Finance Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform) says she will not be running in next spring's Riigikogu elections, and will not be taking part in domestic politics, should she be appointed as Estonia's new representative at the European Court of Auditors (ECA).
Speaking before the Riigikogu's Anti-Corruption Select Committee Monday, Pentus-Rosimannus said: "The ECA mandate begins on January 1. If I become an ECA member, I will withdraw from any kind of internal political activity, both at the party, state and all other levels."
Pentus-Rosimannus was answering a question from committee member and party-mate Kalle Laanet, on whether she plans to run for a Riigikogu seat at the March 2023 elections.
"I will not run for office and I will draw the line at participating in Estonian domestic politics, after 17 years," the minister added.
Government ministers do not sit in parliament but often appear both in the main chamber and, as here, before committees, to answer questions and present policies.
Pentus-Rosimannus denied claims made earlier this month that she had put herself forward for the position, and had been working towards that outcome since early on this year.
She said: "This decision was made by the government on September 8, without my participation. I have not been involved, since the beginning of February, in appointing myself, adding that, in her role as finance minister, she presented the situation with the ECA and Estonia's representation – currently held by Juhan Parts, whose term ends on December 31 – in early Febdyary, with fruther draft background presentations made in July, though with no accompanying potential candidate names.
"While for political reasons, you may not like it, the chairs of the political parties agree on a candidate, and in my case, the leader who expressed their wish was Prime Minister Kaja Kallas," Pentus-Rosimannus continued.
"At the beginning of February, Kallas asked if I agreed that my name would be discussed as a candidate for ECA member. However, this did not mean that I was certain to become a candidate," she added.
The finance minister oversees the appointment of the ECA representative, which led to claims of a conflict of interest once it became clear that Pentus-Rosimannus was Estonia's candidate.
At the same time, current law forbids officials from appointing themselves to a post; in fact it was Rural Affairs Minister Urmas Kruuse (Reform) who presented Pentus-Rosimannus' candidacy, deputizing for the finance minister while she was at an EU-level meeting in Prague.
"My possible candidacy, which was presented to the government for discussion, required my consent, and the minister of rural affairs, Urmas Kruuse, questioned me about it. I confirmed this to the prime minister on September 5, when she informed me that she would add the appointment of a candidate for a member of the ECA to the government's agenda for [the regular cabinet meeting on Thursday,] September 8," she added, noting the inevitable political nature of the appointment.
Mart Helme (EKRE) asked the finance minister if her being away in Prague was intentional, to allow Kruuse to submit her candidacy, Pentus-Rosimannus stated that she had had to be in the Czech capital the day before the cabinet meeting, ie. on September 7, and that the meeting was necessary for her to attend.
She also told the committee she was unaware of who, if any, other candidates for the post had been under discussion by the government, since she was not party to these discussions.
Clearer rules should be in place for the ECA appointment process in future, Pentus-Rosimannus added, particularly if the desire was to divorce it from politics.
Helme added that answers provided to the anti-corruption committee from Pentus-Rosimannus on the ECA issue Monday were insufficient, adding he plans to convene a new discussion round on the matter.
Kruuse's deputizing for Pentus-Rosimannus while she was away was in and of itself standard practice; between early June and mid-July, all seven of the then-Reform ministers were doubling up in deputizing for another ministerial portfolio, following the dismissal of the Center Party ministers from office.
The ECA is not a court as such, though is one of the EU's principal seven organs
Editor: Andrew Whyte