Frontrunner for the Social Democratic Party (SDE) for European Parliament elections Marina Kaljurand does not understand why Minister of Defense Jüri Luik (Isamaa) has been turned into a hero. Had Luik and six other people demonstrated enough backbone not to support the current coalition with the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), they would not have to “save” Estonia today,” Kaljurand told Postimees’ “Teel Euroopasse” program yesterday.
You’ve said that President of the European Commission Jen-Claude Juncker is not much of a diplomat. What criticism do you have for him?
My biggest grievance is how they handled the migration crisis. I was foreign minister at the time. It was 2015 when the Commission came up with its proposal for mandatory refugee quotas. The process and how member states took it – we are forced to do something that we might do anyway but are not sure we want to do now because it is being forced on us – it’s not right.
A good diplomat convinces you to do something until you feel glad to do it yourself or in cooperation. It did a lot of damage to our country – instead of concentrating on foreign policy and border protection, we had to explain to our people that we will not agree to quotas, that they cannot be mandatory. I believe in solidarity and one member state’s problem being everyone’s problem. However, we should have gotten there by trusting and listening to member states to a greater degree.
What could be a new positive narrative for Europe after the migration crisis and Brexit?
Yes, the EU will have one fewer member after the UK leaves – provided Brexit will go ahead. But EU mentality is much stronger. Already today. If states used to believe they can just leave if something is not to their liking, countries stick together today.
They realize what it would mean to leave and its negative consequences. The EU was also hit by terrorism, Trump’s presidency – a lot of unexpected developments in 2015-2016. The European Union is not particularly good at tackling several crises simultaneously, but we have gotten past that now.
How likely do you hold the possibility that Brexit will not happen?
I believe Brexit will take place before the year is out. If not, it will become ever more questionable.
We have not caught up to the wealthier part of Europe, no matter how we look at it. Should the EU concentrate on harmonizing standard of living and if so, then how?
Curbing inequality between countries and people is one of the goals of the EU. I do not believe we should have minimum requirements because standard of living differs too much. The EU has worked toward achieving more equal salaries, pensions, benefits, and we need to continue working toward it. We compare ourselves to Finland and Sweden, but it is sometimes good to compare ourselves to those who started where we started in 1991. Finland was a fairy tale for us back then, and today, we are where they were in the 90s. While we are moving forward, half a century of destruction and stagnation cannot be fixed in a few decades. I believe our pension will rival that of Finland when my currently one-year-old grandchild retires.
What is the message sent by Marine Le Pen’s Estonia visit?
Our people learned who EKRE is cooperating with on the European level. She is pro-Russian, pro-Kremlin and she voted against the resolution to demand the freeing of [Estonian Internal Security Service operative] Eston Kohver. She does not believe in NATO Article Five and had no idea Estonian soldiers are serving with French troops on foreign missions. She sees NATO as an anti-terrorist organization. Marine Le Pen reaffirmed her views during her visit. Jaak Madison could rejoice; he opened a new diplomatic line in our foreign policy to turn upside down everything Estonia has been striving for. So far, we have strived to work with allies, support one another. I have questions about the nature of this bilateral diplomacy and who will be Jüri Ratas’ partner in it. If Mart Helme meets with Le Pen while standing in for the PM, that is not an EKRE meeting – it is the Estonian government meeting with Marine Le Pen and discussing cooperation. But perhaps it makes sense: The Center Party has a cooperation protocol with United Russia, EKRE pursues Russia-friendly policy with Le Pen; perhaps it is a natural meeting of these aspects.
You would not have included EKRE in the government. But perhaps they would have achieved an even better elections result next time?
That will always remain hypothetical. The radical right was not created with EKRE; they have been active in Europe for decades. For example, it was agreed in Belgium not to include the radicals in government. I expected a similar agreement from before elections to prevail in Estonia – that attempts would be made to form a coalition without EKRE and the party brought in only if that proved impossible.
But for Center and Isamaa to include them right from the get-go came as a disappointment. It is wrong and they shouldn’t have done it. Nothing happened in EU countries that did not include the radical right in coalitions. Support for them remained around 17-20 percent. It did not spike.
Recent utterances by EKRE and Isamaa politicians suggest Estonia will soon make territorial claims against Russia. Where could that lead?
It is impossible to say right now what this government’s Russia policy will be. On the one hand, Jüri Ratas and Center’s protocol with United Russia and talk of it being frozen – it is nonsense. You either have a cooperation protocol or you don’t. Just like you either are pregnant or aren’t. On the other hand, we have cooperation with Le Pen and Isamaa utterances. As concerns occupation damages, I will repeat what I said two years ago. There is no sense in demanding compensation from someone who does not recognize the foundations of our statehood. We will simply be laughed at. There is no point to it.
Still, there are territorial claims?
It is absurd; Russia will simply laugh at us. I’m sure they are delighted to watch this matter drive a wedge in the government. And what is Jüri Ratas’ role? Estonia’s foreign policy has been a constant line, now, these utterances have caused it to change direction, become a part of domestic policy, and that is irresponsible. You cannot toy with security in domestic policy.
I gather you are critical of [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Urmas Reinsalu, but a part of foreign policy responsibility lies with Minister of Defense Jüri Luik?
Reinsalu only just started as foreign minister, but I am very critical of his past positions. What he will do as minister remains to be seen. What I don’t understand is turning Jüri Luik into a hero. Some journalists have said thank God we have Jüri Luik who agreed to become defense minister and saved the chair going to EKRE.
Had Jüri Luik and six others found enough backbone to stick to their promise from before elections – not to form a government with EKRE – they would not find themselves in a position where they have to “save” Estonia today. They are just as responsible for letting EKRE into the government as Jüri Ratas; for allowing Estonia’s foreign policy to derail. All three are responsible for what is happening in our country and foreign policy, and it is not a pretty picture.