Kaja Kallas: Estonia is now regarded as an equal at the EU table

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' New Year interview with ETV..
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' New Year interview with ETV.. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

After 30 years, Estonia's words carry just as much weight as those of France and Germany within the European Union, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said in an end-of-year interview, while speaking about the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and the future.

Andres Kuusk: There were many positive things to take away from last year, but above all, people will remember 2022 as the year of the Ukraine war, soaring inflation and the energy crisis. How difficult was this year for you?

Kaja Kallas: Certainly quite complicated. There were many issues and crises, which have not been contingent on us [in Estonia] in any way. While some prime ministers may not have a single crisis like this during their entire tenure in office, I've had them in spadefulls, so to speak. When a joint sitting of the prime ministers took place in August, it was such a nice sitting; whereas those who have held this position [usually say] that this was nothing, that we had [a crisis] too and you can get over it, you'll manage, this time there was also [talk] of 'I don't remember ever having had such a tough time.'

Let me bring you up to speed on domestic politics: The next two months are going to be even harder. Elections are looming. Is the coalition working at all in such a situation, given already last year there tended to be some shakes and rattles?

This coalition has been in place for half-a-year so we've gotten to know each other, and each other's work style. At least at the end of last year, we made quite a few decisions. But yes, there is this tone whereby elections are coming. There are 55 days until the election (at the time of the interview-ed.); not that anyone is counting, but still. 

This also sets the tone in that what is done is one thing, but another is how the drum is played and how one tries to pull the blanket over oneself. But the important thing is that we have cooperation, and we don't have any bitterness towards each other – at least I don't have any kind of bitterness towards the coalition partners, and I believe that even after the elections, this could be one of the combinations that would be viable.

The first news of the interview has already rung out, as the Isamaa chair tends to get what he wants, while the leader of SDE, whom you have also referred to as a young politician during some disagreements, sometimes carries out [Center Party Riigikogu whip] Jaanus Karilaid's tactics, as it were, whereby he participates in decision-making, but then says that this was too little, too late, and in the wrong direction.

Well, everyone has their own style, but ultimately the question worth posing is whether this style, or this kind of battling, has garnered more support from the people. In fact, it did not benefit the Center Party, and it cannot be seen that it will even now. Instead, people, I think, still like a constructive approach, with cooperation – you're in office, work together, don't snipe at each other; simply, people want to see the government functioning.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' New Year interview with ETV. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

One of the main topics in this election is without doubt the price of energy and of electricity. Incidentally, what was going on with those power outages and the warning given (in the TV broadcast) – were you overreacting, or not?

In the cold light of day I don't think anyone would say I had overreacted. There was a discussion going on in the cabinet, and the risk was real, when several different factors came together at once. First, Russia announced its mobilization; second, we had our own additional [military] training exercise; and third, there was a supposed attempt to synchronize the electricity system [with the rest of Europe], which was then canceled. However, the fact that we have less electricity on the market now, and there may be interruptions this winter, has not disappeared. Looking back, many people have said that it is very good that I made this appeal. It was thought-provoking for people.

You were named [electricity] generator salesperson of the year!

Absolutely, but because of the fact that, now, people have generators, so many power outages (eg. due to storms – ed.) have been easier to deal with than they would have been without them. It had an impact, and I believe people are better prepared thanks to that.

There is a lot to talk about when it comes to energy. Eesti Energia will be getting a new manager in the spring. What did [outgoing CEO] Hando Sutter do wrong?

This is a question for the Eesti Energia supervisory board. This is the body who appoints the [management] board and elects a new board member or chair.

I knew you were going to say that. It was a diplomatic answer for sure, but listening to your end-of-the-year interview which you gave to Vikerraadio, I got a completely different impression, in which, figuratively speaking, you were still firing both barrels in the direction [of Eesti Energia].

The fact that I have not been satisfied with the activities of Eesti Energia is no surprise to anyone. There have also been many discussions within the cabinet noting that the board of Eesti Energia has underestimated the government, to put it mildly. 

I can't disclose everything, but there are moments where we were given incomplete information, to make themselves look better. There have been such moments, but the important thing is that Eesti Energia functions as a company; it is important that people get electricity and that Elektrilevi's investments go into networks, so that people on Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, and in Võru County (all areas hit hard by recent storms-ed.) have electricity; so that the power lines work and chaos does not reign, as was the case with the Saaremaa power outage (in mid-December-ed.). This is key, which is why the separation of Elektrilevi is also key.

Isn't the search for a scapegoat here a little bit misplaced, since the Competition Authority supervises, the [Eesti Energia] supervisory board oversees, as does the minister of your own cabinet, the minister of finance, and there is a general meeting?

But I'm not looking for a scapegoat, I'm looking for solutions. What I meant was that those things that we have agreed upon, such as 1,000 MW of power, are always in place; that Elektrilevi's networks function. I am looking for solutions to allow the public to have electricity, at as affordable a rate as possible.

But the hiving off of Elektrilevi from the Eesti Energia group, for example, is not included in the owner's (ie. the state-ed.) expectations document, which was updated in August.

I can't remember exactly when we made this cabinet decision, in August 2021. The Minister of Finance, who is the representative of the owner, must also convey these owner expectations to Eesti Energia. I can't state it in that way.

Where is this 'Italian strike' taking place – within Eesti Energia or within the Ministry of Finance?

Is this really something that interests people so much? I don't think it's of consequence – this is major bureaucracy. The question is, in terms of substance, what interests people to ensure electricity is available and that power outages are fixed quickly. 

How it is done is what matters. In order for it to be that way, there are decisions at the political level, which, of course, must also then be passed on to Eesti Energia, which is not a conventional business company, as it belongs to the state. I've seen it plenty, where somehow it gets messed up – not that the state doesn't belong to Eesti Energia and doesn't do Eesti Energia's bidding, but vice versa, where the state somehow belongs to Eesti Energia.

There is simply one very important reason why it matters to people that Elektrilevi carries electricity to almost everyone's homes, and, for example, when network connection fees become more expensive.

Indeed – it's not that network fees might become costlier which is the issue, but the issue is that the Eesti Energia group borrows from the market to carry out its projects. Banks are also a filter in some sense, and evaluate whether a project is sufficiently risky or low-risk. Based on that, the price of a loan is also determined. If a package includes a service for which a network fee is provided, which is 100 percent guaranteed, and if this money is used on risky projects, then in fact the funding is in effect cheaper, and this price does not imply that it (Eesti Energia – ed.) should perhaps ge involved in these risky projects. But this is just a technique. I think that people are not interested in it, they are interested in investments intended for Elektrilevi going to Elektrilevi, and also the network fees; all the loans that are taken out against these network fees.

I don't want to push the matter, but if Eesti Energia has about one billion [euros] in loan liabilities, as I recall, but you know perfectly well that there are problems with their refinancing, due to the continued use of fossil fuels, then in the end it will all get reflected in some kind of price, somewhere.

Yes, but this is just a good example of why [Elektrilevi and Eesti Energia] should be separate companies, so that [loans] are evaluated separately; that the money which is needed for the networks to operate, for the electricity to be there, will also go there.

Will it be Elektrilevi separately, or together with [state-owned grid distributor] Elering?

This is already another discrete question, but it is important that the production and the network are not combined. Why so? Because if there is production facility that has competitors, different electricity producers, then it is not interested in others being able to provide electricity to the grid in a more effective way.

A white ship finally arrived in Finland. Would you sleep a little better if the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) vessel were here, instead of over there on the other side of the gulf [of Finland]? (The 'white ship' is a common Estonian motif, comprising a vessel which arrives in Estonia in order to save the country from oppressors; an actual LNG-carrying ship arrived off the coast of Finland late last year-ed.)

No, because we have the Balticconnector pipeline. We must also thank previous Reform Party governments for this, in making the decision to have a gas connection with Finland, while that this ship is indeed very large. We have acquired and purchased gas reserves. We still take into account our entire electricity or energy region and not only Finland and Estonia, but also Latvia and Lithuania (Estonia has some natural gas reserved stored in the former, and is linked by a pipeline to the LNG terminal in the latter country-ed.).

In general, you can where I'm going with this somewhat, but I don't want to start talking about all this [Elering/Alexela/Infortar connection] saga, as it's become terribly irritating. The most common narrative is that the state is harassing entrepreneurs; what is your response to that?

My response is that these entrepreneurs have some very good PR and they really get line over on the air. However this is not the case.

Maybe Elering are the good guys and Alexela and Infortar...

No, it's not that way. I suggest you take a look at this whole saga – what someone has said publicly, versus what has been done. The National Audit Office has made a very good overview of it. I'll just point out one point in time – in the spring, when various guarantees, different guarantees from the state were constantly being asked for, but then suddenly the private sector said "okay, we don't need anything, we'll do it ourselves without any purchase option from you," that "we'll do it ourselves, we won't ask you for anything."

Plus I have also said at Riigikogu question time that while I hope this is the case, I am afraid in fact it is too good to be true. At the same time, we had no choice but to take the entrepreneurs on trust. At that point in time. It transpired later that it was indeed too good to be true.

Now the Minister of Economic Affairs has said that Elering could or should have come up with the solution to this problem. Incidentally, I recall that, for example, you sometimes gave work tasks to the Center Party ministers (Reform and Center were in office together until June 2022-ed.)? That the Minister of Economic Affairs could have been told, that listen, this quarrel has become big, and ugly. Find a solution, resolve it.

This task has been given out constantly, but as for the desire to solve it, I do not know. We have also had a sincere desire along with the private sector, to whom we are very grateful for the investments that have been made, and we are also ready to offer a purchase option. If they have nothing to do with that LNG berth, which is part of that infrastructure, part of that investment, and we're willing to cover those costs, then we've acted in good faith.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' New Year interview with ETV. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

How long will we be trapped by these high energy prices?

This is difficult to say; we are making every effort to bring more production to the market. For example, we carried out a thorough audit and also sent it to the Riigikogu, who very quickly processed the elements of it that could be accelerated, in order to get renewable energy on to the market. To get away from behind the dam, as it were, as when we consider that we have more than 8,000 MW of connection requests for renewable energy, the fact is these cannot supply [electricity] to the grid. As to the reasons for this, we conducted a very detailed audit to identify the factors. From there, we split things into two – those things that we can do immediately on an expedited basis, and those things which are more long-term. In addition, we have taken all kinds of steps together with other Baltic Sea states, for example with regard to offshore wind farms. To bring more of the offered electricity on to the market, as the reason for the current high price level is primarily that there is just too little electricity being generated.

And those big steps are so that this deficit starts to be resolved tomorrow, or in six months, or 12 months?

Unfortunately, energy things are not issues which can be resolved in a matter of weeks. Yes, these investments must be pushed back. We also hope that when [Finnish nuclear power plant] Olkiluoto is fully operational, it will alleviate the production capacities – the crisis – in our region. But it will definitely not resolve the situation to the finish line; we ourselves need more production capacity, and we are dealing with that. But, unfortunately, this is a bit longer term than just a few months.

Perhaps decisions are needed, rather than discussion?

Decisions are indeed needed. We have made as many of these as is within our competence to make. On the other hand, investments are also required – which is the role of the private sector. The role of the state is to create an environment which makes investment attractive. We have tried to do this in such a way that, in cooperation with the private sector, more investments would come here.

The central bank says that the effects of energy prices will really only be felt this year. In your estimation, how hard of a landing are we in for?

Various forecasts have been forthcoming, all of which say that this year will be hard. We have already seen the inflation, though we have not yet seen a major rise in unemployment. We did observe exceptionally large profits going to companies in the second and third quarters of last year, which brings a glimmer of hope that there will be a buffer, but at the same time, there is a feeling that everyone has, which is one of uncertainty.

The layoff numbers all already reveal as much

Yes, but actually the layoff numbers aren't fully revealed yet. If we exclude Ukrainian war refugees who have declared themselves unemployed from the overall figure, only 400-500 people remain who have become unemployed. In other words, if we assume that 41,000 Ukrainian war refugees have come here, then the rise in joblessness is not so significant yet.

However, if you add advance notification from the unemployment fund?

I agree that everyone has the same feeling that yes, unemployment will rise this year, but the question is how by how much, and how will we deal with it.

Estonia has maintained a relatively low profile when it comes to crisis relief measures in helping companies. Should something more be done?

Whereas in the past companies mainly competed via efficiency and better prices, nowadays sometimes there is a feeling that they are competing on the basis of subsidies, as if nothing can be done without support. 

The problem is, of course, that at the European level, it has turned into a race which has no real winner; even the richest states will eventually run out of money. In this regard, we cannot outstrip the budgets of countries which are using considerably more buffers. When I look into specific numbers or subsidies, some countries in our neighborhood just seem to be doing very well. What they count as grants, as it were, are actually loans or loan opportunities. If we add it all up, we have exactly the same packages.

But surely Germany and other state pay support quite well, while our companies are a bit out in the cold?

It's not that way. As I say, all in all, the wallets of all nations will go empty if we compete with each other in this way. After all, the problem lies somewhere else; the problem is in competitiveness throughout our region. But again, we also provide subsidies to entrepreneurs, and we carry out various measures through KredEx/Enterprise Estonia (now merged-ed.). We also have various grants, but we cannot give grants to everyone, as not everyone is doing badly. If we give support to all, its effect will be very, very small. Those who really need help also won't get it. I have usually carried out such an exercise with entrepreneurs whereby I say, okay, but agree between yourselves here at the table who should get support.

This is the surest way to get people into trouble

But they themselves say that it is not viable to use such a formula. So why do they demand this formula from me, if it cannot be done?

Then isn't that a reason not to provide any support at all?

No, but we do – again I repeat – we do support our entrepreneurs. But agree among yourselves who the one who is currently getting hurt the most and who needs support might be, so that this support is, so to speak, concentrated, and helpful. The economy is cyclical, the danger is that we end up paying for inefficient economic models which would go bankrupt, as they have not made changes in time, when the world or trends change. If we pay it off, we're just postponing it (bankruptcy-ed.) and for the taxpayers' money. However, this is all of our money; it doesn't come from some hole-in-the-wall, or from some uncle overseas, it comes from our own pockets.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' New Year interview with ETV. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Interest rates have until now been rising quite rapidly, and this has trickled through to many people's loan payments in January. How will people in Estonia pay off their loans?

From January, many people's wages will also increase, while the various subsidies that we have provided at the state level in order for people to cope with their own outgoings will also increase. The interest costs are high, but there were those who said, 'oh, take out a loan, why are you stupid for not taking out a loan.' An interest rate rise can happen at any moment, and has happened now.

The central bank, which we mentioned here before, also says that the government's fiscal policy feeds inflation. Hard to argue against this?

There is currently a very difficult problem relating to the government's fiscal policy. If you look at the opinion of Eesti Pank (the Bank of Estonia-ed.), the problem is that we are experiencing a combination of high inflation and a cooling economy. 

The tools you use when you have high inflation will work against when you have a cooling economy; the tools which work for a cooling economy, then in turn fuel inflation. What we've been trying to find is a middle ground of not giving inflation any boost, while at the same time helping to keep the economy from cooling down, because that means job losses etc.

Visiting the Reform Party's home page, the party you are the leader of, promises of orderly public finances seems to blur or get diluted

We are in an extraordinary crisis, as you yourself said at the start of this conversation. Indeed, if there is no crisis, no one needs to be supported, everyone can manage, but we have a crisis; not one, but several pieces at once, and this puts us in a very difficult situation.

In addition, when we got into the government, we inherited a state budget which had a gaping hole of more than a billion, which we tried to patch. If you think about how we tried to cut the budget, we cut spending. We also got a lot of criticism for that, but it wasn't because we did it, but rather that we were trying to get the finances in better order, and we have gotten them in better order. Our pledge even now is that within four years, we will balance the budget again, in the hope that by then the crises will be over.

Turning to the funds, a few days ago the public learned that the suspended second pillar payments from a couple of years ago will be repaid, with a nine percent yield. How realistic does that sound to you?

It didn't sound realistic to me even then, when we were in opposition and we criticized this step very strongly, on the grounds that why are we going to pay for the second pillar, if it will turn out much more expensive later. But we were not listened to, then there was a different government, and now this is what we talked about at that time.

The president promulgated the family benefits bill – let's refer to it simply as that – at the second attempt. At the same time, he pointed to serious problems relating to equality and justice. Why didn't politicians take time out again and start a debate?

This can be asked more of the Riigikogu. It is clear that family allowances, child allowances, definitely had to rise. Considering that prices have risen, the whole system of family benefits had to help. If you look at the history, all the parties except the Reform Party were behind it. But we were quite alone in that regard; we became a bit more reasonable, but of course there are places within the criticism that I am personally not satisfied with or in which I do not fully believe. I will never believe that more children get born just for the sake of money.

Helir-Valdor Seeder must certainly be a titan, in political terms, if he makes Kaja Kallas act in a way that Kaja Kallas does not want to act?

Politics is an art of compromise. We can stand up for all things and on a firm footing when in opposition, but nothing can actually be done in opposition. Agreements and compromises must be made within a coalition, however. It's like a dance: Sometimes one takes a step back, then the partner takes a step back, and that's how it should be.

But what about the quality of state governance, isn't this compromise with conscience too big of an ask?

Well, I have never compromised on my conscience. The question is certainly one where what we do or in what form we will do it, that these things can always be revised. Some believe that there is surfeit of ideology in politics anyway. Some believe one thing and others believe another, but that needn't mean that one or the other is wrong; however, I stand for the support being need-based and more targeted. But at the moment the Reform Party is completely alone in this choice.

What was the meaning of your party-mate [and MP] Margit Sutrop's article in Eesti Päevaleht, where she said that the way Isamaa pushed through this [family benefits] reform gives the impression that legislation can be purchased in Estonia. Can it?

We have many members in the party, with many different opinions, and we have freedom of opinion in Estonia, so everyone can think as they wish. So if you want to ask Margit Sutrop, for her opinion, by all means ask her.

I asked you if you have the same impression that legislation can be bought in Estonia. Another thing that Sutrop referred to, in the same article, is that you did it because, otherwise, the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition (known in Estonia as EKREIKE and in office April 2019 to January 2021-ed.) would have made a return, two months before the elections.

If we look back to June, the previous government was dissolved because Estonian-language education, which was very important to the Reform Party, failed at the Riigikogu, thanks to the votes of the Center Party, which was in the coalition with Reform, and EKRE (which was in opposition-ed.). It was clear that this coalition was no more. At the same time, the Center Party had, so to speak, thrown out the bone of a bill of family benefits or family support, on Isamaa's behalf, but which was supported by both EKRE, naturally, but SDE. That was the scenario at the time – basically you had the support of those four political parties, while we were alone on the other side. That was the political reality.

We all know about that, but the question is what will become of the criticism the head of state is referring to – will politicians now start planning the next steps, for the first and second child? I'm not talking about taking anything away from anyone

Taking away is always more difficult than giving more, but right now, the Riigikogu can no longer accept anything new. The elections are coming, and these things will be done after the elections. The new government can then also discuss this.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' New Year interview with ETV. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Well, I  also wanted to pay you a compliment. The way in which you have been defending and representing Ukraine and Estonia and sometimes, it seems to me, and all of Europe, via the foreign media, has been impressive. Do you feel like the 'Iron Lady' of Europe?

I don't know what that is supposed to feel like! What I do feel is that my opinion is taken into account and sought after. This is a good feeling, but not in relation to my personal opinion, but that of a representative of Estonia. Estonia is an equal among equals at the table, and I think it is crucial that, after 30 years we have reached the point where our say is worth just as much as that of France or Germany.

It would have been expected that you take a similar leadership role over from some of the bigger players in Europe, or (some) of those you named.

Everyone takes a leadership role on different issues. What needs to be understood is that the history we come from is so varied. What I have sensed is that we think we know quite a lot about each other in Europe and quite a lot about each other's history, but we actually don't know that when there was an iron curtain in place, the knowledge on the other side of that curtain about what was happening on our side was still relatively scant. I am glad that now more people are watching, listening and talking about it. It is also very important that we ourselves listen to Germany and France, who both have a completely different experience, and that we get to understand where they are coming from. To speak in a language they understand.

At the same time, some opposition politicians have called you a 'warrior princess,' but I don't need to translate that this is not a positive epithet, plus they say that you should pay more attention to the state. Is this criticism fair?

The opposition always has to make criticisms, and of course all kinds of labels are applied, but if you look at the work that I do, it is still mainly directed internally towards the state. It's just that we have made room for so many more foreign media interviews in the one day, but which also brings the know-how from here, to a wider audience.

This is part of the job, and I think especially now that there's a full-scale war going on, foreign policy is also in effect domestic policy, and you can't look at it in isolation any more. When we regained our independence, the principle was one of never being alone again, and this is very clearly a matter of our security. The fact that we are currently sitting at the table among equals is also a point of our own security, which is the most important domestically. If there is no security, then there is no point in arguing about a graduated income tax system, or a fair and uniform income tax system.

Plenty of refugees have arrived in Estonia, this is the case. EKRE leader Martin Helme says that Kaja Kallas has 'Russified' Estonia more than Tsar Alexander III, Joseph Stalin or [penultimate leader of the Estonia SSR] Karl Vaino ever could have. Have you not considered taking this to court?

You cannot go to court over political statements. In this sense, EKRE have made it very clear to themselves what the mandate of a Riigikogu member or the immunity of a Riigikogu member means, ie. that he or she cannot be held responsible for making such statements. But I don't think people actually believe that is the case. In reality, what my government has done is make the transition to Estonian-language education. It hasn't been accomplished in 30 years, it's a big, big reform, there have been different reasons to do it; but in my opinion, it is crucial that it gets put in place, so that we don't have people living in Estonia who don't speak the Estonian language. These are real steps, not just some hollow talk, but meaningful actions.

Estonian Defense Forces commander Maj. Gen. Martin Herem just penned a rather black-and-white opinion piece, saying that regardless of how things go in Ukraine, we must be prepared for Russian aggression. I had a very logical question progressing from that – aren't we now in that situation?

We are better prepared than we have ever been. If you look at all the investments we've made in national defense or the negotiations we've had with allies, which have produced results, plus the decisions of the Madrid summit, which are starting to materialize – we now have HIMARS here for example. That we have made air defense procurements, steps that will certainly make our defenses stronger than they were before.

Furthermore, what Russia did not think would arrive with this war, namely that Finland and Sweden would join NATO, which would certainly make our region safer. Having said all that, I don't mean to suggest that we should somehow lose our sense of the threat. Just as the commander of the defense forces writes, Russia no longer hides its aggressive face, and they have not changed their thoughts or goals towards us in any way. It's just that we have to prepare for that and be ready for the next steps and keep building a defense capability, and not just rest on our laurels.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' New Year interview with ETV. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

We have elections coming in less than two months. I read an interesting statement made by [SDE MP] Jevgeni Ossinovski, where he said that the tales about EKRE being about to to trounce the elections are a bizarre myth. Does your math suggest the same?

No, it doesn't suggest that. To be honest, this election is going to be pretty tough. It is not just a question of who wins the election – as I have experienced very clearly (in 2019.ed.) – but who can form a government. And as Martin Helme is always counting his votes – from the Center Party, Isamaa and EKRE (Reform, SDE and, should they win any seats, Eesti 200, Parempoolsed and the Greens, are all seen as incompatible in office with EKRE-ed.) – things are actually very evenly matched.

What will the final tally be, according to your calculations?

I don't even know the latest figures, but it's always either 50 or 51 (seats in the Riigikogu). This is how it goes, sometimes one is ahead, the other behind and vice versa; in this sense it is still very, very even.

Consequently, I have a question – perhaps some sharp statements on the political scene could have been left out as Prime Minister: The naming of Lauri Läänemets as a youthful politician or, for that matter, the remark about Jüri Ratas' participation in the dance show

But it's interesting that you never produce all the sharp things that are thrown in my direction.

For us, it goes with the terrain of the job and its salary

But they too have a job and a salary.

So who dances harder? You or Jüri Ratas?

I don't know, I haven't tested that. But I hope I'm ready, I can take such estimates. I've been dancing all my life, including 12 years at school, so I think I'm ready to take on a challenge like that (Ratas and his partner, who ran for Reform in the October 2021 local elections, were runners up in the Estonian equivalent of "Strictly Come Dancing" late last year-ed.).

The (ETV) producers will keep this hint in mind for now. However, what is the central issue of the election – for some reason it seems to me that it is not actually the "tax hump" you talked about, but rather that there are still some kind of values.

For me, the main issue for this election is actually one of a very long perspective – are we a friendly, progressive, pro-western, innovative, smart country, or are we a closed, embittered, small country. In my opinion, these are two choices, represented on the one hand by the Reform Party and on the other by EKRE. If we look at the statements or positions, it is clear that, for example, we intend to continue supporting Ukraine as long as it is necessary, while EKRE would immediately abandon Ukraine where possible.

Helping Ukraine in every way, including supporting refugees. Aid to Ukraine in general has been heavily criticized by EKRE, either directly or more covertly. Looking also at the last time EKRE were in government but were not the prime minister's party at that time, their positions on all issues were that we don't need anyone else, we are better off alone, be it with electricity or some other issues. That we are somehow stronger alone. No, we are not stronger alone. In my opinion, the war in Ukraine is ample demonstration that if we were alone, we would surely be going through very, very difficult times right now.

But isn't this confrontation between the two big players actually harmful to the Estonian political landscape? It reminds me a bit of the confrontation with the Center Party at the time – both go their own way...

I have so far been in politics less than I have been in the private sector, meaning I am still weaker with regard to political science than many of my colleagues.

Well, within a year, the supposed prime minister was to become the actual prime minister

But this does not mean that I am strong in political science. I am strong in the formulation of principles, but here we have a very clear rift, call it opposition or whatever, but they (Reform Party and EKRE-ed.) are two fundamentally different choices. I don't think any of us, or at least myself, thought we'd have to discuss never being alone a few years ago. 

[Unity] was like a principle that everyone signed up to. But that is not the case these days. So those are the two big choices – one is who wins the election; the second is who can also form a government, and based on which principles, goals or vision for the future will that be done.

Finally, in his end-of-the-year speech, the head of state called for making demnds on ourselves and for those we elect, and I absolutely loved that, so I'm going to accept that challenge. What about you

Absolutely, I am always demanding, in everything.

Kaja Kallas with interviewer Andres Kuusk. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Kaja Kallas was talking to Andres Kuusk, in a pre-recorded ETV interview conducted at the Stenbock House and aired on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. The interview had been planned for the previous week, but was put back after the prime minister was unwell.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

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