Mart Helme to step down as EKRE chair

Jekaterina Minkova
EKRE chairman Mart Helme addressing members of the party on Saturday.
EKRE chairman Mart Helme addressing members of the party on Saturday. Photo: Remo Tõnismäe

Chairman of the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) Mart Helme will hand over the reins after seven years at the national conservatives’ helm on July 4. Running the party will likely fall to son Martin Helme.

“We need to be the prime minister’s party after the next elections that requires us to leave our comfort zone and do things with a fresh energy and outlook. I will start with myself,” Mart Helme said at the party’s general meeting on Saturday.

“This decision was not made lightly, emotionally or least of all following any kind of pressure,” Helme added. He said the decision took shape over a long time, adding that he will not be withdrawing from politics and will be running for EKRE deputy chair.

New options for Helme senior

Helme, who took control of EKRE in 2013, said that he still has a lot to give to the party in terms of ideology. Helme is a member of EKRE, the successor to the People’s Union and the Estonian National Movement, since 2012.

“Because we are moving into a series of elections – local government council elections, presidential and Riigikogu elections – it is sensible to give the floor to people with better administrative capacity. We are taking a carefully considered step to maximize the party’s success at upcoming elections,” Mart Helme told members of the party.

In terms of administrative capacity, Helme was referring to his son Martin whose candidacy for chairman has been proposed by several of EKRE’s regional branches. Mart and Martin Helme have built EKRE together, with Martin Helme considered the only member worthy of filling his father’s shoes.

As Martin Helme is currently the only candidate for chairman, with his father set to step down on July 4, it is very likely Martin Helme will be elected chairman at the party congress this week. He has been a member since 2012 and currently serves as deputy chairman.

Martin Helme said that his father stepping down as chair opens up new possibilities and that it cannot be ruled out Mart Helme will run for president or Riigikogu speaker.

Political circles received the news calmly.

EKRE MEP Jaak Madison said that Mart Helme nailed the timing, handing the reins over to the younger generation while still on top.

Regarding Martin Helme, Madison said he has shown himself to be a capable and distinguished finance minister who has managed a great workload, while serving as deputy chairman for eight years.

“Therefore, I’m sure he can take the pressure needed to help the party hit new targets,” Madison said.

Coalition Center Party politician Jaanus Karilaid agreed. “It did not come as a surprise. Every chairman needs to consider their party’s future and think three steps ahead,” he found.

Logical move

Chairman of the opposition Reform Party Kaja Kallas said that talk of Mart Helme passing things on to his son has been around for a long time.

“It is clear he has been the strongest EKRE minister in this government. The move makes sense that way,” she said.

How will the change of leadership affect the atmosphere in the coalition?

“Mart and Martin have worked as a rock-solid team and this change will not alter much. Relationships within the coalition remain constructive and results-oriented,” Karilaid offered. “The breaking of fiscal policy dogmas will continue with even more fervor, which I like very much,” the Center politician added.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said he believes Martin Helme’s rise will not change the game rules.

“I forecast that EKRE will keep its ideology and political positions,” he said.

Reinsalu added: “We have argued and eventually found common ground with the father and we will manage the same with the son, especially since both will continue as ministers.”