Incoming minister: Lessons from Ukraine conflict must be taken on board
All the lessons learned from the Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine must be applied to Estonia's defensive considerations, newly-announced Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) says.
Pevkur is marking a return to the Stenbock House after a five-and-a-half year absence; he was last a government minister in the last Reform/Isamaa/SDE coalition, which exited office in November 2016.
He was deputy Riigikogu speaker up until now.
With regard to the current conflict, Pevkur, who was announced on Thursday afternoon as new defense minister, replacing Kalle Laanet, told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that it had been: "A crazy experience, whose lessons we can take on board if we act smartly."
The other main issues facing him in his new role are the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO – ratified by Estonia in one day on July 6 – and cooperation between the ministry and the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), as well as putting into action the coalition agreement's requirements on defense – including boosting funding for the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit), and building up air defenses.
As to why he replaced Laanet, a fellow Reform Party member, Pevkur, who had been sitting at the Riigikogu until now and was in the running as Reform Party chair following the exit of Taavi Rõivas in late 2016, Pevkur said that the decision had been Kaja Kallas' as prime minister, adding that his prior experience spoke in his favor and was required.
Pevkur first became a government minister in early 2009, at the age of 31, when he was social affairs minister under Andrus Ansip (Reform); he subsequently became justice, and then interior, ministers.
Conversely, Pevkur noted, without naming names, that the newly-announced coalition contains several ministers who do not have prior ministerial experience, meaning it will take time for the new government to get up and running.
He told AK that: "There are quite a few new people who don't have governmental experience, and this surely means that it will take some time to get started. I hope to balance that with my experience and bring a good working spirit to the table."
Pevkur added that his own party's stable of ministers or potential ministers was long, and noted that Kallas made as few changes to the roster of Reform ministers, in office since January 2021, as possible, notwithstanding that no ministerial position is set in stone.
As to his immediate predecessor, Pevkur said: "I would like to thank Kalle Laanet for the work he did as defense minister."
As to the junior coalition partners (by Riigikogu seats), Isamaa and the Social Democrats (SDE) Pevkur said he thought that the parties sturck a balance between who they wished to see in office and who they are lining up for the March 5 2023 general election.
While government ministers do not sit in the Riigikogu and have to surrender their seat to an alternative candidate when appointed to governmental office from the Riigikogu, there is nothing to stop them running in a general election, while the raised profile from being in office would, the parties no doubt hope, lead to their being a "vote magnet", all while taking into account Estonia's d'Hondt system of proportional representation in its elections.
Of the 15 new ministers (one more post has been created than in the previous, bi-partite administration) six have no prior ministerial experience and five are not sitting Riigikogu MPs.
Hanno Pevkur spent part of his time away from front-line politics in a bid for president of the European Volleyball League (CEV). He was made deputy Riigikogu speaker in spring 2021.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte