Situation complicated but not crisis, says premier after Helme meeting

From left, Mart Helme (EKRE), Mailis Reps (Centre), Jüri Ratas (Centre), Martin Helme (EKRE), at the latter's country house in Lääne County.
From left, Mart Helme (EKRE), Mailis Reps (Centre), Jüri Ratas (Centre), Martin Helme (EKRE), at the latter's country house in Lääne County. Source: Social media.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) denied Friday evening that any kind of crisis had engulfed his coalition government, instead calling the situation "complicated". Ratas also met both of the Helmes, interior minister, deputy prime minister, and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Mart, along with finance minister Martin, in an effort to resolve matters. The prime minister did however call the attempt to remove Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) chief Elmar Vaher unilaterally and at the behest of the interior minister alone, an unacceptable action, which must not be repeated.

The meeting between the three men, with at least one other government minister (Mailis Reps, Centre) present, took place at the younger Helme's country house in Lääne County.

"Naturally the political 'sky' is not as cloudless as our summer evening here eating coffee and cake, but at the same time the dark storm clouds the media seems to think exist, are not quite there either," Martin Helme wrote on his social media account Friday, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.

Jüri Ratas was in less allegorical mode on his own social media account, however, when relating the crisis, calling the attempt to remove Vaher completely unacceptable.

"I met with interior minister Mart Helme and finance minister Martin Helme to discuss the steps taken to try to dismiss Vaher from his post on Thursday. in this case, further cooperation between the government is possible, "Ratas wrote in social media.

Ratas said that as of now, it is clear disciplinary action against Vaher has been neither initiated nor planned by the interior minister.

"Both ministers also acknowledged the need for efforts by all parties to restore stability at the PPA and a normal working relationship between the minister and the head of that body," Ratas added in his post.

"In my opinion, it is abundantly clear that this act was completely unacceptable and that such activities must not be repeated. Only then will further cooperation within the coalition be possible," Ratas added.

Ratas also appeared on ETV current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera, where he repeated the line that Elmar Vaher would be staying put, and no disciplinary proceeding was to be forthcoming.

The controversy started earlier in the week when a leaked internal PPA communication authored by Vaher made mention of around 150 redundancies, which were likely at the PPA, a figure which Vaher later repeated in the media. Martin Helme, deputizing for his father who was on vacation until Thursday afternoon, said that the claims were bogus and that no such cuts were in the offing. Supposed resignation papers were reportedly presented to Vaher at the interior minister by Martin Helme, who is actually finance minister, though these had not been drawn up under the correct protocol and were not signed by a ministry secretary-general, even though the wording of the papers implied they had been digitally signed, it is reported.

"There is no crisis going on, but the situation is complex. The work of a prime minister and of a coalition guard is often challenging, and involves being a bridge builder," Ratas continued to Aktuaalne kaamera, adding that this needed to be taken into account often every hour, not just every day.

Ratas added that it is important for the government to move forward with important issues that fall under the interior ministry and PPA's areas of responsibility and require their expertise.

"We agreed to discuss these issues at the cabinet meeting soon," Ratas said.

"I am pleased that the situation has calmed down after the initial overly emotional and hasty moves, and both the interior minister and PPA director have expressed a desire to resume substantive action-oriented cooperation. This is a major step forward in the current situation," he continued.

Reform Party reaction: seen this so many times before

Reform Party politicians reacted to Friday evening's developments and statements by suggesting they formed some sort of boy-who-cried-wolf scenario.

"How many times has Ratas already used the words 'unacceptable' and 'this cannot be repeated' regarding the activities of EKRE?" wrote Reform leader Kaja Kallas on her social media account.

"Yet, this happens again and again. The current reconciliation action will not alter that," she added.

"Estonia deserves more than just apology after apology. Even a child can understand that EKRE does not understand the nature of democracy and cannot bear up to governmental responsibility," wrote former prime minister and Ratas' predecessor Taavi Rõivas (Reform) on his social media account.

"Every day frittered away draws Estonian deeper into the mire. And for what?" Rõivas queried.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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