Raimond Kaljulaid: Not going back to Centre Party
Independent MP Raimond Kaljulaid, who quit the coalition Centre Party this spring, has ruled out a return to his old party's ranks. Two weeks ago, he polled his voters on Facebook regarding what direction they see his future taking. ERR spoke with Kaljulaid about his old party, his poll, and his plans.
ERR: Why did you conduct a poll on social media about what will become of your political career going forward?
Raimond Kaljulaid: It's of course not a matter of what will become of my political career. I had the support of over 7,000 people in the Riigikogu elections, and over 20,000 in the European Parliament elections. Naturally I have to represent these people's interests and expectations as best as possible over the next few years.
The question is, how to do that? I have always tried to do politics very transparently and inclusively. I have initiated dialogue with my voters. This is very interesting to me, and I am grateful to everyone who has written to me on social media or via email or other means.
ERR: From your own point of view, what are your possible future prospects?
RK: Once again. When I consider the future, I am not thinking about what would be the smartest trajectory in terms of my future career. At the same time, it's understandable that an organization and a team are necessary for me to be able to represent the values and interests of those who have supported me as well as for me to be able to achieve my political goals.
ERR: Which party's views align most closely with your own?
RK: On a left-right scale, I'm fairly exactly in the middle, and I am a liberal. And so it isn't difficult for me to find things in common with several parties represented in the Riigikogu as well as those not.
ERR: Which parties' representatives have invited you to join their party?
RK: I believe the process works the other way around. If I reach the realization in dialogue with my supporters that the best way for me to represent their interests is to join an existing Estonian party, then it is my duty to apply to join that party, not the other way around.
ERR: [Centre Party member and Minister of Education and Research] Mailis Reps said on "Otse uudistemajast" on Sept. 10 that if you run against the Centre Party in the next local elections, a large number of your voters will most certainly be offended and won't forgive you for the betrayal. Could you please comment on this?
RK: There have been several important meetings this week connected to my work in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu — with the deputy foreign minister of Palestine, but also with members of the Namibian vice-president's delegation. On top of that, I have also been very involved in matters related to the application of artificial intelligence (AI), which I consider one of the most significant vectors of development from the perspective of Estonia and Europe's digital field.
Next week, I will be participating in a German Council on Foreign Relations seminar involving the regulation of AI. Estonia's position is that we should not preemptively overregulate the AI field. The Nordic and other Baltic countries have been of the same position. At the same time, European foreign and defense ministers recently discussed the use of AI in the defense field in Helsinki, and Germany, for example, considers it fairly important to limit or even outright ban autonomous weapons.
So I have been reading background material and think tank documents, and been in touch with businesses and experts involved in AI-related matters. I unfortunately haven't had time on top of this to acquaint myself with the statements made by the education minister in her interview, and thus I am unable to comment on them.
This summer, the National Audit Office published a report that gave an absolutely crushing assessment of the accessibility of Estonian language instruction in Estonia. Mailis Reps has been the education minister for quite some time, and I believe that it would be more appropriate for her to focus on solving that problem rather than on me.
ERR: Reps also said she also believed the right thing to do would be for you to call [Prime Minister and Centre Party chairman] Jüri Ratas, put the past behind you and try again. According to Reps, there are enough people in the party who would be flexible about your return to the Centre Party. How likely do you consider yourself to rejoin the Centre Party?
RK: I am most definitely ruling that out. Concerning the Centre Party's inner workings, I am unfortunately unable to comment on it; I do not belong to that party or to its managing bodies.
ERR: Have you spoken to Jüri Ratas since you quit the party? What about? Has he invited you back to the party?
RK: I last saw the prime minister at the climate conference [on Sept. 13], and we briefly spoke about climate policy, certain regional development issues related to our islands, and the development of Finland and Estonia's tourism fields. But really only briefly. I am certainly open to dialogue with the head of government in the future as well, but moreso on foreign rather than internal policy-related matters.
ERR: Have you considered disappearing from politics for a while, applying yourself in the private sector and then possibly returning to politics?
RK: How could I do that? I have promised in two elections this spring that I will fight for forward-thinking, rapidly developing Estonian policy that treats everyone equally and makes reasonable decisions. I have promised people that I will not give up and will remain true to my principles.
I understand that Estonia's political discourse has changed. Almost everyone promised pension hikes to pensioners, but this doesn't appear to be a priority of the government. If anything is done at all, a tiny bit of additional money will be given out, and that's it. An agreement was signed for the funding of research and development activity, which was then walked back on. There had been a promise not to cooperate with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), but they still did. But that doesn't mean that I should become just as cynical. No. I have given my word, and I intend to stick to it.
ERR: Do you plan to remain in the Riigikogu through the end of its current makeup?
RK: The only ones who can free me from my obligations as MP are my voters. For example, if they should clearly indicate in local government elections that they want to see me involved in the governance of Tallinn or some other Estonian local government. Then that is something I would consider.
ERR: How would you rate the health of the current government? It seems as though all sides are interested in the government holding up, even in the case of some pretty strong disagreements.
RK: This government has a reserve of strength, and I don't understand how expectations arose this summer regarding its imminent crumbling. That's why it was so crucial to do everything possible to stave off the formation of this government. Naturally we ultimately have to find the opportunity to ensure reasonable and purposeful governance for Estonia. This is necessary to reduce already incurred damage and prevent Estonia from developing in the direction of Hungary or Poland.
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Editor: Aili Vahtla