Center Party MEP Yana Toom said, that although the Center Party asked her to stand in Ida-Viru County for the upcoming Riigikogu elections, she has decided not to do so and will most probably run in Tallinn instead. Toom also admitted, that she would no longer be opposed to a potential joint government comprised of Center and EKRE.
Toom, during an appearance on ERR's Russian-language show "Direct from the Newsroom" on Wednesday, confirmed that she would stand in the March 5 Riigikogu elections. The ALDE MEP also did not rule out the possibility of giving up her mandate for the European Parliament, under certain circumstances.
"Probably yes, [in Tallinn], we'll see. Of course, I will run. We'll see what our prospects are, but if necessary I'll stay in Estonia," Toom said.
Toom explained, that after the next Riigikogu elections in the spring, there will only be around one year remaining on her current mandate for the European Parliament, though she also did not discount the possibility of being re-elected for a third term.
In the last two Riigikogu elections, Yana Toom has run for the Center Party in Ida-Viru County. In 2015, Toom won 11,574 votes in Ida-Viru County, though this fell by almost half to 6,195 votes in 2019.
Prior to that, in 2011, Toom stood as a candidate in Tallinn's Haabersti, Kristiine and Põhja-Tallinn districts, receiving 4,510 votes.
Toom added that, she had been tasked by the party with writing a chapter of its election program, specifically for Russian-speaking voters, and that she was finding it challenging to do so. "I've been writing it for two months and it's very difficult," Toom admitted.
Toom admitted that many of her colleagues in the Center Party are concerned about the party's declining popularity. However, although a third of delegates at the party's last congress voted for Jüri Ratas' challenger Jaan Toots, Toom believes Ratas' position as party leader is secure.
"This is already the fourth Center Party congress, in which a third of the delegates have voted for another candidate. This is a traditional (level of) dissatisfaction," explained Toom, who herself ran against Ratas for the position of party chair in 2016. Toom received 348 votes to Ratas' 654.
No longer opposed to inclusion of EKRE in government
According to Toom, EKRE has succeeded in taking up the role of leader of the opposition thanks to its use of populist rhetoric, an approach which the Center Party cannot afford to employ. Toom pointed to the example of EKRE leader Martin Helme, whose positions on energy are much clearer than those of other party leaders, but who also makes promises that Estonia cannot fulfill if it wants to remain part of the European Union.
However, Toom admitted that she now believes her previous opposition to a potential joint government involving the Center Party and EKRE was misguided and would not necessarily be against a union between the two parties in the future.
"In hindsight, I realize, that it was necessary to show more flexibility and cooperate with EKRE, but at the time, I was opposed to them entering the government. We all have our red lines, but I admit that (for me, those) have now faded."
Estonia and the "Orbanization" of Kaja Kallas
According to Toom, Estonia's recent moves to ban Russian tourists from entering the country are in breach of the Schengen agreement. Toom believes, that their introduction will lead to Estonia's leadership being viewed the same way in Europe as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is regularly criticized for breaching democratic norms, specifically in relation to rule of law.
"The Reform Party has found itself in a very uncomfortable position because it is a pro-European party, Kaja [Kallas] is certainly a very pro-European politician and now, in the eyes of Europe, she looks like Viktor Orban," said Toom.
"There is the Schengen (Borders) Code, which is mandatory for all EU countries. It cannot be interpreted in the way the three Baltic states and Poland are interpreting it. It is simply illegal," Toom argued.
"The Schengen (Borders) Code allows borders to be closed if there is a threat to public health. This is not the case. When it comes to security threats, it is assumed that every person entering the EU is assessed individually. We cannot say that over 140 million people are a security threat. Sanctions should be against the regime, (and) against those who support it," Toom added.
Editor: Michael Cole