Opinion: With Helmes staying on, Ratas losing last bit of credibility

Martin and Mart Helme (EKRE).
Martin and Mart Helme (EKRE). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The main issue in this crisis isn't one of trust, but the fact that the Helmes have finally exposed themselves as scheming, clueless schoolyard bullies. Letting father and son stay on means that Prime Minister Jüri Ratas is ready to compromise even on principal matters of decency and conduct to keep his government together, which doesn't bode well for the coming months, writes ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

To avoid lasting damage to Estonia's functioning as a state based on the rule of law, the prime minister has to fire Mart and Martin Helme.

A phenomenon that often comes up in Estonian politics is that the more incredible and scandalous the behavior of an official or member of parliament is, the less outspoken both politicians and the media are about it.

Reading the Estonian press this evening, one could think what happened is all about trust. Which may be a component, but by far not everything. The main point, and I can't understand for the life of me why there seems to be the need again to beat about the bush and not talk about the core of the matter, is that the Helmes have exposed themselves as scheming, clueless bullies.

That the coalition is likely to hold—and that, as Ratas said this evening, there isn't actually a crisis, as the government is still in working order—is nothing new. It is highly unlikely that the Reform Party will attack the Centre Party beyond its usual listless jabs in the coalition's general direction. After all, should the current coalition implode, Reform will want to be able to reach a deal with Centre to form a new government.

The issue we should be getting excited about is what actually happened.

The way Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) behaved towards the chief of the Police and Border Guard Board, Elmar Vaher, is nothing short of demented. Incredibly, Helme, a grown man and so far a smart tactician and political operative, actually tried to bully Vaher into resigning from his position by pretending he had a letter by one of the Ministry of the Interior's secretaries-general, effectively firing the police chief.

Vaher immediately called Helme's bluff, perfectly aware that he couldn't be sacked by the ministry, but only by a decision of the government.

Worse yet, Martin Helme isn't the minister of the interior, his father, Mart Helme (EKRE), is—Helme junior was standing in for his father when he threatened Vaher, which in itself suggests that the two EKRE ministers planned to get rid of the chief schoolyard bully style.

Whether it is the Helmes' being absolutely clueless about government procedure and precedents in this case, or whether they expected Vaher to simply cave in and take his leave, that can't be said with certainty. What is absolutely clear is that neither of the two have but the slightest respect for the rules and procedures in the Estonian government.

To recapitulate: Helme junior lied to Vaher, and pretended he had control over a secretary-general who didn't know about the letter, of a ministry that isn't his, and very likely did so after agreeing on it with his father.

This turns the fact of two family members in this government into a nightmare. It intervenes with good government, it humiliates the government of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, of which EKRE of course is a part, and it makes a complete joke of Estonia's reputation internationally to be able to govern itself soberly, pragmatically and seriously.

In short, if Prime Minister Jüri Ratas wants to leave the credibility of his government intact, Mart and Martin Helme have to go. Perhaps not EKRE, but the bullies in the government need to leave.

If the prime minister seriously thinks that tonight's meeting settles the matter, he is very much mistaken. The Helmes and their party will recover from this setback in no time at all, and walk out of this latest skirmish entirely unreconstructed.

If it is Ratas' intention to keep this coalition together, keep Reform away from government, and push his own agenda, that is understandable and makes at least strategic sense. But this only holds if he can actually get things done, and this government's first 100 days have produced little to nothing in terms of real results. None of the three coalition parties seems to be getting anywhere. And while previous episodes have mainly been a nuisance, this latest one will eat away at the substance of Estonian government.

There is an almost certain chance this won't end well. Perhaps the only thing left is to end it quickly.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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