Former Isamaa PM: Rating of 5 percent not enough to represent Estonianness

Juhan Parts.
Juhan Parts. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Former Isamaa leader and PM Juhan Parts tells ERR in an interview that the party's voters have mostly left for Reform and that Isamaa needs new momentum wherein different opinions are tolerated. Parts has criticism for the EU green transition elements of which he holds to be harebrained.

Looking at the [2023 Riigikogu] elections campaign, it seems that the American culture war is gaining a foothold in Estonia. It has been suggested with regard to EKRE (Conservative People's Party) that they are copying the mannerisms and convictions of the more radical wing of the GOP. Will the new government [in Estonia] include proponents of the more radical side of the Democratic Party in the person of left liberals?

We shall see. But I would urge everyone in Estonia to avoid such ideological skirmishes. The active ideological struggle going on in America rather has to do with that country's history, culture and quite different circumstances. There is no place for it in Europe, not to mention Estonia, because we are a tiny society. Talking about the liberal-conservative scale, we would first have to agree on basic terms.

Let us be honest, EKRE are not a conservative party for one simple reason – their entire tonality is contrary to conservative thought. Conservatives are not an angry, destructive, disorderly bunch hell bent on insulting everyone. This has nothing to do with conservatism, starting with Edmund Burke. The same applies to how liberalism is defined in the States. It is theoretically wrong and practically unnecessary to gauge elections along those lines.

Riigikogu elections were entirely democratic and the result encouraging in terms of Estonia setting about solving dozens of complicated problems the country faces instead of wasting time on pseudo-issues. It is to be hoped that the opposition will also be constructive.

But it is not just about culture wars, with the green transition the other important chapter. Current political decision-makers stop short of making sure they understand the subject matter, they're brainwashed. They pick up isolated talking points from the West, while they do not analyze them from Estonia's perspective, in terms of what is true and what is not. We have been an independent country again for 30 years, and it's high time we realized that people in the West also make mistakes and have on several occasions. These kinds of artificially created matters should be largely ignored and not treated as a source of inspiration. But the liberal left in Estonia are also importing elements of culture war and talking very convincingly and passionately about them, even though the topics are alien and unimportant for us.

Why did Isamaa lose a third of its seats?

Isamaa must restore a broad-based approach. No political party aiming to be a driving force in society can adopt a view that's too narrow. What is more, Isamaa has gotten stuck in the gears of a debate dictated by the Helmes (EKRE leaders Martin and Marth Helme – ed.), even though the party has managed to remain itself therein.

The voter was traumatized by the Helmes' brawling, especially when EKRE shared a coalition with Isamaa and Center 2019-2021. Isamaa has tried to make sure Estonia's political culture would be similar to Finland's where everyone can work with pretty much everyone else, in the government and the opposition. The Finnish brand of democracy is a good fit for small societies and for keeping them together naturally.

The election result tells us that Isamaa needs new momentum, while this requires careful consideration and abandoning its [currently] narrow perspective.

What do you mean by this narrow perspective?

Above all, concentrating on one or two main issues. A party needs to tackle all aspects and be more innovative. Let us take all this talk of conservatism. It only works to narrow things down. We live in a society where we do not have all the answers, which is why we need to be fluent in collegial consciousness to be able to phrase vital policy that can take the people forward.

Many people fail to understand why we rigidly force our opinion on others in certain matters and stick to our guns. I have not been a fan of Isamaa's splits –the Free Party, Eesti 200 and Parempoolsed – all have rendered Isamaa's views narrower. It kills in-house debate and versatility. A conservative party needs to be diverse, trust different views presented by different people, which are discussed in a calm and professional atmosphere until a consensus is reached.

Isamaa has sought to take responsibility for the continuation of Estonianness but cannot with a support rating of 5 percent. That prescribes a smaller responsibility – a natural contradiction. We all understand that a modest rating coupled with too grand a message amounts to "All bark, no bite."

Could it be time for Isamaa to try and get back some EKRE voters after the latter went too far in seeking confrontation? Is it time to shake the EKRE Light image?

Isamaa has allowed the EKRE Light label to be pinned on it, even though it has been less visible lately. But I believe Isamaa voters have gravitated towards the Reform Party.

EKRE is really the former People's Union. Isamaa has traditionally represented the moderate middle-class. Our voters are not the super wealthy, nor are they the poor, if we're being honest. EKRE voters have very little to do with the middle-class. Perhaps some statements by the Helmes could reach more patriotically minded voters if they are not delivered in the form of furious outbursts. It is possible to find rational nuggets in ideas proposed by the Helmes, they can be shrewd and are experienced people. But our core voter backs Reform or Eesti 200 today.

The last 25 years have seen a constructive rivalry between the Reform Party and Res Publica, IRL, Isamaaliit (Pro Patria Union). And it has been a driving rivalry in Estonia's political development.

Whereas we should not concentrate on a single issue here – I'm referring to the Registered Partnership Act. It makes no sense to return to this primitive labyrinth of ideologies. People do not understand it.

In terms of a practical recommendation, what should Isamaa do about the implementing provisions of the Registered Partnership Act.

We could always follow the example of Germany as a far more Christian society. In matters like these, it needs to be admitted that people have different viewpoints, whereas it is not that important why they're different. It is always possible to allow members of the party to decide [vote] for themselves. Of course, there was trickery involved when the Registered Partnership Act was forced through parliament but that ship has long since sailed.

It is not up to Isamaa to decide this time around but rather the new coalition. The new coalition's experience and wisdom must decide whether this matter is worth pursuing on the backdrop of the Ukraine war and Estonians having trouble making ends meet. It is a chance for [Prime Minister] Kaja Kallas, who has grown a lot over the last two years, to reveal how she sees society and whether she believes the topic could needlessly split it once more.

Do you fear the liberals in the incoming government might also copy culture wars topics from the States to drive a wedge between people, with actual problems forced to take a back seat? Or attempts to justify everything and anything through the green transition, including painful economic decisions?

As concerns culture wars, I believe the Reform Party has enough common sense. However, I'm less sure about the green transition. When they started turning it into their issue four years ago, I believed economic calculations would allow them to separate the wheat from the chaff. But I see now that no follow-up analysis has taken place.

European green transition measures are definitely ill-considered. The entire energy and green transition discussion is headed for the ditch. Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats are all in on the bandwagon. Therefore, there will not be a balancing influence in the government.

The new government will soon have to send in Estonia's LULUCF proposals for how to curb land use emissions, either by reducing logging, ending peat production or turning a part of farmland into forest. It will be a very difficult choice.

It's a trick question. The current European Commission put these things on the agenda in 2019 and Estonian governments have been involved in making these decisions. Rather, I would ask why are we agreeing to things like that? The discussion will land sooner or later, while criticism of the extent of the climate program has been snuffed out in Europe.

We are old dogs, you and I, Mr. Kiisler, and not easily startled, while societies have been put in a state of alarm. People are told we are on the verge of the end of the world. We are not! It is enough to read the UN's 5,000-page reports that are published every five years. They say something entirely different than what we are being told.

Trying to solve the climate problem in a top-down, planned economy way will generate trillions in loss, whereas spending all that money might achieve nothing at all in terms of reducing CO2 emissions. It's smoke and mirrors. We're seeing massive bans and restrictions, and everything tied to LULUCF is one big question mark. The climate problem exists but is not fatal.

The government should revise these things. But I understand that when attending endless working group meetings in Brussels there is what amounts to virtual censorship of messages. And yet, review is necessary because these steps, sporting a long perspective, are irresponsible.

Those making the decisions today say they are saving the world, while they will be somewhere else, if only in another job, by the time of their implementation.

It is good Estonia was promised a climate law at these elections. I hope it will be centered around thorough scientific analysis, which will also reach the public. It will be a very interesting discussion. The differences of opinion between University of Life Sciences and University of Tartu scientists (regarding forests and logging volume – ed.) are just the tip of the climate debate iceberg, looking at what is happening in the U.S.

As concerns LULUCF restrictions, I would ask for a continuance. Just like the German government has effectively taken a time-out regarding the 2035 internal combustion engine vehicle ban.

If you meet with people from the industry, none of them imagine a society of electric vehicles, not to mention hydrogen ones. There are pages of unanswered questions regarding their adoption in Europe. There are also unanswered questions regarding other things promoted by these green tigers, the Paldiski hole (pumped hydro storage – ed.) and all that other nonsense. These investments stretch into billions, and don't even get me started on energy security, subsistence and competitive ability. All these questions are unanswered.

Coming back to the first part of the question, I'm glad the Reform Party took this matter under its wing. Knowing people in Reform, common sense will surface sooner or later. The slogans today are very "pedal to the metal." Times is needed for reflection. I know there is massive pressure, that this pressure is extremely ideological and by now devoid of any rational sentiment. Estonia should avoid utter nonsense, and I believe LULUCF is utter nonsense.

It is a separate problem that if this subject matter is recited by EKRE in its traditionally hateful tone, like a communist revolutionary in front of the Winter Palace, no one will take it seriously. Isamaa has also not dared to speak up and is only hinting at it. But aspects of the green transition make for an important national issue. Our thousand-year history cannot simply go along with this kind of fanaticism.

The Just Transition Fund is a good example of how coal and oil shale mines are closed in exchange for a pittance. People are going from meeting to meeting, signing documents with a smile on their face to secure €300 million for Narva and Ida-Viru County. Eesti Energia turns an annual profit of €600 million, while we are offered €300 million over seven years! I would send back the money and suggest they spend it on Brussels propaganda. Many planned energy market reforms might be a good fit for southern Germany or France, but not here. I usually don't like comparisons with the Soviet period, while the ESSR criminal code included a section on shooting fur seals if you get my drift...

I do. Estonia did not have fur seals then and doesn't have them now.

Indeed, while the section was still there...

Juhan Parts. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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