Reform, SDE leading MPs say Center member out of line on Herem comments

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Mart Võrklaev (Reform). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Leaders from the Reform and Social Democratic (SDE) parties have hit out at Center Party deputy chair Jaanus Karilaid's call for a warning to be issued to Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander Lieutenant General Martin Herem, and an MP from Center itself has also followed suit.

Karilaid told ETV political discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Thursday night that Herem should not have announced that removing the EDF's orchestra and chaplaincy service might be one way of implementing planned defense operating cost cuts, without discussing it with the government first.

"I certainly cannot agree with such a statement," Reform's Riigikogu group chair Mart Võrklaev said.

Reform is the coalition partner of Center.

"First, I think that, at a political level, to go public on mistrust of the commander of the EDF is not right, especially in our current security situation. Second, it is the minister who still heads the ministry and it is overstepping the mark that he (i.e. Karilaid – ed.) should call for a dismissal from a post or the issuing of a warning," Võrklaev said.

The current defense minister is Kalle Laanet (Reform), and Võrklaev added that a discussion over the issue between him and Herem would have sufficed.

Võrklaev tempered his words by noting that it was not clear if it had been understood that leaders of major state bodies could discuss the implementation of austerity measures – a Reform hallmark – ahead of talks with the cabinet.

"Perhaps the only thing that should be talked about was that if there really was an agreement and a plan for heads of state agencies to draw up austerity plans and discuss them with the minister before they are actually implemented," Võrklaev added.

"This (i.e. the proposed EDF cuts – ed.) became public; however I know the reasons for this. Explanation and communication were needed beforehand, because these issues arose from within the organization. It is up to the minister to discuss it, but I think it is enough for people to talk to each other and make things clear. Such a kind of declaration and recommendation (that Herem made – ed.) are too much at this moment," Võrklaev went on, also saying that he thought the EDF's orchestra, which performs at events such as independence day ceremonies, should remain intact.

Other options discussed in the media sphere in the past week have been to potentially merge the EDF orchestra with the police equivalent, or to bring the orchestra directly under the defense ministry's remit.

SDE MP and constitutional committee deputy chair Lauri Läänemets struck a more strident tone, calling Karilaid's words a potential threat to constitutional order.

Läänemets said: "The EDF commander has taken an oath to the Republic of Estonia and is acting on its behalf."

Lauri Läänemets (SDE). Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

"If a party starts demanding an EDF which is loyal to its policy, there is something very wrong," Läänemets went on, adding that public discourse on the EDF was no bad thing.

Oudekki Loone: Herem has taken oath, which is why he can't attack cultural sacred cows

It would be the Center Party which should logically then step down and not Lt. Gen. Herem, Läänemets went on.

Center MP Oudekki Loone backed Karilaid, saying that the issue of disbanding the EDF orchestra lay at the heart of the matter. Loone also spoke of Herem's oath, but took a different line from Läänemets.

Center MP Oudekki Loone. Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

"The EDF commander has taken an oath to the Republic of Estonia to act for the benefit of the Republic and the protection of the constitution, while our constitution says that the state must ensure the preservation of culture down the ages. This is an attack on our constitution, and I am extremely surprised that an attack of this nature comes from the EDF commander," Loone told ERR Friday.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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