In an interview with ERR this week, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) talked about his party, its relationship with its former chairman, and the government's domestic and foreign policy course.
Asked by ERR's Johannes Tralla about the change that has taken place in the Center Party since he was elected chairman in autumn 2016, Ratas said that two important facts certainly were that the party is now in government, and that it can conduct its daily business without the help of various lawyers.
"Today we see the Center Party as a party in government, and the party of the prime minister. We've just come out of the Estonian presidency of the EU council. But we've also had to sell our offices to get out of legal settlements and pay various fines and sanctions," the prime minister added.
Ratas also commented on past rumors that at a time he considered leaving the party. "There were such speculations, and I was thinking about these matters at some point, but I've never answered that particular question in the affirmative," Ratas said.
Savisaar distanced himself, Center Party no longer paying legal bills
His predecessor, former long-time party chairman and until the 2017 local elections suspended Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar accused Ratas and the Center Party in the new year special of ERR's Aktuaalne kaamera newscast to have turned their backs on him.
The prime minister rejected this view, saying that he had tried to remain in touch with Savisaar. "On the same day that I was elected party chairman I expressed the wish to stay in touch. I wanted him to remain in the party, to support it, and help us in the elections. Back then he said he would, but that it depends on his health," Ratas pointed out.
Savisaar ran against the Center Party in the local polls in October last year, but managed to get just over a tenth of the numbers he had scored in earlier elections. In his place Tallinn deputy mayor Mihhail Kõlvart became the Russian voters' most popular choice, while Savisaar slid off into political oblivion.
All this had been Savisaar's own choice, the prime minister said. "In retrospect I'm sad that he turned away both from the party and its principles. But he remains a party member, and I wish him only the best of health."
Commenting on the decision made in January 2017 to hire the former chairman as the Center Party's history adviser, Ratas said that Savisaar had never even taken up any work for the party. On top of that, covering his legal fees had become increasingly difficult to justify.
"I think we've spent in excess of tens of thousands of euros on this," Ratas said. "This is money that was spent in a very complicated fashion."
Domestic politics based on consensus, more residents in 50 to 100 years
Talking about the result of last year's local elections and the current political situation in Tallinn, the prime minister said that he would have preferred a coalition of Center Party and Social Democrats to run things in the capital.
"But in the 21st century a party isn't run by a single woman or man," he added.
The main objective of the current government is to make sure that in 50 to 100 years more people live in Estonia than at the moment. The government is taking specific steps to this end, the prime minister said, starting with tax reform, but also including increasing the budget of the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa).
Expectations towards Russia remain same, U.S.-Baltic summit, tunnel to Helsinki
Concerning Russia, the most important thing is Estonia's status as an independent country, Ratas said. "Better economic relations depend on whether or not [Russia] observes the Minsk accords, where Europe agrees on a joint position," he added.
Ratas rejected the view that relations with the United States have suffered since President Donald Trump took office. "Last year the United States' speaker as well as its vice president visited Tallinn. I hope that a joint summit of the Baltic states with the U.S. will soon take place as well," the prime minister said.
Finland will also remain an important partner. Ratas said that he had a meeting with his Finnish counterpart planned in five or six weeks to discuss the matter of a railway tunnel between Tallinn and Helsinki.
"We're moving in the direction of the two governments actually dealing with the issue. I'll meet the Finnish prime minister, and we'll discuss the need for the tunnel as well as its capacity." The tunnel would connect Finland with Rail Baltica and significantly extend the economic area, Ratas added.
Editor: Dario Cavegn