Following a meeting Monday evening with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) at Kadriorg Palace, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid said that there should be no place in government for finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE).
The president added that Helme had tried to ditch the rule of law.
The meeting followed the attempt last week by finance minister Martin Helme, standing in for his father, interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE), to unilaterally remove chief of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Elmar Vaher from his post, saying the PPA head had been dishonest in claiming the interior ministry was to make redundancies at his organization.
Helme was overruled by prime minister Jüri Ratas, who backed Vaher, though Ratas claimed there was no crisis in the government.
"In my opinion, a minister must obey the law, and if they do not, they are acting counter to the rule of law in Estonia," the president told the media following her meeting with Jüri Ratas.
"In my opinion, this was a very serious attempt to drag our principle of rule of law into the gutter. Furthermore I told the prime minister that, in my opinion, such a minister should not have a seat in the government," she continued.
"In any state governed by the rule of law, a minister who acts against the law in order to carry out their political will should not remain in office," the president added.
"But of course, as we all know, this decision is in the hands of the Riigikogu and the government of Estonia, since Estonia is a parliamentary republic," she continued, adding that the rule of law still functioned in Estonia, with the current PPA head still in his post.
"Our rule of law is resilient in resisting such attacks. And I hope it will stay that way," the president added.
The president qualified these statements by noting that state officials should be permitted to speak freely (seemingly referring to the PPA chief rather than the EKRE ministers).
"The issue is broader than just one of legality. The question is whether our officials have the right to express their opinion, or whether they have a duty to keep their mouths shut and serve [the state]. Such a country would no longer be a democratic state," the president continued.
The president also reiterated her views on her social media account later on Monday, stating that: "I met Prime Minister Jüri Ratas this evening. We discussed quite a few topics, but, of course, the central issue was what happened last week with the attempted removal of the police chief."
"My assessment is unequivocal – the minister's attempt to dismiss the police chief by deliberately breaking the law is an attempt to ditch our principle of rule of law. Fortunately, last week demonstrated that the Estonian legal system, our institutions and democracy are working, and any such attempts are failing. But even an attempt to do so is unacceptable, and a minister taking such steps is unfit to be a member of the government. I also said this to the Prime Minister, but it is, of course, the Riigikogu that decides what the composition of the government is."
The video of the president and prime ministers' reactions post-meeting (in Estonian) is below.
The president has not shied away from stating her views on the current coalition and the participation of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) since it came into office at the end of April. She wore a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words "speech is free", roughly translated, at the signing-in of the current coalition following attacks on Estonian-language journalists, particularly at public broadcaster ERR, by EKRE members. In an interview, given in May, but published in July by U.S. site Foreign Policy, the president said she despised EKRE's members' actions.
Jüri Ratas' summary of meeting
Emerging from the meeting second, prime minister Ratas said that the Vaher case had not been the only topic discussed with the head of state, noting that energy, climate change, security and foreign policy had all been on the table.
When asked about his faith in the interior minister and finance minister, Ratas said that: "Estonia acts as a state under the rule of law and no director general is removed under such a principle. This is a decision for the government of the republic. At present I have no reason to think that Elmar Vaher has acted against the interests of the state or rule of law. I understand what you are asking – about what confidence I have. The present government is working, the cooperation is functioning. The government has certainly made important and principled decisions in various important areas."
Ratas added that he had no reason to believe that Vaher was unfit for his post.
Opposition Reform Party called for a vote of no-confidence in Jüri Ratas' government on Saturday, which it would like to put the Riigikogu at an extraordinary session ahead of the chamber returning to work in September. Reform, supported in this latest no-confidence proposal by the other opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (SDE), had already brought a vote of no-confidence in Mart Helme as interior minister, which it did in early June shortly before the Riigikogu broke up for summer. That failed to pass by five votes.
Editor: Andrew Whyte