After Estonia’s national elections in March, the far right was admitted to the new coalition government. It has then won a seat in the European parliament. Though the liberal Reform party topped the polls and the rest of the country’s seats remain with the Liberals and Democrats, the Center Party of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas came in third, and far-right incendiary rhetoric continues to disrupt the coalition’s ability to govern.
As we predicted, the European parliament elections turned out to be a referendum on the governing parties: the left-liberal Centre Party, conservative Pro Patria, and far right EKRE. After the Centre Party invited the far-right EKRE to coalition talks in March, it has been widely criticized by media, civil society organizations, opposition politicians, and even by some members of the party itself.
A seemingly unending series of scandals has forced Prime Minister Jüri Ratas to apologize for their coalition partner’s behaviour almost every day. EKRE now holds the record for the minister with the shortest tenure (29 hours), as their minister for IT and foreign trade had to resign after being accused of serial domestic abuse.
EKRE has called for liberal journalists working in public broadcasting to be ‘punished’, promised to dismantle the administrative ‘deep state’, and embarrassed even Marine Le Pen with white power ‘OK’ hand gestures which they have called ‘pure trolling’. Combined with disappointing revenue projections, which have led to plans for budget cuts, the new government is not exactly awash with popularity.
Governing vs incendiary rhetoric
The European election results reflect this dissatisfaction. Though the elections have always been more about personalities than party politics, the outcome is nevertheless telling. The opposition parties, Social Democrats and the liberal Reform party won 49.5 percent of the vote and four out of six seats in the European Parliament. Smaller non-parliamentary parties collected another 5.9 percent of the vote.
Raimond Kaljulaid, a former Centre Party member, who left the party in protest of its support for the far right, won 6.2 percent of the vote. Equally concerning for the Centre Party must be the loss of its traditional Russian vote. In the mostly Russian-speaking Lasnamäe district of Tallinn, the party lost half of the votes it won in the last EP elections. Still, the single seat won by the Centre Party went to Yana Toom, another prominent critic of the current coalition.
In terms of European politics, the distribution of Estonia’s six seats changed little: the far right gained one mandate, but most seats went to Renew Europe. Domestically, however, interesting times are ahead. Now that the Centre Party no longer has to fight elections, it must concentrate on governing. A few months into its new four-year term, the party is already showing signs of fatigue. EKRE’s daily cascade of incendiary rhetoric is frustrating to both coalition partners.
The next few months may yield strikes by academics, rescue workers and oil shale miners. For Centre Party politicians who campaign in liberal areas, Russian-speaking areas or who already personally find the far right repugnant, the European election results are an ominous sign.
This article is published in association with Eurozine.
Eurozine describes itself as “a network of European cultural journals, linking up more than 80 partner journals as well as associated magazines and institutions from nearly all European countries.”