Opposition leader: Government has been irresponsibly fueling war hysteria
The Reform Party and the "deep state" have knowingly incited war hysteria to boost the popularity of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and her party, Martin Helme, chairman of the opposition Conservative People's Party (EKRE), said. He believes Estonia should have stopped accepting Ukraine refugees a long time ago and help them in Ukraine instead.
Helme said on the "Otse uudistemajast" webcast that Estonia's approach to the Ukraine war can be criticized in several aspects.
"First of all, the Reform Party and the "deep state," the people behind them giving political advice, have knowingly fueled war hysteria. Society is already in an unsteady mental state in terms of attitudes following two years of Covid and domestic politics, and inciting war hysteria in this situation has been extremely irresponsible," he said.
Helme said it has been aimed at hyping the reputation of the Reform Party and Kaja Kallas, has damaged society's mood and suppressed domestic debate that is necessary in the altered security and economic situation.
"You have two options today. You can either praise Kallas and the status quo or you're a Kremlin agent and Putinist. I refuse to play any role in such a scenario," the EKRE leader said.
He emphasized that EKRE have clearly positioned themselves in the wake of the war in Ukraine: they support Ukraine and all relevant initiatives, want to take away the weapons permits of local Russians and have pursued a clear line in immigration matters, being against mass immigration.
Helme suggested that had the government of Center, EKRE and Isamaa endured and were EKRE still in possession of the internal affairs portfolio, the eastern border would have been closed and all Russian citizens' visas immediately revoked, no matter their reason for coming to Estonia.
The opposition leader suggested that tens of thousands of people have come to Estonia from Russia since the war began, and if we add to that 40,000 people from Ukraine, the figure is decidedly unacceptable for Estonia.
"No one could have crossed the eastern border in our time. There would have been no NGOs or so-called human rights activists transporting people using buses. We would have limited it to 2,000 or 10,000 or however many people and closed the border after that."
Helme suggested that Ukraine refugees should go back home as soon as possible, adding that most of Ukraine is not a war zone today and Estonia's task should be to help Ukrainians in Ukraine.
"One possibility is to help them return, help financially because it is cheaper than paying for their stay," the EKRE leader said, adding that the government today sees Ukraine refugees as cheap labor they have been dreaming about for years.
No party in a hurry to join the government
Helme is not worried about EKRE's falling rating as its loyal core voters aren't going anywhere and believes the party's rating will be back on 25 percent by fall. EKRE aims to win the next Riigikogu elections (to be held in March of next year).
Talking about the brewing government crisis, Helme said that nothing will happen next week that should see the first reading of the Family Benefits Act bill.
"There is a lot of maneuvering taking place in the Riigikogu right now, which is only natural. Parties are bluffing and getting a feel for one another in terms of who can be convinced to agree to which initiatives. I believe we will also be seeking a no-confidence vote against Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform), provided she will not resign herself," he said.
The EKRE leader admitted that no party is particularly keen to rule in the current situation and that talks for a new coalition have not been held with Center leader Jüri Ratas. Helme said that while he doesn't want to waste time on theoretical discussions, the current cabinet seems to lack the will to continue.
However, EKRE wants to make life so difficult for Kallas it would convince the Reform Party to leave the government, giving Center the chance to form a replacement. Plotting a course for a minority government should that happen is also on the table, Martin Helme suggested.
EKRE believes the price of electricity should be brought under €30 per megawatt-hour to alleviate the upcoming fall and winter price advance that only requires political will. Helme also said Estonia should slash taxes, such as excise duties, consumption taxes and VAT on food, and hike child benefits. Pension advance should also have been brought forward, he offered.
"There is no way to avoid fiscal deficit in coming out of the crisis. What we need to discuss is its extent and our priorities – children, things in the public sector, while it is clear we will not be getting through this thing with a balanced budget," he said.
Estonia's supplementary budget is a clear indication of the Reform Party's love of fiscal balance being so much hot air as a third will be spent on Ukrainians, a part on replacing arms we have given Ukraine and the rest will go to the ruling parties' friends and state companies, Helme suggested.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski