Interview: Kaja Kallas on EKRE, current government, perspective of Reform

Kaja Kallas.
Kaja Kallas. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Centre Party wouldn't have to join a Reform-led government as a junior partner, but would be equal, Reform Party chairwoman, Kaja Kallas tells ERR's Indrek Kiisler in an interview published on Thursday. Kallas doesn't believe that the leaders of far-right EKRE will change their style, as it is popular with their voters, and hints at a potential motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Jüri Ratas to be considered in the fall.

Indrek Kiisler: Does it pain you that the Reform Party is in opposition despite overwhelming support in the ratings?

Kaja Kallas: What pains me is what the current government has been doing. Looking at what this government has achieved in its first 100 days, we now know more about laughing at each other, insults, but also excuses. But we haven't seen a lot of action.

Of course it's a pain that we can't bring Estonia on a better course and lead the government ourselves, and it also pains our supporters and those who are against the current government.

The Reform Party has been cautious and rather sluggish over the last few months in its criticism of the government. Or is this a consciously chosen tactic?

Everything this government does, throwing around insults left and right, is happening in plain sight. There's no opposition needed here. Everyone can see the damage they have been doing to themselves. We don't see any substantial initiatives we as the opposition could criticize. We don't want to criticize who said what and who they insulted.

This government has done great damage to Estonia's image abroad, which our diplomats now have to manage. We see that the foreign policy course is being changed step by step. The only sure thing we've seen is lower excise duties on alcohol.

We have to keep in mind that the previous government led Estonia to a dead end financially, and hasn't begun to sort this out yet. And as no solutions have been proposed, the opposition has nothing specific to criticize, as nothing at all is done. They're waiting for the fall economic outlook. At the same time, they haven't begun to solve the problems in Ida-Viru County and relating to oil shale. There's the impression that the only reason they are in power is for the sake of power itself.

Last weekend, several Centre Party members dropped hints that Centre and Reform have been sounding each other out about a possible new coalition. Have you or other Reform Party leaders met with Centre counterparts?

We talk, of course. Estonia is small. The Reform Party wants to offer the best possible government to Estonia, so of course we're looking into options how we might do that.

Is there a way back at all for Jüri Ratas as a politician? He can choose between becoming a junior partner in a Reform-led coalition, which would involve admitting personal defeat, and going into opposition and admit defeat that way as well. Does he have any choice at all?

First of all, the results of the Reform Party and Centre in the last Riigikogu election weren't all that different. Our number of mandates in the Riigikogu is pretty similar. Yes, we did get more votes, but I believe that this would be a coalition of equal partners. They certainly wouldn't be junior.

The choices available to Centre should be commented by their own people. Jüri Ratas could admit that his hope that EKRE might change after joining the government was in vain. Admitting this mistake may be the best thing for Estonia overall. Ratas could say, I made a mistake, but the future of Estonia is more important than holding on to my seat. But again, you would have to ask the Centre Party.

But don't you think now would be the right time to call Jüri Ratas and ask him to enter into talks, and start over?


I won't start explaining here who would have to call who. All politicians talk to each other anyway, don't worry about that.

So you don't want to say whether or not you would be ready to make the call yourself. But is there a chance that we will see the Reform Party make a public offer to form a new coalition?

(Pauses again.)

We have made these public offers, and they didn't get positive feedback. The Centre Party need to get to this point themselves, and I think they are pretty close to it.

You don't think that the media, especially the more liberal publications, are overreacting? Prime Minister Jüri Ratas is in fact happy with what has been going on. Sure, the ratings aren't looking good, but he still has the hard core of his voters. Perhaps pitting himself against EKRE is exactly what he wants?

The Centre Party doesn't leave a positive impression. It's certainly EKRE who are calling the shots in this coalition, not Centre, who are supposed to be the leading force in this government. As the leader of my party, I wouldn't want to be the one to run after EKRE, trying to smooth things over after yet another gaffe or insult. You want to be in the media with positive initiatives, but there isn't so much as one to name after these first 100 days. And I don't think that this sort of thing will lead to positive voter feedback, either. Which is demonstrated by the drop in Centre's popularity.

The Centre Party's previous chairman, Edgar Savisaar, never cared if people talked about him badly or not, the main thing was to be visible. Is Ratas different?

Edgar Savisaar had a very clear role in Estonian history, in the regaining of Estonia's independence and in the Popular Front. Through that, he had a lot of credit with voters. Jüri Ratas doesn't have such actions and achievements to show for himself. Accordingly, people don't forgive him as often. These are different leagues.

Did EKRE's powerful effect on the government come as such a surprise? Even Urmas Reinsalu's statements pale in comparison with those made by EKRE leaders.

I wasn't surprised. Before the elections I was very clear that I don't see any way to work with EKRE in government, because their behavior and statements won't change. The leaders of Isamaa and the Centre Party have been extraordinarily naive to think that it will. We can see that this behavior appeals to EKRE's voters, so what would be the motivation to change it? I'm rather wondering how the very experienced politicians in Isamaa and Centre could have been this naive.

What does this violent rhetoric have in store for Estonian politics in the long run? Are the more moderate voices simply being wiped off the map?

That is the big question. If laughing at others is EKRE's style, then the Reform Party's strength is expertise and substance. That's how we differ. Our rating proves that people appreciate competence and a calm approach.

Only that it is hard to judge after just 100 days. But still, which of the current government's ministers has done well, and who has left the least competent impression?

As I said, this government is characterized by its insults and a lack of action. Ministers are judged by their actions. There are several in this government that don't even want to do their job, so there is quite a lot of competition for the worst position.

Jaak Aab's work has been positive, who has been driving state reform.

When the Riigikogu is back in session in the fall, can some ministers already expect motions of no confidence? And who is the closest to it?

Looking at those ministers who aren't filling their roles, then there are plenty of things to criticize. A motion of no confidence in principle is a very strong instrument of the opposition. If the government is basically without a leader, then there is the question whether or not the prime minister has done his duty.

But we haven't discussed this within our own parliamentary group. When the Riigikogu is back in session, that will be the time to look at these issues.

Is there no unrest in the Reform Party? You don't get the question, how much longer? Are we doing something already?

Well we're doing something all the time. This doesn't mean that everything has to be done in the media. Looking at Riigikogu committees, for instance, the experts are sitting on our side of the table. For example Aivar Sõerd on the Finance Committee, Maris Lauri, Andres Sutt, and Jürgen Ligi.

Of course there is unrest, but because competent people don't get to run things in Estonia. This unrest is constructive and directed towards sooner or later forming a government.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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