Reform MEP: Reform cannot be held hostage by Martin Helme

Andrus Ansip MEP (Reform)
Andrus Ansip MEP (Reform) Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Former PM and Reform Party leader, MEP Andrus Ansip criticized current Prime Minister Kaja Kallas last week and has not changed his mind. He told ERR that the government has not handled the coronavirus crisis well and that Kallas cannot present herself as irreplaceable.

You were very critical of prime minister and Reform Party chairwoman Kaja Kallas last week. Why?

The criticism is completely justified. We should not have gotten into the third wave as we did. This was avoidable. But we are currently like night and day from Finland.

The second wave was inevitable to some degree, we were not prepared for it and we became the world champions in terms of infections. But then vaccinations kicked off and we were among the highest in the EU from mid-April to mid-May. Only those who took delivery of more vaccines were ahead of us.

But then a shift came in Estonia - vaccines were stocked for reserves instead of administering them. Another pivot happened at Tondiraba [ice rink] vaccination center, when vaccinated people were shamed and vaccinators were intimidated - many just lost interest.

And let us remember that during that infamous and shameful week, when 68,000 doses of AstraZeneca were destroyed, we had collected 203,000 doses for second doses already. Meaning, they completely missed the time when demand for vaccines was extremely high. Instead of administering vaccines, they collected them to sit in fridges.

I have pointed it out on several occasions, but if vaccines are starting to accumulate, they should be administered. They initially told me I had incorrect data, since I took it from the press and they do not have the correct data. Then they said the gaps are small, that the more successful countries will be caught up with soon. And then they finally said we are from Eastern Europe, we cannot expect anything more. Yet we were far ahead of our Finnish neighbors in April and May - we were not Eastern Europeans then.

When demand was extremely high, we should have vaccinated. But then they said the Finns are making a mistake by extending the period between first and second doses and emphasizing more on first doses, that they cannot issue vaccination certificates. But their logic was simple: at least 98 percent of those that get the first dose will come back for a second.

The Finns knew exactly that public perception would change and demand would go down. Marketing knows this very well that you need to advertise a product when demand is highest. Now the demand has decreased or even disappeared and ad campaigns are hopelessly late. But Estonia, unfortunately, made all these mistakes.

I am very bothered by the attitude that we just happen to get into crises, to become infection world leaders randomly and that we then exit the crises because of the government's brilliant leadership. This is not a critical analysis of what has happened and we cannot proceed without this kind of critical analysis, because whether a fourth wave or another crisis comes, we need this critical analysis. But I do not see there being any readiness for critical analysis.

But most of all, I see that this critical analysis should not come from within, meaning the leading party of government - Reform. My goal is to initiate a debate, initiate this critical analysis.

Could this critical analysis lead to Reform's chair and prime minister being replaced?

I am not one to predict what this critical analysis leads to and what could be the components.

But when it comes to the party chairwoman, it stemmed from an interview Kaja Kallas had with [EPL journalist] Raimo Poom, in which Poom asked if Kaja Kallas should think about resigning. Kaja Kallas responded and said [EKRE chairman] Martin Helme would then become prime minister and that he "would solve all problems". It is not necessary to scare people and the party with Martin Helme. The party cannot be held hostage by Martin Helme.

The party is something much more than just the party leader. And like I told Delfi and Päevaleht in an interview - every leader, no matter the size of the company or organization - has to think of who will do their job if they no longer cannot.

There are multiple reasons for leaving: promotion, removal, death. But it is completely normal for a leader to think about who is next. And for a leader to think of someone that is not part of the organization is not normal and acceptable to me.

I have not noticed Martin Helme joining Reform.

You have pointed out Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna as a suitable candidate for chairwoman. Would you support Kersna?

I have offered up a lot of names. You ask about Liina Kersna, one article only picked up [Tallink CEO] Paavo Nõgene. In that interview, I said that while I was prime minister and announced that I would not run again, I named the people who could take over from me.

And I did not just name these people, I had conversations with them. I told them what their strengths are and what they should work on. But that I think they have what it takes to follow me as Reform chair and prime minister. And the people I spoke to and that are known were Urmas Paet, Taavi Rõivas, Hanno Pevkur, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Arto Aas, Kristen Michal, there were others. These are names that have been in public discussions and the public could also have a say in who should lead Reform after Andrus Ansip no longer will.

And I think it is completely natural for a party to think of who the future leaders of the party are, because no one here will live forever. I am most bothered by the attitude of the future not being important - the mindset that history ends with me. I do not think this is acceptable.

But what could come in the future? How do you see this process developing, what should Reform do?

Reform has always held having multiple opinions in high regard. And if there is no debate, then things are bad. And I see that there is not too much of this debate currently.

If we take a look at opinion polls, we can see that Reform's support has been 35 percent [in opposition - ed.], Kaja Kallas' support is a meager 20 percent [in coalition - ed.]. We can conclude that Reform's support has remained high thanks to those that have thought differently than the party's dominating line. We currently see that Reform's support has dropped rapidly.

I think that if there is any kind of debate within the party, a critical look at how we have gotten into crises, how we have exited them, discussions about who could also participate in leading the party in addition to those already there - if such a debate happens, then the debate alone will end this support drop and will take us to an increase in support, in my opinion.

I have multiple historical examples to bring where such crisis situations and heated debates have developed within the party. But I will also point to Center Party, where the supporters of multiple perspectives have mobilized and the party has gained support.

But on the other hand, is it not common that if there are such major agreements within the party, it brings the party's support down?

This usually happens if the party is already in a hopeless and constant drop and there is no return. I do not think we should compare Reform to the former Koonderakond (1991-2002), which ended up falling apart.

But still, is there a formal event, an assembly, where these matters could be discussed? When is your general assembly taking place?

Well, I do not think this is a matter that can be solved with one assembly. I do not consider the first reaction of the party's Riigikogu group correct, they called an assembly, the point of which, as someone put at the assembly, was as if [Soviet era cultural factory] Polymer unit six condemns the fabrications of capitalism and imperialism.

It is certainly not normal, the party must encourage debate, it must encourage different opinions, a plurality of opinion and only then is a party sustainable and strong. If the supporters of these different perspectives are being turned off, it is a clear sign of danger to the party.

How long will Prime Minister Kaja Kallas continue as Reform chairwoman?

This is mainly for Kaja Kallas to decide how long she will continue. If people are more involved in the decision-making process than they are currently, if they analyze their actions critically, their decisions and indecisiveness, then she can have quite a few days left. If that does not happen, then unfortunately voters are tough.

What would you recommend Kaja Kallas do?

Kaja Kallas has told me that I have not given her any advice during the third wave. I have advised her on how not to get into a third wave. But this advice has not been heard. Or if it has been heard - it does not differ much from that of Paavo Nõgene - it has been heard a few months later. And that is where our vaccination issues stem from.

For example, Belgium, Finland, Germany and other European countries quickly transitioned to other more flexible vaccination methods once they realized that these vaccination centers, such as Tondiraba, were no longer effective. They went vaccinating at workplaces, began operating vaccination buses, moved vaccination points to malls, visited people to vaccinate them. Germany began vaccinating people in high-speed trains. They came up with more flexible ways.

But while Europe had transitioned from vaccination centers to more flexible methods, our vaccination chief Marek Seer told the people of Antsla to get on a bus and go to Tartu to get vaccinated. When Antsla municipality deputy mayor Kurmet Müürsepp asked for a temporary vaccination point to vaccinate people, he only received negative responses. And then the locals said it is 32 degrees outside and a bus is even more dangerous if we are all together. Spending a whole day on vaccination is too much.

A general rule for crises is to make the best option for people the most simple option. In Estonia, the best option was obstructed - get in a bus, go from Antsla to Tartu! This is not normal!

Or if the government cannot organize vaccinations by themselves, then unleash an initiative. Raise the bonus of vaccinations to a level where nurses and medical institutions would be interested in vaccinating people economically. You can build a lot of things on enthusiasm, but enthusiasm cannot last forever. Because people need to do their regular work and this must be profitable and not a loss-making enterprise.

Unfortunately, all these aspects were ignored. The last of these is to conduct thorough analyses to not face a situation, in which we would be world leaders for a fourth time.

It seems like we have more of these crises coming up: high fuel prices, high heating prices are just starting to come in, electricity bills are just starting to come in, a migration crisis - we do not know how any of these will be solved. So there are many more crises yet to come.

We have failed twice in this crisis so far. I would not like to embellish the situation we are in. I do not like this arrogance of telling entrepreneurs that hotels are not closed and that they should manage things themselves. If the state is not just dark red, but completely black as a result of the government's brilliant leadership, then no tourist wants to come here!

To tell entrepreneurs to manage by themselves, that we have not closed the country - this shows a complete lack of empathy. But no government should stand for this.

We have spoken a lot about vaccinations and the coronavirus, but how has the government managed other things?

The main goal of this government was leading the public and state out of the coronavirus crisis and that is what they have not managed to do. I will not assess other areas.

But the general matter is still that of involvement, which I have also criticized the government for during their management of the coronavirus crisis. Things cannot be left without a clear chain of command, no one understanding how decisions are made and who gives arguments for and against.

We have muddled up these roles and it has caused much confusion. I think the decision-making process tends to be that people know all the arguments for and against from the beginning. And when a decision is made, people usually say that it was the reasonable one.

If a decision is made hidden from the public, however, and is only then announced, then that decision will be criticized and eventually it will be made clear that it was not a good decision whatsoever and it will not be followed. We are currently in a situation where we are not sure infections have gone down. Is it the calibrated restrictions or is it an increased general sense of risk, which has made people act more responsibly and avoid contacts. I think it has more to do with the latter.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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