comes to Russia, Liimets pointed to the Minsk Protocol, signed to halt the conflict in Ukraine, as a precondition for improving relations with Estonia's eastern neighbor. "And we can go forward from there," she said.

Commenting on the Center Party's agreement with Russia's ruling political party United Russia, Liimets said the party's board and members must address the agreement. "As I understand, the cooperation agreement has been inactive for some 10 years now and is not actually in daily politics," she added.

Liimets said her first order of action is to deal with the Finnish government's decision to reinstate tougher border restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19. "I can talk about the specific proposals I will make after I have taken up my position, as it requires me to get acquainted with several detailed questions before we can make any proposals. I believe we can discuss this topic in the near future," the foreign minister said.

As to why Center chose her as the party's foreign minister candidate, the former ambassador to the Czech Republic pointed to her communication with the former prime minister and Center chairman Jüri Ratas. "One of the reasons was surely that we have had many points of contact in my previous position. I have helped with his visit to Croatia and two visits to the Czech Republic. We cooperated well and I think that was the reason behind him noticing me and making this proposal," Liimets said.

In addition, she admitted that she has been thinking about changing career for the last few months and an invitation to become a minister came at just the right time.

"I was mulling the decision for a while because I also like my current job. But I have thought in the last year that I would perhaps like to do something different in my life, something new and interesting, to gain new experiences. The concrete proposal came to me on Saturday morning, I did not expect it," the new foreign minister noted.

Liimets said her worldviews are "more liberal, but there are pieces from one or the other when it comes to nuances". "There are certainly topics where I agree with the party, but there are also those, where we do not share an agreement on nuances. Those things certainly need to be formed," Liimets said.

She said she understands the political aspect of a minister position and will discuss becoming a member of the Center Party in the future. "I know this is a political post and we have discussed the topic, but have not agreed to when and how it will happen," the foreign minister explained.

People who know Liimets speak highly of her

Many people who spoke to ERR about Liimets praised the former ambassador's work ethic and practicality. "That she has worked in the United States on two occasions, where proper initiative has to be shown, shows that she has a strong personality," one source noted.

Another source told ERR acknowledged Liimets' ability to solve problems in a balanced, yet effective manner. "She is helpful, friendly, open and a good relationship manager. Restrained, but you do not have to force her to speak."

"We are dealing with a smart and good person, you do not become ambassador otherwise. She is a typical diplomat in that sense," another source said.

People remembering Liimets from her days at the University of Tartu and Estonian Business School said while Liimets was not an exemplary student, she was solid in her schoolwork. One source notes however that while many students at the University of Tartu's social studies faculty were active in organizing student life in corporations or even in politics, Liimets was not.

Knows the ins and outs of diplomacy

As Liimets has worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more than 20 years - in Tallinn, Rome, Washington and New York - she is well aware of the ins and outs of diplomacy.

Still, sources speaking to ERR pointed out that Liimets became an ambassador in 2018 and Prague was her first posting as ambassador. The Czech Republic is also not the greatest priority for Estonia and the embassy is small.

"There are certainly diplomats and ambassadors in the foreign ministry who have been on three-four postings in large countries and organizations," one source noted.

Another source said Liimets has certainly not held a position where she has directly affected foreign policy.

Whether or not Liimets' rise to the top of the foreign ministry might create tensions with her former superiors depends on her actions. But considering that previous ambassador to the United States Jonatan Vseviov will start working as the ministry's secretary-general, the change in minister might not be as big of a change, one source noted.

Lack of political experience the most important obstacle

Many sources talking to ERR pointed out a lack of political experience as the most dangerous obstacle when it comes to a minister's work.

"There is a domestic policy factor when it comes to foreign decisions and an inexperienced politician cannot sense it," one source said. When a new minister enters the building, the main added value they can offer diplomats is a developed sense of domestic policy, government dynamics and political powerlines, along with the experience of protecting the ministry's interests in government. "So she brings no added value to the ministry," one source noted about Liimets.

In addition, politicians are often judged on election results and if they have reached their position through political competition. Foreign ministers tend to be long-time politicians with a myriad of experience with being a valuable asset when it comes to making your words matter, many sources said.

"The question is if the Estonian foreign minister measures up as a conversation partner to foreign ministers of larger nations, such as the United States or Russia," a source noted.

Estonia's ambassador to the Czech Republic Eva-Maria Liimets. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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