Martin Helme: EKRE will not back down, extraordinary elections possible

EKRE head Martin Helme.
EKRE head Martin Helme. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Martin Helme, the leader of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), said that the party will continue to obstruct in the fall and will make no concessions. In an interview with ERR, he also harshly criticized the government's proposals, which he believes will ultimately lead Estonia to a surveillance society.

At the Riigikogu Council of Elders held earlier in the week, coalition representatives suggested to opposition leaders that some questions submitted earlier to the Riigikogu could be withdrawn, others could be answered in writing, and some legislation draft could also be withdrawn. In exchange, the coalition promised that future proposals from the opposition would be considered for some laws, but that passed laws would not be reopened for amendment. What is the response of EKRE? You were not there, right?

I was not present because this type of discussion is completely meaningless and irrelevant. The time to seek a compromise was during the spring session of the Riigikogu, when the government's bill was pushed through in an unusual way and, in our opinion, in obvious violation of the law.

These meetings were held in the month of May, when compromises were still possible. There is no point in reflecting on compromise now that eight laws have been passed by a vote of confidence, some of which are intransigently unacceptable to us, especially the gay law.

What they have done cannot be undone at this point. I also sent a letter to the council members stating that a compromise is certainly possible and that the homosexual legislation must be repealed. Then, we can resume normal parliamentary operations.

It is not as though they could force their way and then say, "Let's be friends again." We will not withdraw any measures and will not make the legislative procedure any simpler during the autumn session. Some inquiries that have become irrelevant or contain redundant information may be eliminated. Nonetheless, we have no intention of making concessions.

Are you prepared to go all the way, or are you trying to delay the adoption of the state budget until next March? If the state budget is not adopted by March 1, the parliament will be dissolved.

The opposition has no real representation in the current legislature, and the coalition disregards public opinion, its previous promises, and existing laws, including the Constitution. There is no need for such a government in Estonia. I believe that extraordinary elections would certainly help to resolve this issue.

Riigikogu Council of Elders meeting, Thursday, May 11, 2023, aimed at breaking the deadlock following a four-day opposition filibuster. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

During the summer, officials in Estonia have become more active, with scores of controversial proposals coming to light. For example, a suggestion that the content of news programs in Estonia could be controlled. A plan to start measuring the average speed of vehicles has been floated by the Transport Administration. How do you explain such proposals? According to officials, proposals that have languished for a long time can now be implemented. Maybe a new coalition government could help them.

I will add one more thing here: the Ministry of the Interior has developed a plan to begin registering and inspecting bus and boat passengers in the same manner as aviation passengers. These proposals are justified by EU directives or regulations. The truth is somewhat more complex. EU regulations and directives only delay the full implementation of the surveillance society.

France recently passed a law allowing police to activate cameras, microphones, and GPS tracking on computers, smartwatches, smart TVs and mobile devices. It is a total surveillance society, where the power of the state is, of course, abused in accordance with the logic of power.

But it is also the diligence of officials. For example, monitoring average speed is a multi-layered issue. Firstly, we are lied to quite bluntly and there are several layers of lies. We are told that this is done for road safety.

There are around 50 road deaths a year in Estonia, and the absolute majority are caused by two things: drunk driving and particularly dangerous overtaking. And fatal accidents do not happen on the main roadways. Accidents on the main roads happen when we have poor road maintenance, i.e. when we fail to control slippery roads. So, instead of tackling drink-driving or trying to catch drunk drivers more diligently, we will start to monitor drivers en masse, in other words tackle the problem from the completely wrong end.

One of the reasons could be, of course, that indeed officials somewhere have already contracted out some kind of development or IT solution for taxpayers' big money. Now it needs to be enshrined in law, because tracking cars is against Estonian law, more specifically, against the Personal Data Protection Act. This cannot be done by the transport authority or the police and the tracking must be authorized by a court.

In the Riigikogu debate over the authorization of ABIS, the large police database, we witnessed the same phenomenon. In reality, the government had already conducted a massive IT development project. Then it was discovered that the law does not actually permit this form of mass surveillance, and an anxious parliament pushed the legislation through.

These proposals sum up where our society is heading in the first place. We are on the way to a surveillance society where the citizen is a priori a suspect. And it is up to the state to decide what it allows citizens to do. The inevitable consequence of this is that we all break some law every day, and when the state needs to, it just has a little rummage through the databases and finds out that you did something wrong three months ago or three years ago, and the criminal proceedings start. The process takes seven years and completely ruins your life. This is a terrible country we are heading for.

The regulation of the media is a separate issue, again justified on the grounds of the European Union. This is also wrong. The European Union does not actually require us to do it in this way. But it is an all-encompassing part of the so-called fight against hate speech.

Hate speech in Estonia is in fact already very clearly regulated by law. Hate speech is punishable in Estonia. What is being talked about in terms of the TTJA and the criminalization of hate speech in general is in fact mind control. The hate speech section is for ordinary citizens and the media law is for the media. It's comparable now perhaps to what's happening in China, where they're constantly checking that the news, the opinion pieces, everything is in line with the ideology of the party in power, so to speak. This is, of course, first of all, contrary to the Estonian Constitution, which guarantees us freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of the media. Secondly, it is an extremely alienating society, and we must not, under any circumstances, accept that we are moving in that direction at all.

It is an interesting question how we have reached the point where these ideas are being introduced. The goals of reducing road fatalities and averting brainwashing by Russian propaganda are admirable, but they want to use means that have no place in a free society. And people who have spent most of their lives in a free society are responsible for this.

Those born in the 80s simply do not have personal experience of how horribly oppressive, harassing and depressing that social order was.It was also forbidden to tell politically incorrect anecdotes, to criticise incompetent leaders, police and officials.It was all anti-Soviet activity.

Younger people do not have that experience and to this must surely be added today's education system, which has clearly gone to the left. The current education system cultivates the notion that there is a dos and don'ts somewhere, as for example, BLM (Black Lives Matter - ed.) and anti-racist theories that are taught with a straight face at university and are very much repeated in the media. In fact, this has been very successful and people have got the idea that in a free society it is understandable that certain views and certain opinions can be banned by law. You have to understand that any kind of power will always try to suppress criticism and to shut down opposition.

The reality of today is that in Europe, the parties calling themselves liberal are mostly in power, including in Estonia. They point out that they like a free society, openness and tolerance, which is what Kaja Kallas keeps telling us. But in reality, they are working every day against openness and tolerance.

And let's not forget that Estonia has become a very bureaucratic state and that bureaucrats are always trying to get more power, more resources and at the same time reduce their own responsibility. Hence the mania for secrecy that has been going on in Estonia for a long time. The most insignificant papers are already stamped with a 75-year-old stamp of secrecy.

First and foremost, the system is designed to ensure that incompetence is never revealed. The taxpayer foots the bill for cold storage and other expenses, but nobody is ever held accountable. The ring-fencing of officials and the ring-fencing of the involved legislators are so well-executed.

There is more than one thing going on here, and that is why freedom and our constitutional rights have to be very vigorously protected. It is a kind of step-by-step process, and it is very slippery. Recall that it was once said that the death toll and number of casualties in the Second World War should not be questioned. The law prohibited any discussion or debate regarding the topic (Holocaust denial - ed.). It went on to say that one must not say anything about one minority or another. Everyone agrees to avoid offending others. But with such arguments we end up with the fact that we are actually living in a totalitarian society. This needs to be responded to very forcefully.

Martin Helme. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The politicians themselves have been relatively quiet on these issues in recent weeks. Members of the Riigikogu could be clearer and bolder in expressing their views. I read the minutes of the Economic Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, where the initiative to improve European Union affairs was discussed. This waste reduction initiative is admirable on its own, but it cannot be implemented on such a scale. Members of the committee came to the same conclusion, but still backed this unrealistic plan in the final vote. What is it, a lack of courage?

The representative of the EKRE also opposed this in the Economic Affairs Committee and the EU Affairs Committee put the approval of this initiative on hold for a while. But, of course, the parliament is currently on a summer break, the official term for this is "session-free." It is true that the spring session and the elections have made politicians relatively relaxed. We will certainly see a debate on these issues in the autumn.

It is a rule of thumb that when politicians go on holiday in the summer, civil servants don't, and civil servants are what you might call permanent state. It still goes on and on, rolling out its controversial or often unpopular stuff quietly in the summer. And then, in the autumn, we get together and discover that things have already sort of happened.

The civil servants know exactly how to get their way. The proposal to measure average speed is an example, I remember it from the 13th parliament. Already three terms ago it was sold to the politicians, so to speak, and that time it was rejected straight on.

In the previous parliament, when we were in government, it again came out somewhere that it was a terribly necessary and useful idea. When officials started to quibble about how this would affect our road culture at all, the proposal was shelved again. Now it's back again, like some kind of immortal Kashchey. Somewhere there is an official or officials who either have a vested interest, I don't know, a special relationship with the developers, or an ideological interest. It's just being pushed endlessly, hoping that some government will pass it.

It is a permanent feature that twists politicians around their knuckles, but politicians don't get too involved with it. And politicians never want to make unpopular or difficult choices when presented with an issue asserting that monitoring every person's route is the only way to save lives.

Then you will need to explain that this has nothing to do with saving lives, but everything to do with the fact that the government increasingly monitors everyone's life. We are well aware that promises that the information will not be stored and will only be reviewed under stringent conditions are devoid of meaning.

Let's look at the state budget. This week, the Ministry of Finance reported that Estonia's budget deficit in May was 1 percent. Back in the spring, the annual average was forecast to come in at 4.8 percent. Tax receipts have been much better. Does this make it easier to put together a national budget?

The receipts actually show a very different picture. We have a few types of tax that are overpaid, notably labor taxes. But we do have a few tax categories that are coming in pretty much below forecast, notably excise duties and VAT. And these are very big taxes. I haven't looked at the receipts for May, but the picture for April was very bleak, and the real reason for this over-collection is inflation. The figures we receive are high, but the real state of the economy is plummeting down.

We are experiencing the steepest decline in industrial production in Europe, with virtually every sector experiencing a decline. I anticipate that by the end of the year, our financial situation will have worsened. And this is a result of Kaja Kallas' (Reform) economic policy, which has been in effect for the past two and a half years. The energy policy devoured people's savings, bankrupted our businesses, and devastated our export market competitiveness. This is the situation here.

These tax increases were flawed and wrong from the start. We needed to balance the budget because they don't really provide a budget solution.

It is anticipated that the tax increases will generate an additional €300 million for the state budget. Now that a budget cut of €50 million has been announced, the deficit is €1.5 billion, or €1500 million! This reduction does nothing to close the budget gap.

I will end with a question about the Center Party. There is an open power struggle there. Which candidate does the chair of EKRE consider to be a better partner, Tanel Kiik or Mihhail Kõlvart?

Each political party must undergo its own internal processes, and I have no desire to offer advice from the outside. Nevertheless, it is evident that the Centre Party was the party with which we formed a government. I have no reason to wish them ill, but when I consider their current options, I find that they are both poor.

If Mihhail Kõlvart were to become the chair of the party, no matter what he says, the party will basically become a party of Northern Estonia, let's say Tallinn and Ida-Viru County. That part of the Estonian-speaking electorate that they have will continue to dwindle, and in large part will move to us over time. I am not going to say anything about whether the Center Party is then in any way more or less coalition-friendly for the other parties. When it comes to values, however, the Kõlvart-led Center Party is clearly moving in a more conservative direction.

In Tanel Kiik's case, it is exactly the opposite. Tanel is, as he says himself, a Euro-liberal. He supports the cohabitation law, gay marriage, the green revolution. These are things that already exist in the agendas of the Eesti 200, the Reform Party and the Social Democrats and, under Tanel's leadership, should become issues for the Center Party. This also means losing voters at the other end.

I think Jüri Ratas has certainly been a better political combiner than Tanel Kiik. If Jüri Ratas could not keep these two quite different constituencies together, Tanel certainly could not either. In the grand scheme of things, both of these candidates are very problematic in terms of turning the Center Party around.

Tanel Kiik, Martin Helme ja Helir-Valdor Seeder pressikonverentsil Autor/allikas: Siim Lõvi/ERR


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Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Kristina Kersa

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