National Defense Council discusses Estonia-US relations, e-elections

Estonia’s National Defense Council on Monday discussed relations between Estonia and the United States and the organization of e-elections in Estonia.
Estonia’s National Defense Council on Monday discussed relations between Estonia and the United States and the organization of e-elections in Estonia. Photo: Madis Veltman

Estonia’s National Defense Council on Monday discussed relations between Estonia and the United States and the organization of e-elections in Estonia. 

The president decided to call a meeting of the National Defense Council on November 8 after leaders of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) Mart Helme and Martin Helme called into question the fairness of Estonia’s e-elections and the last Riigikogu elections, as well as U.S. presidential elections.

“For the first time during my term in office, I was compelled to convene the National Defense Council as a response to steps by our state which undermined the health of Estonian democracy and security,” President Kersti Kaljulaid said.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kaljulaid said that when ministers are speaking, it is always also the state that is speaking and the words of the state are also the actions of the state.

“This is how our people understand it, this is also how our allies, partners, all other countries understand it. This is also how we understand them, and the hope that in all corners of the world people are engaging in a detailed analysis of our domestic policy is clearly too optimistic,” the head of state said. 

“Our ministers called into question the trustworthiness of our own e-elections, just like the fairness of procedures of the United States, our most important ally without whom it is not possible to imagine our security,” Kaljulaid said.

The president said that the suspicions and criticism concerning e-elections voiced by Finance Minister Martin Helme and then Interior Minister Mart Helme were refuted by the Electoral Office and the Electoral Committee.

“The Estonian election system is trustworthy, so I can reaffirm to all people of Estonia – our elections and e-voting are safe, use them as boldly as you did before,” the president said.

The National Defense Council was also briefed by the Electoral Office on the audits and checks performed on e-elections to date, while Minister of Foreign Trade and IT Raul Siem presented his positions concerning additional audits. The National Defense Council also talked about a revelation made last week to the effect that due to delays in development, it will not be possible to hold referendums or elections in Estonia before next fall.

“By now it is clear that work will be rearranged in such way that if necessary, a referendum with e-voting can be held at the desired time. But we definitely learned a lesson from this for the future that with developments as important as elections, which are one of the mainstays of the functioning of democracy, one must always take it into consideration that legislation and technical capability must move in unison,” Kaljulaid said.

As a second topic, the National Defense Council discussed Estonia’s security and allied relations with the United States.

“It was the common stance of the National Defense Council that we have had very good cooperation with the current U.S. administration, have had with all the previous ones, and will have with the next one when it assumes office at one point. We work with the American leaders whom the American people have democratically elected to office,” the head of state said, adding that the National Defense Council discussed various initiatives and sets of topics that cooperation with one of Estonia’s most important allies will focus on. 

The head of state said that no politician should talk about the conduct of elections in another country, as that is a matter of the respective country.

The National Defense Council is an advisory body to the president of the republic. Sessions of the council are held as often as required. The members of the council are the president of the Riigikogu, the prime minister, the chairman of the national defense committee of the Riigikogu, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Riigikogu, the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of defense, the minister of finance, the minister of the interior, the minister of justice, the minister of economic affairs and infrastructure, the minister of foreign trade and information technology and the commander of the defense forces. The council discusses key issues from the point of view of national defense and expresses its opinions on these issues.