I presume that the security agencies that answer to your ministry have already briefed you on the security situation.
What is the situation right now?
The general situation is calm.
However, I would say that satisfaction with internal security and its continuation require constant and serious work. It cannot be helped; I've said both as a member of the opposition and the coalition that maintaining a good situation requires investments. Stagnation could cost us control over stability.
So that the Estonian society could be confident in spite of what is happening in the world. It is our task to keep that confidence from becoming institutional.
I'm more of a worst case scenario man. Your subordinates in the police and rescue services are less optimistic. That provided changes are not made in the work organization and financing of these structures, we can, figuratively speaking, turn off the lights and close the doors by 2030. You will have to fight against the realization of that scenario more forcefully than your predecessors.
I see where you're going with this (Smiles – R. B.)
Your task is all the more difficult since the new coalition has already pledged the money for a pay rise for teachers. This means that available funds are even more modest, and something needs to be changed within the system.
All manner of reorganization must result in an improved situation for both the service provider and citizens. I believe that the time when we just crossed something out in the spreadsheet is over. We need to look at how to organize things more successfully on a fundamental and future-oriented level.
But yes, it is impossible without additional investments. This coalition believes that the salary of teachers must grow. This will result in changes to the education system, optimization of the network of schools in terms of number of children etc.
It is the same in internal security: we have clear goals and the need for investments. I had my first meeting with the police today (Tuesday – R. B.), and we plotted a clear course.
Towards what exactly?
We need to return to the safety net, the beginnings of the trustworthiness of Estonian police from the end of the previous century. The creation of strong community-centered police. We invested a lot in that service; however, cuts turned it into a replacement for patrols, a round-the-clock proceedings robot. We want to change that.
Restoration of community police means the creation of 50 positions of regional constables.
The police will start to grow instead of cuts?
Yes, we are now moving in a different direction. What this means is that the administrative reform will also affect the police. So that every local government would have at least one – and I emphasize this – at least one policeman. Today we have one officer covering thee or even four local governments. One would be the minimum, larger places would have several.
We are also boosting our rapid reaction capacity that currently exists in some places but not everywhere.
The police and rescue services do not have people queuing for jobs at the current salary level.
Yes, the coalition agreement does not prescribe a pay rise for these people; however, it is clear that once we get our other investments, it is my task as minister to fight for and achieve that salary hike at the next round of budget talks. Higher salaries is definitely among my priorities as minister.
The previous minister also wanted to raise the salaries of policemen but only achieved a minor improvement. The police still have around one hundred vacancies, but people do not want to come work for that salary. Director Elmar Vaher is dreaming of a 1,500-euro salary for policemen, while nothing of the sort is on the horizon.
Elmar Vaher wants policemen to earn at least the national average salary. We came close to hitting that mark for a time; however, the average ran away from us a few years ago.
It is obvious that tying salaries to the national average is impossible. Our current challenge is to offer a better motivation package for both constables and rapid response units. We need to boost the police salary fund by around 10 percent in the coming years. A leap of 10-11 million euros.
It is a considerable expense in the state budget
Of course. However, it is a matter of choice and will.
What would you change on the fundamental level?
We need to take a bolder look at whether the police have to do all the things they currently do.
There are a lot of small things. A clear example: traffic accidents without human casualties, bender fenders if you will. Some insurance providers offer to come on location and help document the accident already today. For example Green Wave.
It has been said all along that such cases could be handled by insurance firms. Nothing has changed so far.
Yes. However, I cannot take responsibility for others. I like the idea, and I want to put it on the table. To understand what are the legal possibilities and solutions to make processing of traffic accidents (that only cause material damage and disputes) faster and more convenient for the citizen. Who should handle minor accidents, and how? It is a resource we might be able and need to use more wisely.
The other outstanding matter, courtesy of political reasons, is local governments and their rights in maintaining law and order.
More power for the municipal police?
Yes. I'm sure you're about to bring up Tallinn's MUPO (with irony – R. B.); however, municipal police also exists in Tartu and in the heads of a lot heads of merging local governments. They want to have a say and take responsibility in ensuring security. That does not mean we will be giving some of the police's functions over to them. The police will always remain the general body to conduct proceedings. However, if someone wants to boost the quality of security and corresponding confidence in their region, we want to give them the chance. A chance they currently do not have.
Allow me to remain pessimistic. You have little over two years as minister, and it is a veritable fact you will not be able to do these things in that time.
Indeed, perhaps it wouldn't pay to send the bills to the Riigikogu in the fall of 2018 with elections looming. That is why these decisions need to be made before that. I have two years. I will definitely make some of these things happen.
Creating rapid response capacity in border zones has a nice ring to it; however, “little green men” will not be crossing the border on foot; rather they'll be using low-flying helicopters. Or like it was in Donetsk, where the airport was taken over by a group of passengers sporting buzz cuts and whose cabin baggage consisted exclusively of weapons. The conflict will be manufactured away from the border. What should be done with them should the “green men” appear?
The most serious physical opponent of the “green man” is our rapid response operative; however, they will not be appearing unexpectedly out of the sky, like aliens in a movie. Preparations and escalation of the situation will herald their arrival. The key factor is the community's unity and will to stand together for Estonia's interests.
Living outside a major city, I know that there is no anonymity in rural areas. People thirst for responsibility and the ability to make decisions for their environment. Should “green men” appear somewhere that has a local community in charge of security, the latter have the best chance of noticing these things and informing us.
It is not a case where the Estonian state with its police and rapid response forces will come and solve all our problems while we live our separate lives here. A united and informed community helps avoid improvised and orchestrated conflicts.
Community activists cannot set about shooting the “little green men” themselves. Our forests will be full of dead hunters wearing camouflage jackets.
They don't have to shoot them. “Green men” will not be appearing out of the blue; they must have a network.
The situation in Ukraine also did not develop overnight. People were distrustful of authorities and the government; there was terrible propaganda and corruption. That created fertile soil for “green men”. They were always there, simply waiting for the right time.
And this is where the community comes in. Drawing attention to the creation of the so-called fifth column. That is a person's connection to their country. Freedom and democracy need protection by all of us.
To report every suspicious detail?
Allow me to give an example. I live far-away in the borderlands on weekends. There is a farm there, between two larger coppices, where drunks like to gather every once in a while. There is no local policeman to tell about this. I know that a wave of theft will hit the area in two or three weeks' time. They will run out of money for vodka, and they will go on a stealing spree. If there were a community constable there I could tell about this, who could then pay them a visit and ask about the occasion and who else is on the guest list, the probability that the crime spree would not take place would be 75 percent. They would know they're being watched.
It is the same with “green men”. If they set up a firing range in the woods somewhere and drive to and from there in camouflaged jeeps, the community must notify the police. While that is an exaggerated example, that is the idea of it.
You just returned from a security police briefing. Do we have a fifth column problem, as claimed by the Conservative People's Party (EKRE)?
Definitely not. Spreading fear always works. If you yell that our people are being beaten, everyone rushes to the scene. If you yell that people are being given flowers, no one cares. So much for EKRE.
However, that is not to say we should underestimate the possibility of such a column being created here as interest in splitting Estonian society is out there. The desire to make a certain contingent, national group, minority feel like they are being persecuted and should unite against this evil. Such impressions are being communicated by the propaganda machine from the east. So the danger is there; however, Estonia is very seriously on top of the issue. Everything else is emotion.
There are things the citizen does not need to see every day. We are dealing with these threats.
Should the state have a greater presence in Ida-Viru County?
That has been my conviction since the 1990s, when I investigated gruesome crimes there.
What are the state's options?
There are several. One thing is the state as an administrative building. Another is public servants as the bearers of statehood. State jobs is another line to tow. Reinforced concrete is also important – modern working conditions in state agencies. Luckily things have improved.
I definitely want to take the debate concerning the location of the security sciences academy to the government. It seems to have become one of those perpetual questions; however, the decision needs to be made, and it should not be made airily. It is a question of to what extent. Perhaps the current training centers in Paikuse and Väike-Maarja are strong components of local communities. We need to give serious thought to whether it pays to move them.
It was recently said that an additional 150 million euros over ten years is needed to ensure sustainability of rescue services. That is not realistic, looking at the state's revenue base.
Yes, that is true.
What is the solution?
Let us be frank – there are precious few. We could consider how to balance the national and voluntary rescue systems. It is a matter of the local government's role in supporting rescue capacity in a way that would make it possible to retain current response times.
As a politician, I am entitled to a little fantasy. The state has given local governments the capacity and corresponding resources to decide whether to maintain one professional or three-four voluntary commandos in several places in Scandinavia.
That is one possible option. But we definitely need to change the system. Simply pouring more money into the existing system would equal adding gasoline to a bonfire.