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Helme: Jaak Madison not to choose Riigikogu over European Parliament

EKRE held their annual congress in Tartu on April 9, 2022.
EKRE held their annual congress in Tartu on April 9, 2022. Source: Meelis Meilbaum

Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) Member of the European Parliament will continue in Brussels, and not take up a Riigikogu seat, the party's leader, Martin Helme, says.

Madison won a seat at the March 5 Riigikogu elections, but since MEPs are one of several categories of officials who may not sit in the Riigikogu, he had to make the choice – retain his MEP seat for one more year (the next European Parliamentary election are in 2024) or go to the Riigikogu for four years instead.

Madison, who sits with the Identity and Democracy (ID) European Parliament group, opted for the latter, meaning Kalle Grünthal, who sat in the XIV Riigikogu, will take up his seat as an alternate member.

Helme told ERR that: "I have made this proposal [of taking up a Riigikogu seat] to him several times. He received a four-year mandate in Estonia, whereas the European Parliament mandate lasts for another year. He did actually consider it for a while, but as of today, he has reached the point where he continue until the end of his mandate in Brussels."

As to whether the decision was influenced by who Madison would be replaced by at the Rigiikogu, ie. Grünthal, Helme said: "Perhaps not directly, but there is undoubtedly one argument related to Madison's presence or otherwise, which is the question of his alternate member in the Estonian Parliament; this alternate member is indeed Kalle Grünthal, but in the end this was not Jaagu's (ie. Madison's-ed.) main consideration."

When Riigikogu MPs vacate their seat for any reason – another is being appointed government ministers, since these do not sit in parliament either – the next candidate on an ordered list who did not already win a seat at the election takes their place.

In practice this usually means a candidate from the same party. The ordered list is valid through the session of a given Riigikogu composition, while if an MP returns – for instance when leaving ministerial office – this placeholder MP must make way for them.

The main question facing Madison, Helme went on, is what will happen at the 2024 European election and beyond, while it may also have been the case that Madison's replacement candidate in Brussels – had he opted to go to the Riigikogu – would not have found a single year in the European legislature appealing.

Helme added that Madison would certainly be seeking reelection to Brussels in 2024, though who else from the party might be running for EKRE is not yet clear.

In summer 2018, current Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) chose to return to Estonia after being elected party leader ahead of the 2019 Riigikogu election.

Since the 2019 European Parliamentary election followed just two-and-a-half months after the Riigikogu election, there was also the best part of a year left in which Kallas' vacated Brussels seat needed filling – which in the event Igor Gräžin took up.

Martin Helme also said that he will be seeking reelection as deputy Riigikogu speaker at the XV Riigikogu, while Center, he said, will also put forward Jüri Ratas, for the same position.

This means Isamaa will hold the balance on which candidate gets picked, he added.

The XIV Riigkogu was chaired by Jüri Ratas in its latter phases, after he stepped down as prime minister in January 2021, while Helme was one of two deputy speakers.

Voting on these posts will likely take place some weeks after the XV Riigikogu takes up its seats, which is expected to happen in early April.

Helme stressed that the opposition parties – his own party, Center and Isamaa – need to rally behind one or other deputy speaker candidate, since otherwise they run the risk of neither candidate winning and the position going to a coalition member.

Whereas the Riigikogu speaker post usually goes to a member of a coalition party – Center was in office with Reform when Ratas took up the post – and the first deputy speaker position similarly tends to be taken up by a coalition party member, traditionally the second speaker has come from an opposition party.

EKRE has 17 seats at the 101-seat chamber, Center 16 and Isamaa, eight.

Other positions going to opposition members, such as posts on Riigikogu committee chairs have already been agreed between the three parties, Helme said.

Helme also told ERR that he though a €450 million reduction in the state budget deficit for next year, proposed by Finance Minister Annely Akkerman Wednesday, would not make a big difference.

These cuts "do not arise from lower usage of official cars, or pens, but from some not insubstantial public service [cuts]," he said, referring to child benefits, food or other subsistence allowances, or the axing of free public transport (the coalition-in-waiting has already proposed the latter-ed.)

Helme said the first of these areas was likely to be facing the axe – the large family benefits proposed by Isamaa, which passed a Riigikogu vote.

Helme, a former finance minister, said that the fact that the state budget requires some trimming had come as no surprise to him.

He said:  "The fact that the budget does not hold together should not surprise anyone who knows anything about budget matters. When the state budget was handed over to the Riigikogu in the fall, after an initial glance at the summary, it was clear that this was a complete bluff."

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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