Earlier this week, Urve Palo made waves in Tallinn after announcing on Monday that she had quit the Social Democratic Party (SDE) the day before and resigned as Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology that day. Speaking to ERR News, the ex-minister discussed her past accomplishments and future plans, e-Estonia, and women in government.
ERR News: As the media has already covered, you intend to return to the Riigikogu to finish out the term, but are not planning to run for re-election next March. What are your plans for the more immediate future, in the coming days and weeks before the autumn session begins?
Urve Palo: Yes, it is true that I will continue in the Riigikogu until the end of my term. Generally speaking, after serving as minister for almost six years, I plan on returning to the private sector — where I worked for over 12 years before entering into politics.
As it would not be proper to search for a new job while serving as minister, I wish to take some time off for now. My main competence through both education and experience is in leadership and marketing, so we'll see what the future brings.
News: What would you consider your greatest accomplishment to have been as minister? What, if anything, would you have done differently in retrospect? Was there anything you left undone due to your departure from the post as Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology?
Palo: As Minister of Population and Ethnic Affairs [from April 2007-May 2009], I stood strongly for increasing child support, making the maternal support system more flexible, and creating a state fund for maintenance allowance. I am glad to say that all of these ideas have been realised by today. I am also proud that I was able to break up the monoply in our local island ferry business [as Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure, from March 2014-April 2015].
In my current portfolio [as Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology, from November 2016-July 2018], I see the industry sector as one of the main focuses. Almost 70% of Estonia's export is made up by our industrial production. This is why I introduced new state loan opportunities for industrial entreprises, and we are now opening a new state aid for digitising and automating production processes. Moreover, as product development is a very high-risk field, I see that the government has to help out our businesses here as well. We have worked hard for this, and state aid for developing new products will be introduced soon.
Additionally, I believe that the e-Estonia should not be only a branding concept. All Estonians must have access to e-government services from the comfort of their own home. But there is no use in providing e-services if people do not have internet access, especially in rural areas. I hope that thanks to the last mile project, which will bring high speed internet to areas where there is no internet access to the internet or a poor connection, more people can benefit from Estonian e-services. Applications are currently open for finding a suitable network builder.
Last but not least, KredEx has successfully introduced state aid for solving housing problems. This enables more businesses to grow their work outside of Tallinn and Tartu.
All of the ideas for which I stood have been set in motion. But serving your country is a job that never ends. Estonia is not finished, and there are many things to improve. The next ministers will have new challenges ahead of them.
News: For a time during the current government, under Estonia's first woman president, you, Kadri Simson and Mailis Reps were the only three women ministers. Do you believe Estonia should have more women in government?
Palo: After 25 years of independence, Estonia still has only 20-25% women MPs. This is regrettable, and new measures should be taken. As long as we have so few women in the Riigikogu, men will continue to dominate in the government as well. We should look at society as a whole and work on changing people's attitutdes toward women in general. After this, we may see more women in high-level positions, in both the public and private sectors.
This is also the reason why I stood for making the parental leave and state aid system more flexible. Women should be able to work part-time during maternity leave if they wish to do so. Thankfully this initiative has now been realised, and Estonian women can more easily stay in touch with professional life as they care for small children.
News: Could you possibly see yourself returning to politics in one way or another in the future? Perhaps on the local government level?
Palo: I am not planning on participating in the next elections, nor do I have plans to return to politics in the near future. But never say never.
Editor: Aili Vahtla