Riigkogu speaker and Center Party leader Jüri Ratas says that he understands Anneli Ott's rationale in stepping down as culture minister on Tuesday, adding that she had done much for her sector during the pandemic. He also hinted at differences of opinion between Reform and Center, the two governing parties, on support measures and other aspects of pandemic management.
Ratas said Tuesday that: "Anneli Ott must definitely be recognized for the sector obtaining €42 million in support this spring, which was divided across several support measures.
"The current restrictions have brought about further need for support. We definitely need to give more thought to finding the best balance between the sector's viability and the fight against the coronavirus," Ratas added, thanking Ott for her work as minister since January.
Ott had always stood up for her principles, even when strong criticism was leveled against her, Ratas added, referring to charges of her being an anti-vaxxer.
"Despite attempts to portray her as such, the minister is not against vaccination; instead, she has voiced concerns and raised questions that have also been brought up in the society," Ratas said, adding that vaccination, testing and monitoring public health are together all important ways of fighting the virus.
Ratas also said he understood Ott's rationale in resigning, given that she does not see herself as a member of the current government on any level, any more.
"In a situation where the perceptions of a minister and the government do not align in very fundamental matters, difficult decisions that bring us forward must be made," Ratas added.
Compromises measures which support the area of culture need to be reached within the coalition, Ratas added, and said that Ott's replacement will be announced as soon as possible.
Ott, who had been away on vacation last week, announced her resignation as part of a live-linked emotional statement made to the media Tuesday.
She had faced mounting criticism both on her perceived stance on coronavirus vaccinations, and in her relations with culture sector workers.
Ott said Tuesday that while she was not unvaccinated, she was not fully-vaccinated either, having started a course of vaccination - i.e. having received one dose.
Investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress reported on its website Tuesday that a Center Party ministerial reshuffle may be on the cards.
Ratas: Center will remain in coalition as long as its principles represented
Ratas told Vikkerraadio's "Uudis+" news show that his party will remain in the coalition as long as it can represent its principles and views, and carry political messages.
He said: "I think this work can be done in today's coalition," adding that the governing coalition has plenty to keep itself occupied with, with the most pressing issue being exiting the crisis.
"If we are seeing machinations within the Center Party delegation, as has been referred to in a newspaper today, then the source must be asked where this information comes from," Ratas continued, likely referring to the Eesti Ekspress piece, though he declined to answer directly whether a reshuffle was imminent.
"I still hope that the Center Party will be able to nominate a candidate this week," Ratas added, in respect of Ott's possible replacement.
As to whether she or he could be not fully vaccinated, as was the case with Ott, Ratas said that while unvaccinated people should not in Estonia be excluded from being able to work, due to the nature of the role, this would be difficult in the case of a culture minister. "This person who also has to work in and interact with the cultural sector - there is nothing more to it - but today's rules really mean that if they are not vaccinated, this is not possible."
Center's other ministers are Eva-Maria Liimets (foreign), Tanel Kiik (health), Tõnis Mölder (environment), Jaak Aab (public administration - effectively regional minister), Kristian Jaani (interior) and Taavi Aas (economics). Liimets and Jaani were not Center Party members at the time they were appointed - Liimets was Estonia's ambassador to the Czech Republic, Jaani a police chief - and joined the party only subsequently.
Jüri Ratas was prime minister November 2016-January 2021, and is now Riigikogu speaker.
This piece was updated to include Jüri Ratas' comments to Vikerraadio.
Editor: Andrew Whyte