When head of France’s right-radical National Rally, MEP Marine Le Pen arrived in Estonia at midnight on Monday, she was in good spirits. “I came to meet with the head of the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) with whom we want to form a new parliamentary group,” she said with enthusiasm.
Le Pen is on a tour of Europe, meeting with local conservatives with whom she promises to give power back to the people. EKRE maintains that Le Pen, who recognizes Russia’s annexation of Crimea, invited herself. The party headquarters admitted yesterday that a part of the French politician’s visit was financed by EKRE, with the new parliamentary group paying for much of the rest.
Pictures in the Riigikogu
The first meeting of the conservatives took place behind closed doors in the Riigikogu at 10 a.m. Before the meeting, EKRE leaders Mart and Martin Helme could be seen sitting across the table from Le Pen and her companions. At one point, Mart Helme addressed journalists in Estonian: “Embarrassing, embarrassing! Postimees, I’m sure you have a ready-made article on how we support the annexation of Crimea.”
Having treated journalists to a few choice words, Helme turned to Le Pen in English and explained that the situation in Estonia is similar to that in France. Le Pen nodded in agreement, and journalists were led out of the room.
Le Pen refused to give interviews after the meeting that lasted a little over an hour. She was saved from journalists by EKRE deputy head Jaak Madison. “No comment at this time!” Madison said and led Le Pen into the White Hall of the Riigikogu for a photography session. Several EKRE members wanted to be photographed with Le Pen, including Mart Helme and Jaak Madison.
“Aren’t you ashamed?”
During the conservatives’ lunch break, a modest crowd of protesters assembled in front of the House of the Blackheads in Tallinn’s Old Town. People were carrying signs and quite a few journalists had turned up. Younger protesters were quiet at first, until a group of elderly French tourists who happened to pass by got things going. They realized the event was a protest against Le Pen when they saw EU flags being waved. “Vive l’Europe!” the energetic tourists chanted waving blue flags. This lent Estonians courage.
The first to arrive at the House of the Blackheads was Martin Helme who had changed into a beige coat instead of his usual black attire. Helme smiled but his eyes were downturned as protesters started whistling when they saw the EKRE politician coming. Signs reading “It’s not about rhetoric, the content is appalling!” and “Aren’t you ashamed?” were lifted as high as possible.
The building’s administration said no one is allowed in the meeting room before Jaak Madison. It was up to Madison who would be allowed to attend the speech meeting between him, Olli Kotro (Finns), Anders Vistisen (Danish People’s Party), Manuel Vescovi (Italian League) and Marine Le Pen (French Rally).
During the press conference that followed the meeting, journalists only had questions for Le Pen, most of them concerning her ties to Russia.
Le Pen and Russia
Le Pen had an answer ready for questions pertaining to loans from Russia. She said her party borrowed from a Russian bank because no one else was willing to grant them a loan. Asked why she supports the annexation of Ukraine, she said: “Madam, with all due respect, I find your question to constitute an insult. /…/ I will not stand for claims we are under Putin’s control. I would like to know whether you put the same kinds of questions to the Center Party and the PM, considering their cooperation with United Russia.”
Asked what she believes France should do in a situation where Estonia asks for NATO help under Article Five, Le Pen said that she cannot understand this fascination with a secondary matter in a situation where restoring harmony in the EU is paramount.
At one point, Le Pen grew visibly irritated and was quickly rescued by Madison once more. “As far as I know, Russia is not a member of the EU. Let us stay on point and look at the principles on which we cooperate in the European Parliament and our common goal,” he said emotionally. Representative of the Finns Party, Olli Kotro, also intersected: “We come to Estonia, and the only topic of conversation is Vladimir Putin,” he said. Kotro said he feels this is insulting to the people of Estonia.