A fresh member of the Center Party, Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani told ERR on Thursday that he intends to run in local government elections in October. When it comes to his worldview, the former Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) official said he still sees things as a policeman, which provides him with an important sense for internal security.
Why did it take so long for you to join Center Party?
Well, these decisions require a lengthy period of reflection and coming from a police organization and a completely different world, I still ask myself daily what I have gotten myself into.
The topic is in my mind daily: where did I end up coming and what kind of challenge this actually is. But the development that has taken place every day has been insane. And what you can learn in one day, where you can further develop... the challenge has been very interesting so far.
You joined the party along with Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets. Did you coordinate the move or did you feel like the pressure to join the party, from both the party itself and the public, was great enough to finally decide to join?
We agreed with Eva to do so from the start, that we would take this step together and the pressure from my perspective was more internal. Once you give a promise in the beginning, you have to see it through and it has been six months.
An obstacle for you to join the party, as it seemed to the public, was the ongoing criminal proceedings against the party. Am I correct?
Yes, absolutely. And these obstacles have not gone anywhere. What we can do today is wait for the fastest possible solutions on the topic. As a former PPA official, this remains a topic where if I think about it, I get sad.
Did you hope for Mailis Reps' and Mihhail Korb's investigations to be solved faster to see if they reach the courts? It seems now that these investigations might continue for a while.
My stance has always been that all criminal proceedings must be conducted as quickly as possible, but quickly does not mean that quality should suffer. Certainly, no criminal procedure should take too long, they have to be conducted as fast as possible.
But quality should not be forgotten. Criminal proceedings are certainly not something where you can prefer so-called rushing to quality.
But how should Center improve its reputation when it comes to these procedures and corruption cases, which the party has had a few of in the past?
It is a topic where each member of the party has to think what they can do to improve the party's overall reputation as a whole from where it is after different criminal proceedings within the party have been initiated.
My position is also that different value conflicts, but also different criminal proceedings, should be more specifically handled in the party's statutes and that is a discussion I intend on continuing.
But at the same time, I always prefer there not being a pressure mechanism. Each person should understand these situations where there are important value conflicts or something analogous themselves to see if they should recede, step back or resign.
How would you describe your worldview?
Being a middle class representative, I like standing for the middle class.
When speaking about my worldview and I have said this months ago and will continue to do so now: my worldview is tightly connected to that of a policeman, where an important focus is how we handle internal security, how we handle how victims are held and how we as a state, or even parties, handle internal security.
These things in my mind are cleanly based off where I come from, where I have worked for a long time.
What is your view on one of Center's main objectives, which is a progressive income tax system?
It is difficult for me to comment on this situation at this point. If you were to ask me about things regarding internal security, I could certainly speak longer. But I will sincerely admit that deep political discussions are still quite difficult for me, but we can certainly talk about it in the future.
But let's talk about internal security? How good of a state is the Estonian legal state at this point? For example, a database for an automated biometric identification system (ABIS) is being developed. Is this database secured with control mechanisms in a manner that prohibits any kind of abuse?
Yes, that is exactly right. One of the main aims of the ABIS database is actually better protection for personal and biometric data and the separation of biographical data. That is the main aim. Only biometric data will be collected for the ABIS database going forward.
For example, if we are talking about the personal identification document database, facial images and biographic data of the particular person are together and that is what we are trying to avoid in the future - not having this data in one place. Then we can protect this data better. And use it in our fight against crime, use it to better identify people.
The goal is for the data of Estonian people to be better protected and we can also be more effective in everything that worries people, better defend the rights of a victim, better identify crime, which have been committed against people. There are many goals with the ABIS database, but one important one is how to offer better protection for the data.
Estonia is a beautiful legal state today and in the future, where there cannot be any abuse or cover-ups by those in power.
What do you say to those people who fear the state wants even more information about them, to manage that information and for that information to be put to use by the state and not by the person?
ABIS' goal is not to gather more information from people, but rather that the information that is already collected and exists would be better and safer. This right has existed in the legal space for a while and the data can be used for criminal proceedings, for example. It is just that there has not been an information technology solution for it.
We must trust the Estonian state. If we look at public opinion polls, 94 percent of Estonians trust the state and consider it safe to live in Estonia.
Going back to party politics, have you ever thought about going into politics or joining a party before?
So it happened with the specific offer of becoming the interior minister?
Precisely. In the exact sequence you just laid out: accepting the proposal of the dignified challenge of becoming a minister and then joining the party to look and see what I can do in the future.
Are you intending to run in local elections?
Yes, such a plan exists at this moment.
Do you already know where exactly and on which position?
I deem it correct that a person runs in elections where they live, where their community is at. I live in Saue municipality and I will run in Saue.
Would you also like to run for the next Riigikogu elections?
I think there is still a long way to go. I consider the first challenge and development stage to be local municipality council elections and have not thought on from there.
Did Jüri Ratas make the correct decision to not run for president?
That decision was made by Jüri Ratas. I trust it. If Jüri Ratas has made this decision, then it is the correct decision.
How do you assess this as a fresh party member? Is it good for the party that by running for president, he would not have to resign as party leader? This removes any internal conflict about choosing a new chairman.
Yes, there would be different challenges - no matter what another decision would have been.
I think it would have also likely been positive for the party if a party member is the next Estonian president. In this case, a different decision was made by Jüri Ratas and that decision must be respected. And we have to live on with that decision.
How goes the cooperation with [coalition partner] Reform Party? You are contending about budget cuts and drawing up a state budget. Recently, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas called Jüri Ratas' position regarding state budget cuts hypocritical.
There are always topics in every situation and level between partners, where reaching an agreement might be more complicated than in situations where the common parts are greater. And that is how it is today.
At the same time, even pointing to [Thursday's] cabinet sitting, where I tabled multiple options looking at the future with the defense minister's area, meaning Reform's Kalle Laanet, there are very specific ideas on how to proceed and what the common parts are and belonging to whichever party does not stop anything.
But of course, there is always conflict between partners no matter the situation, but in general, the goal is common and that is what we are working towards.
Have there been any signals from the government level about looking over the state budget strategy in fall and if the state can pull back from these cuts and not have to lay anybody off?
My position is also that people working to provide internal security should not have to be laid off.
I have not made any decisions yet and the making of these decisions will certainly not happen before we know what the final state budget is, which is set to be completed in August-September.
As the interior minister, have you been in communication with your Finnish counterpart Maria Ohisalo about travel restrictions? It is an area where people are awaiting results, but the foreign minister's and the government's work has not provided any.
I have communicated with my partner, I have communicated with the Finnish interior minister. We have not spoken about these specific topics recently.
My expectation is that these travel restrictions must end sometime soon, because the situation we are in today with these restrictions between two EU countries, they are not appropriate.
But we have not spoken about these topics with the Finnish interior minister recently.
But perhaps it would be wise to call her and provide her with some input to solve this situation in a quicker and more simple manner?
It is certainly a good idea, but there are many statements on many different levels and the foreign ministry is currently leading it with the prime minister also making a great contribution. But your idea is also good.
How do you assess the foreign ministry's actions on the topic? It seems as if it has not led to results?
These discussions take time and diplomacy is complicated and different decisions and agreements will likely take longer. Especially in the situation we are in currently.
Of course, every Estonian has waited for restrictions to ease between our nearby neighbors for some time, it has not happened.
Have you also decided anything on returning to work in the police after being the interior minister or will you continue your fresh political career?
I am thinking about this as a two-year cycle. So if everything goes well here, I will be the interior minister for two years and I have not thought of the next challenges, positions and goals any further than two years.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste