The Wednesday attempt to express no confidence in Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) was the first of the political year. The opposition filed four motions of no confidence against government ministers over eight months last year. The coalition held firm once again and the motion was quashed 53:45.
Even though the government could have been criticized for its handling of the coronavirus crisis in spring, chairman of opposition leader the Reform Party Kaja Kallas said that they decided to spare the coalition during the crisis. Things have changed by the second week of the fall political season, with opposition MPs keen on reminding Helme of past events.
MP Kristiina Šmigun-Vähi (Reform) reminded Helme of when he said in March that gynecologists have broken the Hippocratic oath by performing abortions. Helme said he has never insulted a gynecologist and added in his defense that taking offense is not something that can be objectively quantified. “If someone is hurt, I suggested they pull themselves together,” Helme said.
The text of the motion criticized Helme for disparaging the Riigikogu, president and other constitutional institutions and insulting various social groups. Also, the minister’s refusal to give interviews to accredited Ekspress Grupp journalists at government press conferences. “Such conduct does not fit into the culture of open governance,” opposition MPs said.
MP Andres Sutt (Reform) recalled how the finance minister accused the central bank governor of ideological bias and referred to the bank’s fiscal policy recommendations as barbaric simply because they didn’t fit his vision. “Estonia needs a competent finance minister,” Sutt said. He added that the finance minister has called into question the competency of the commander of the Estonian Defense Forces and meddled in defense planning, ignoring the defense minister and long-term defense planning. “This kind of conduct is a direct threat to national security,” Sutt said.
The finance minister’s legal assistance contract with U.S. law firm Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan LLP (FSS) made for a separate topic in the Riigikogu on Wednesday and one MPs spent three hours on. “Martin Helme has signed a contract worth €3 million while ignoring honest, open and transparent procurement procedure. A competition involving three law firms has been used to mislead the Riigikogu, government and the public,” the opposition found, adding that the minister is responsible for the contract and the opaque procurement process that preceded it. “That alone shows that he is not worthy to serve as finance minister. We deserve everything to be transparent in a small country,” Social Democratic Party (SDE) head Katri Raik said.
Helme described the no confidence motion as an embarrassing attempt and stressed that he has always told the truth. He also defended the contract with Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan and the process of how the firm was chosen.
Coalition behind Helme
Members of the parliament also have a bone to pick with Helme after the finance minister referred to parliamentary select committees he was summoned to as a flea circus. “His attitude toward the Riigikogu reflects the minister’s attitude toward Estonian citizens and constitutional order,” the motion read. The opposition pointed out that Helme ignored the summons of the Riigikogu Anti-Corruption Committee on five occasions.
Kaja Kallas turned to Isamaa MPs before the no confidence vote, saying that their coalition partner’s minister has made no secret of the fact he wants to erase Isamaa from the political landscape, muscled his way into the marriage referendum and set about handling defensed procurement in place of Isamaa Minister of Defense Jüri Luik. Helme’s Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) said that everyone who votes in favor of the motion against him are condoning “the covering up of criminal schemes by the Reform Party and other white collars.”
As the outcome of the vote would suggest, most of the coalition still backed Helme. Three Isamaa MPs decided to abstain from voting: Siim Kiisler, Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits and Andres Metsoja. However, the opposition was unfazed. “If we do not engage, it is like we are tolerating being a part of the deterioration of political culture,” Kaja Kallas said. A no confidence motion against a government minister needs 51 votes to pass.