Estonia’s new prime minister has promised to restore the Baltic nation’s reputation, after two turbulent years in which a far-right party was part of the country’s government.
“We will again build our relations with our allies, our neighbours, and we will try to restore our name as a good country to invest in,” Kaja Kallas told Reuters in Tallinn on Tuesday, after taking her oath of office.
The 43-year-old Kallas becomes the country’s first female prime minister since Estonia regained independence in 1991. The Reform Party, which she leads, won the most votes in a 2019 general election, but was unable to form a government, as the rival Centre Party instead looked to the far-right EKRE and another right-wing party to form a controversial coalition, with Centre’s Juri Ratas as prime minister.
That coalition was always fragile, and was repeatedly rocked by far-right rhetoric used by EKRE government members. In 2019, EKRE MP Ruuben Kaalep told the Guardian that the party’s agenda was to fight against “native replacement”, “the LGBT agenda” and “leftist global ideological hegemony”.
In December that year, the Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid apologised to Finland, after interior minister Mart Helme, the EKRE leader, mocked Finland’s newly elected prime minister Sanna Marin as a “sales girl”.
Last year, Kaljulaid convened the country’s security council to discuss remarks by Helme calling the then-US presidential nominee Joe Biden “corrupt”. She said the remarks could put Estonia’s alliances under threat.
In the end, the Ratas government was felled not by EKRE’s rhetoric but by a corruption scandal. He resigned earlier in January, and a new coalition was formed between the Centre and Reform parties, with seven cabinet posts each and Kallas as prime minister. The new cabinet will be in office for two years before a new election is due in spring 2023.
Kallas, a former lawyer and MEP, is the daughter of Sim Kallas, who founded the Reform Party and was prime minister in 2002-2003. She said gender balance was an important factor in the new cabinet, with numerous women appointed to key positions, including the finance and foreign ministers.
Estonia is now one of just a few countries where both the head of state and of government are women, though president Kaljulaid’s five-year term will come to an end this year, and she has not yet announced whether she will seek another term.
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