Kristina Kallas: Maybe we are too open-minded

Eesti 200 general congress November 19, 2023.
Eesti 200 general congress November 19, 2023. Source: Siim Lõvi / ERR

Kristina Kallas, the Minister of Education and Research, denied that the Eesti 200 had much infighting, claiming that its openness caused such views. She also dismissed Joakim Helenius' criticism and said that his financial crisis solution was unrealistic.

"I think these scandals are a characteristic part of growth problems. We're a very open party; we don't have a closed structure, so that the slightest squabble in the house – if there's a squabble between two people, even in the leadership, it's all over the headlines," Kallas told ERR in an interview. "We are not a closed organization; we are very open; our insides are completely open. It's perfectly possible for all journalists to see what's going on there."

"Maybe that's a bad thing, but the policy we have adopted is not to create closed chambers within the party. In a way, of course, it has been difficult for us to do that now that we are in power, but I think we will probably stay true to ourselves in that we will keep all the future communication that goes on within the party also open," Kallas said.

At the same time, Kallas said that the government is working on the five issues that Eesti 200 highlighted in its manifesto of May 2, 2018.

"There was the transition to education in Estonian only or the creation of a unified Estonian school; there was the state reform with the creation of a personal state to boost economic competitiveness; there was dealing with the climate crisis and nature; economic competitiveness and the concern that our population is decreasing," she detailed.

"We said in the manifesto that the Estonian state should address these issues and we are doing so today," she added.

Kallas said Helenius has no workable solution

Kallas disputed the criticism of Joakim Helenius, the party's largest donor who has donated about €400,000 to Eesti 200, that the party was in major difficulty.

"I completely disagree with Joakim here. He is extremely unhappy with these tax increases and as a businessman he has every right to be unhappy, and he has every right to express his dissatisfaction," she said.

"But if you ask what the solution is and how we are actually going to solve the problem that we are facing as a deficit in the state budget, then the solution of making 20 percent of civil servants redundant seems terribly simple, but it is not actually feasible. Because laying off 20 percent of the civil servants means doing away with some of the very large and important activities of the state," Kallas said.

"For example, if we don't manage EU funds anymore, then it is possible to make 20 percent of officials redundant. If we make the decision that we will no longer accept money from the European Union – we will no longer administer it – we will no longer distribute it around Estonia as investments, then we could indeed lay off the 20 percent of officials who are actually doing the job," she said.

"It looks like a simple solution from the outside. But the reality is that our country is pretty thin, and the Secretary of State has said so several times that it is possible to cut and make cuts, but not to the extent that we can cover the deficit in the national budget."

"I realize Joakim wanted to sort out the public finances and build a personal state, which we are accomplishing. He opposes tax rises, but there are no other ways to balance public finances. We have to admit that with a tax base where taxes have been falling for the previous 10 years, you can't last long. Even despite the current tax hikes, the Estonian tax burden is not rising much," Kallas stressed.

Helenius takes a very rigid position that under no circumstances should tax increases be introduced, she said. "But there is no solution other than to make 20 percent of civil servants redundant, and that is not really a solution at all," Kallas said.

Commenting on the sharp decline in support for Eesti 200 after the spring elections, Kristina Kallas gave two reasons.

"Firstly, we are in a government at a time of a very deep economic crisis, where a lot of unpopular decisions have to be taken. The reforms that we have initiated are very long-winded, but the results will probably come in four or five years, not next year and not immediately; you cannot see them today," she said.

"And the other thing is that we are a very open small party, and all the quarrels that we have within the party, which I am absolutely sure exist in all other parties on a daily basis, are just very public in our case," she said.

Eesti 200 held a general congress in Tallinn on Sunday and elected Margus Tsahkna as a new chair to replace the recently resigned Lauri Hussar.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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