Jürgen Ligi: Replacing PM to satisfy someone's bloodthirst isn't reasonable

Jürgen Ligi (Reform).
Jürgen Ligi (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In an interview with ERR following the Reform Party board's meeting with Prime Minister and party chair Kaja Kallas on Friday, MP and party deputy chair Jürgen Ligi said that replacing the prime minister just to satisfy the press and opposition's bloodthirst isn't reasonable, adding that the role of bloodhound doesn't suit the press anyway.

You heard Kaja Kallas' explanations today regarding the scandal that has been unraveling over the past few weeks now. What is the [party] board's position — do you need to push forward, teeth gritted right now and wait until both political opponents and the public around you have calmed down?

Estonian society doesn't really have any other choice than to calm down, really. It isn't reasonable to keep pushing on, tasting blood.

And moreover at the price of factual information being blocked and stupid headlines being used. My Facebook post from yesterday was given a completely obtuse headline [in a newspaper] too. We did indeed touch on the topic of the press a bit too.

We're not generally among the most vocal critics of the free press... But the picture we got [from Kallas] — we received confirmation of what we've thought and what I have said in my initial comments — that spouses don't discuss their business activity. And if you do go ask them, then they'll say they can't talk about it. And it's quite certain that a prime minister with a background in law or a spouse in the investment banking profession, it actually wouldn't even occur to them to start inquiring one another about their clients and business activities. That's simply against business ethics.

And the prime minister has a lot else on her mind too; we sensed that again and again today.

We advised the prime minister to provide some kind of explanations on the subject of Russian business in general. About what's going on there. After all, we've discussed this in the Riigikogu as well — that we should look at what business connections exist there that make the statistic unpleasant for us that we're major exporters to Russia. Fortunately, primary exports have declined, and what's left is the transport and transit of other goods.

Such were the matters we discussed [within the board] today, and there's no news there indicating that we're facing a government crisis.

The party believes this scathing criticism is unjustified. While it's an embarrassing situation, that doesn't mean that the government has to resign. It seems as though [our] coalition partners also agree. The state must function, and it's not like any better coalitions are going to be formed here.

Replacing one person so that someone can satisfy their thirst for blood — that isn't reasonable.

Is it moreso journalists or the political opposition that wants to satisfy that thirst for blood?

I haven't wanted to click on all those articles with the very ugly titles. I know from experience that headlines distort reality.

Judging by the headlines — press publications aren't gonna stop; they aren't letting it go. But this kind of bloodhound role doesn't suit the press. It should still be a mediator of information, not a blocker selectively. In that sense I'm not excluding the press, but it's of course the opposition that has a fundamental interest [in this]. I guess we'll have to deal with them and offer them explanations if the press doesn't want to make them visible.

On my part I will say that I suppose we'll invite these authorities to [appear before the Security Authorities Surveillance Select Committee of the Riigikogu]. It's been announced that we'll be meeting on September 5.

We might have to invite the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA) too, because there are concerns as though this were some sort of taxation issue.

This is certainly a customs issue, i.e. how much and what is being transported. These overviews must be brought to the Riigikogu level so that MPs have less room to lash out apropos of nothing.

I do not accept that the leadership of the state is merely a matter of faith. Information must be analyzed as well. We'll definitely be doing more of that once this summer break is over.

Select committees will definitely be convening next week, and information will start being organized from there.

So you didn't recommend any concrete steps regarding how to bring the prime minister out of the deep political crisis to hit her and [how to] help [her]?

I mentioned that the concrete steps we are taking are still conventional Riigikogu formats — certainly not an investigation committee!

Opposition members in their first few months here in the Riigikogu have claimed that committees of inquiry have worked well. In reality, they've been paid well, but only dealt in political mockery.

Investigation committees haven't unearthed any new information. MPs don't have better means than investigative bodies. When we start settling matters of ethics among ourselves, then that turns into political snubbing. This isn't a format that's actually been fruitful.

So we don't support [the establishment of a] committee of investigation. We will, however, be discussing this in existing committees. All of this can be done in the Riigikogu format, if they so choose.

But if they're saying, "No, we don't even plan on expressing no confidence, because then this thing will be over..." That sums up the seriousness of this motive — that is, whether there's a genuine interest in getting anything cleared up or whether the explicit goal is to continue fueling mistrust. I'd like to dispel mistrust with information.

Of course, the prime minister didn't share all of her plans, but she did indicate that she has a couple of gambits coming up, if I may quote her. I don't know if I can...

But what does that mean, that [she has] gambits coming up?

That means that in a crisis of confidence and attack like this, the prime minister has some thoughts of her own that she didn't reveal. But what I can tell you is what thoughts we exchanged. That select committees will start sharing information, but not by ordering someone to appear before some random committee at any time. That's where this disagreement has come from.

The prime minister certainly won't refuse to appear before a select committee, nor we to set up a select committee, but these standing committees, as well as the Economic Affairs Committee, the Finance Committee, are very interested in what's happening with Russian business. What Estonia can do to dry it up. The initial reaction, of course, is that if Estonia is alone in doing this, then we'll just be passed by.

Bragging that Estonia's borders are closed doesn't work. And the economic downturn... It wouldn't pay to indiscriminately cancel Estonian companies; we still have to look at who is actually involved in feeding the Kremlin and who's just trying to hold out in hard times.

The government is facing very difficult budget negotiations, because the economy is a mess and next year it's going to get even worse. Do the Social Democrats' active gambits over the past few days — where they're saying they won't agree with cuts to their respective areas and are demanding more money for next year — reflect the Reform Party's compromised position? Now they can claim and take advantage of the opportunity because Kaja Kallas is under fire?

Yes, that particular question was discussed by the board as well, but they were pacified because this is standard rhetoric.

You hear statements like that coming from [SDE chair] Lauri Läänemets all the time. Anything so long as he can show his face. It definitely isn't smart, nor does it build trust, but it also isn't such a bad thing that we should be talking about some kind of fight.

An austerity agenda, or the understanding that we have a very serious long-term budget problem — that has given way somewhere over the years. They don't understand that money doesn't grow on trees and that you can't just keep taking on more loans. The state still has to constantly adjust its expenses and carry out structural reforms.

I don't click on articles where the title says we can't cut the state['s budget] to pieces. Now what kind of talk is that? We're only talking about freezing and slowing the growth of costs.

It was during the recession that real cuts took place. Then we managed to make society live within its means, borrow more sensibly and pursue more reasonable wage policy. Right now this is more difficult because of the mentality — because welfare is much higher. Plus the fact that all kinds of salary increases are written into the law, although this is a very foolish policy.

I remember those crocodile committee talks at the time, which culminated with the Social Democrats bowing out of the government. Currently we're fighting over some €50 million, where some ministries also simply announced that it won't be possible for them to save any money. Do we need more or less the same radical changes as in February 2009?

None of us have any room to walk out. In 2008-2009 we didn't have security policy decisions being seriously called into question. At that time, no one would have complained, "Look, Pskov was bombed" and "Oh my gosh, how can they" and "Now there's gonna be trouble" as well as "Estonia has to pull back." Today we have one such political party in the Riigikogu.

But all of the coalition partners recognize that constitutional order won't exist as such if we in the government just gave up over some budget talks. I think all [three] coalition parties absolutely possess a sense of responsibility, and that's reassuring.

But the crocodile committee? Yes, I'd like to remind you that it was in 2008 that the crocodiles came to the government's aid and offered up their unpopular proposals. And the fight with the Social Democrats... Indeed we sat down dozens of times and without result, because the Social Democrats resisted.

At the time, the way out was that the minority government had a little additional support in the Riigikogu to reorganize finances and adopt the euro. And the Social Democrats weren't opposed in principle; they opposed specific decisions.

And should they walk this time, you'll still have a very slim majority with which to continue the coalition.

They're not going to. The position they hold in Estonian politics right now — they wouldn't recover it with a move like that. Right now they have very good options as part of the government for cultivating their policies.

We don't have that kind of mistrust in them either that they'd really want to bring down the government. Truly we don't.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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