Yana Toom: I’m attempting to create clear pressure from Brussels

PHOTO: Erik Prozes / Postimees

MEP Yana Toom (Center) admits that even though a member state’s citizenship policy is none of the EU’s business, her purpose is to spark pressure from Brussels so stateless persons could vote in EP elections. “And I will get there!”

It was your idea to invite Kaur Kender?

The petition was put together in my bureau, we collected signatures. We got a total of nearly 20,000 signatures 10,000 of which came from Estonia. Kaur Kender’s signature was among those. I thought Kaur Kender would be good to have, and he lived up to my expectations.

So, the situation is as bad as Kender claims in Estonia?

Kaur Kender expressed his position. He said he does not want to be in an environment where there is constant talk of occupation. I do not like that practice of keeping wounds open either.

And yet, the way you raised this issue does just that – another tear at the wounds of both nationalities.

That is a leading question that journalists should avoid. Your question includes a claim you want me to agree or disagree with.

What was the aim of the petition?

We have 6 percent of the population paying taxes, including European Union taxes, without having political representation. The aim of the entire campaign is to direct the EU’s attention to what is going on. The situation is abnormal. The EU has instructed Estonia to address the problem on numerous occasions.

What could be the solution? Automatically giving stateless persons the same status as citizens?

The European Union cannot interfere in citizenship policy.

However, that is what you are seeking?

We discussed EP elections voting right which does not equal citizenship. These are different things. I would never have filed a petition promoting citizenship for stateless persons because such a petition would not have been accepted. That is up to member states to decide.

It is part of the discussion on whether the rights of stateless persons should be changed. It is a domestic matter?

Human rights cannot be an internal affair. And if they are, the country cannot be a EU member state.

Listening to the seminar and petition parts of proceedings, the former discusses and explains how the situation has developed in a very neutral tone, while the latter presents Kaur Kender as your guest speaker who then proceeds to say that the situation in Estonia is disastrous because non-citizens do not have political rights.

Non-citizens do not have political rights, which is something not a single expert refuted.

No radical positions were assumed either.

Satisfied people would not have signed the petition. The fact they did means they do not see the situation as positively.

To what extent does such a petition impact Estonia’s reputation?

A far worse impact for Estonia’s reputation is the fact that 6 percent of our population do not have political representation (stateless persons can participate in local elections – ed.).

And giving them the right to vote at EP elections will solve the problem?

It would not be an integral solution, but that is what the petition concerned. The next petition we filed with Kaur Kender concerns free movement in the EU. We joined the EU together; however, not all people who pay EU taxes can enjoy all the freedoms we call the basic freedoms of the EU, like free movement for example. They cannot move freely either in terms of work or services.

Don’t you find it is a personal decision?

They have not made the decision themselves as is evident in integration surveys – 50 percent of people with gray passports say that they are not capable of taking the Estonian language examination on the B1 level.

I find that everyone who has lived in Estonia all those years with a gray passport, or been born here, and who did not take Russian citizenship which is very easy to do, have thus demonstrated their loyalty to Estonia. And it would be magnanimous to give them citizenship if they want it and vow to be loyal to the state.

The Swiss scientist said that stateless persons are not motivated to become citizens?

Her argument is not valid in my eyes. Urmas Paet’s argument that visa free travel to Russia is a godsend is also wrong. The latest petition shows that Estonian citizens can travel to 139 countries without a visa, while that number is just 15 for non-citizens.

You say that the subject matter of citizenship and the gray passport is complicated, but why go after it using the EP angle? Why not discuss it without inciting hatred, instead of telling one community how badly they are being mistreated and accusing the other one of doing it?

I believe I’m trying to leave emotions out of it.

Why invite Kaur Kender then?

Why shouldn’t I have? He remained very civil, expressed his position in a calm voice.

He told Europe that there is a disaster involving non-citizens in Estonia?

We have a different understanding of politeness. Lying is not polite. As concerns incitement of hatred, I believe that is being done by Urmas Paet, when he lies about how he was shocked by what he heard. He is a politician who must keep calm and listen to arguments.

Politicians will always find ways to twist utterances to serve their purpose, as will likely Russian propaganda that will use it for yet other reasons. However, no solution will follow?

I trust Kender because he is an honest person. And what I sympathize with is that he worries about non-citizens, being himself an Estonian, a citizen by birth. There are not many such Estonians.

Don’t you think that the more radical this discussion becomes, the harder it will be to convince Estonians that stateless persons should have more rights?

That is not true. First of all, the debate is not becoming radical but is being made radical for political reasons. Ivari Padar, who is a member of the agricultural committee, shows up as an alternate member to vote in defense.

Yet, you say that citizenship isn’t a European Parliament topic?

It was before the expansion. We were constantly being told how to address this issue. I’m trying to create very clear pressure from Brussels for these people to be allowed to vote in EP elections. And I will get there.

Your petition was shut down. Thoughts?

Every petition is closed after it has been reviewed. No petition remains open indefinitely. A decision was made to write to the Latvian and Estonian governments and the European Commission urging them to restart the debate. It is not a solution for stateless persons, but it is a step forward.

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