Liimets not leaving Center, may run in upcoming Riigikogu elections

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday. May 16, 2022.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday. May 16, 2022. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Former Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets (Center), in an interview with ERR, expressed hope that the current fragile situation, with a minority government and half-filled cabinet seats, will be resolved as fast as possible. She added that both the Reform and Center parties have good reasons to look back and to evaluate how to prevent future government crises and maintain coalition collaboration in the run-up to the upcoming elections.

Your former government colleague [former Minister of Interior] Kristian Jaani, with whom you began your ministerial career and who joined the Center Party at the same time as you, has recently stepped out of the Center Party. Are you also considering doing the same?

I don't have any such plans right now. Despite the fact that my term in office as foreign minister ended abruptly, I have no plans to take any further hasty or unexpected steps. For the time being, I certainly intend to stay a member of the Center Party.

What are your plans for the future?

Following such a stressful year, my first wish was to rest a bit. Due to events in foreign policy, the previous year was especially difficult, and I had to be extremely vigilant in defending Estonia's best interests. As a result, my first wish was to rest, which I accomplished. In general, I want to continue to use my foreign policy skills.

Would you be interested in taking up a position at the Department of Foreign Affairs?

I haven't looked at it so narrowly. Foreign policy issues can also be dealt with at other institutions; however, I won't go into details right now, as I am actively reviewing my options and considering what to do next. Until now, I have been mainly resting and reflecting on my previous position and, even more generally, on the past quarter-century I have spent working for the Estonian Foreign Service.

What are important issues left unresolved at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

Indeed, several issues were, in fact, left unfinished, as if cut with a knife.

For example, I was very pleased to see last week's [EU] Council decision granting Ukraine candidate status. Estonia had already taken a firm stance on this issue by early spring. I am also looking forward to the outcome of the Madrid Summit, where a number of critical decisions for Estonia are expected to be made. Another issue that got my attention was Marianne Mikko's election last week to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). I have personally dealt with it last summer, when Marianne Mikko expressed her desire to be the Estonian candidate.

Since the end of my mandate, numerous planned events have been now concluded.

However, one issues that could not be resolved due to Russia's large-scale war in Ukraine is undoubtedly related to the green transition and the possibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also acting as a so-called green agency.

I'm hoping that my colleagues will also take the time to address this issue.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement as foreign minister?

I'm still drawing up these summaries for myself, but it was extremely important that in the year that the war in Ukraine broke out, we were able to establish the narratives that were important for Estonia's security, and that we acted as a unified front to ensure that Russia's aggression was clearly and comprehensively condemned. So that Ukraine would have strong backing and, of course, so that NATO would provide the strongest protection for our own security. Certainly, that was a significant step forward.

Clearly, there were a number of minor concerns as well. For instance, the worldwide news organization Associated Press establishing a branch in Estonia after closing its Russian operations and seeking a new location in the region to do so.

A large number of difficulties came up on an ongoing basis, demanded prompt action, and those were successfully resolved to Estonia's benefit.

Looking even further back in time, last year was of course also important as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' wage reform took place, and together with a number of other structural adjustments, this enables the ministry to work efficiently and effectively in a dynamic foreign policy climate. And I believe that we will see these benefits for a long time to come, as the most important thing for us to be as efficient as possible and to be able to motivate our best human resources.

You mentioned before the NATO summit in Madrid. In this regard, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas recently released to the media parts of NATO's military plans related to Estonia. What do you think of her actions, which were most probably aimed at securing better decisions for Estonia during the summit?

We have been preparing for the Madrid Summit for a very long time.

The foreign ministers, defense ministers, and the prime minister have all discussed these issues. In this regard, our aims have been very clear. We have provided the allies with strong justifications for our objectives, which makes it clear that we have spent the last few months preparing for the Madrid Summit. I do believe it will result in significant political decisions that will boost our nation's defense capabilities over time.

So Kaja Kallas did the right thing when she spoke out publicly about NATO's defence plans?

There are several aspects to this. Clearly, Kaja Kallas was correct to bring up the matter and it was her prerogative to choose the details and arguments she considers right to emphasize these concerns. I would have been less specific in my wording.

Are you saying that it was not the wisest thing to publicly state that Estonia, under the current defense plans, would cease to exist if Russia attacks?

It is evident that the security situation in our region has changed as a result of Russia's large-scale war in Europe. As a result of this altered threat assessment and the increased threat to our region's security, the defense plans must be reevaluated and NATO's defense and deterrence attitude must be significantly strengthened.

We have been conveying these messages to our allies for several months, both verbally and in writing, and in greater detail. As far as I am aware, our concerns have been heard, and it is now important that Madrid endorses the Allies' prompt efforts to enhance their presence.

Are you planning to run for election to the Riigikogu due to your ongoing membership in the Center Party?

Indeed, this is the option I am considering. I got into politics because I want to offer my expertise and skills to society. Yes, I am currently discussing with the party whether or not I should stand for election in the spring.

How, in your opinion, the Center Party can improve its low rating?

It is very important that we continue to defend our ideals and the interests of our electorate. This is precisely what the party has been doing in recent months. I believe the Center could be even more active in some areas.

It is salient that the party continues to have a strong voice in matters of foreign and security policy, especially in relation of Ukraine. Both of us, the party leader and the Speaker of the Riigikogu (Jüri Ratas - editor) and myself traveled to Ukraine. It is clear that the Center should play an active role in aiding Ukraine.

And now that we are facing a challenging winter, particularly in terms of energy supplies, it is essential that we use our experience in this area to propose solutions that could aid people through this period of increased energy costs. It is really important that we put our divers expertice and experience to the use.

Was it in the best interests of your voters that you, along with your coalition partners and the opposition in the Riigikogu, introduced the draft family benefits bill, which marked the beginning of the fall of the previous government? This is not a typical strategy of coalition collaboration.

There are multiple aspects to this. It should be mentioned that Estonia and Europe have seen extraordinarily high inflation. Certainly, the country should direct its attention to persons with income issues, particularly families with children. It is crucial for the state to assist these people, and it was certainly appropriate to highlight this problem.

For my part, I do not believe it is reasonable that, at the same time as we are experiencing a severe foreign policy and security policy crisis, we should simultaneously have an internal crisis. In this extraordinarily difficult period, I believe Estonia needs a strong government; I hope that the current uncertain situation, in which we have a minority government with only half of the ministerial positions filled, will be resolved as quickly as possible.

Do you believe the Centre or the Reform is responsible for the current government crisis?

It takes two to tango. There is clearly need for both parties to look back and think how to prevent similar government crises in the future and also to ensure that the coalition functions harmoniously in the run-up to the next election.

Your party's leader planned to form a coalition with Isamaa and EKRE, however, Isamaa preferred to begin coalition talks with the Reform and the Social Democratic Party. Would you have remained a Centre Party member and minister with Isamaa and the EKRE in the coalition government?

Each party in any government represents the views and interests of its members. Clearly, the coalition agreement that the parties would have reached after sitting down together would be decisive in this situation. In this circumstance, it is difficult to judge hypothetically; what matters is what the parties would have agreed to. As is evident in the ongoing coalition talks, each party is defending its own interests, and as a result, the negotiations are taking a very long time. Similarly, the question of how the ministerial portfolios would have been divided is speculative, and I would not elaborate further on this.


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Editor: Kristina kersa

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