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Center's EU commissioner: Mihhail Kõlvart is harming the party

European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson (Center).
European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson (Center). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Six MPs announcing their departure from the Center Party at the same time on Friday morning is symptomatic of Mihhail Kõlvart's failings as party chair, long-term Center member and current European Commissioner Kadri Simson says.

Writing on her social media account Friday, Simson noted that: "[Mihhail] Kõlvart claims that he had been aware of the party members plans, those who made today's announcement, for weeks, yet he did nothing to convince those long-term party-mates to stay on board."

In fact, Kõlvart if anything seemed to have acted to drive away those members, Simson continued.

"On the contrary: Just one missed phone call to vice-chair Jaak Aab, who would have reached his 30th anniversary as a Center member this year, is quite clearly a pressure tactic to scare people away," Simson, who herself joined Center back in 1995, went on.

Simson also says that the party has under the Tallinn mayor's 100-day tutelage become too Tallinn-centric and has thus lost its credibility as an all-Estonia party in every sense, adding tacitly that she may follow suit in leaving Center.

"I have repeatedly warned that capital city-centered management spells marginalization. Unfortunately, that's how things have been going. Plus of course these latest developments make you seriously think about your future in the Center Party," she went on.

Simson, a close ally of Jüri Ratas, added that when the latter was chair (2016-2023, encompassing a spell as prime minister, 2016-2021) he invested a huge amount of energy and persuasive power to avoid a party split, but this had no counted for nought.

"Jüri Ratas did this repeatedly and effectively on becoming chairman. Kölvart, on the other hand, is apathetic and as such damages the Center Party."

This apathy works in other ways too, Simson said.

Of the current board, all had come from other parties originally – the two Kõlvarts (Mihhail, and his spouse, Anastassia Kovalenko-Kõlvart), Lauri Laats, Jaan Toots, Belobrovtsev and the party's secretary general Anneli Ott, Simson noted (all are former members of SDE, save for Toots who had been a member of the People's Union of Estonia, a forerunner to EKRE – ed.).

This meant that Center was for them a party of convenience and not one that they had any especial loyalty to, Simson said.

Center's sole MEP Yana Toom responded to Simson's arguments, saying that of the six MPs who recently left, half were "Ratas-ites" (not her term – ed.) who got into parliament as alternate members even as they only polled a few hundred votes each, thanks to the niceties of Estonia's proportional representation electoral system.

"The name for this worldview is one of being in power. I look forward to the next vote of confidence," was Toom's parthian shot – the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE government has been holding votes of confidence in itself as a way of passing bills and getting round a long-running Riigikogu filibuster.

On Friday morning, six MPs, former ministers Tanel Kiik and Jaak Aab, former Center secretary general Andre Hanimägi and former Valga mayor Ester Karuse all announced they were leaving Center for the Social Democrats (SDE), a party Tanel Kiik briefly belonged to earlier in his political career.

Veteran Center MPs Enn Eesmaa and Kersti Sarapuu also announced their departure, to sit as independent MPs, while Kätlin Pääro, who had headed up Center's Riigikogu faction office and is a former deputy head of the prime minister's office, is also leaving Center, to join SDE.

The development brings Center's number of Riigikogu seats down to seven (as EU commissioner Kadri Simson does not sit at the Riigikogu, whereas Jüri Ratas currently still does with Center), meaning it has gone from the second-largest party by seats (at 26 this time last year) to the smallest, in the space of less than 12 months.

All of the MP departures have followed Mihhail Kõlvart's election as leader in September, departures which have so far also benefited Isamaa and Reform.

The Riigikogu returns for its spring session next week.

Kadri Simson's term as Estonia's commissioner to the EU ends in the autumn, following the European elections in June. She has held the energy portfolio.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook

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