Honourable members of the Riigikogu!
I stand here before you for the second time as a candidate for Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia. I am now two years older and more experienced. During these two years, the world around us has changed. Estonia has also changed. It has become gloomier and more introverted. COVID-19 is not the only thing that has had a devastating effect on people’s well-being. We have also had to fight the global pandemic of evil that, even before the coronavirus, had begun to weaken the sense of unity and cooperation between and within nations. Without teamwork, there will soon be no more work. If there is no work to bring bread to the table, the lives of people will no longer be worthwhile.
For me, there is no question as to what to do next. I want to do my best to make sure it is good to live in Estonia: good to think, good to work, good to study, good to raise children, and good to enjoy our beautiful nature. I want to see Estonia smiling again, not frowning with a fist in the air. I want Estonia to be open to new ideas and interesting opinions. I want Estonia to move forward with a bold, open, and smart vision.
COVID-19 is clearly a priority for almost all governments, no matter where they are in the world. The health crisis. Even the most closed down countries have not escaped the deadly virus. The health crisis has hit the economy and the whole society hard. This applies to Estonia as well.
This is where our challenges begin.
The second wave of COVID-19 is the first thing the new government will address immediately. Recent infection rates have stabilised, but the threat has not disappeared. If you support me, the government’s crisis management committee and the scientific council will meet tomorrow. Our goal is to keep Estonia as open as possible so that people could go to work, children could go to school, and economic activities could continue. However, it is clear that to overcome the crisis, we need to control the spread of the virus. The government is like a tightrope walker who has to keep their balance at all times. By leaning to one side, we will lose control of the virus, in which case we will have the same fate as some of our neighbouring countries where the number of deaths is higher than usual. By leaning to the other side, people will lose their jobs and the number of invisible victims in society will grow. As we keep our balance on this thin rope, we must move forward to return to normal life.
According to researchers, there is only one way to open up our society without losing human lives and risking the collapse of the medical system: the vaccination of a critical number of Estonians. That is why we will make vaccination the most important task of the government for the coming months, involve the most capable experts, and allocate all the necessary resources. We need to negotiate, both at European level and with the various vaccine manufacturers, to speed up the procurement of vaccine doses and the vaccination process itself. Based on current data, everyone should know when they can vaccinate themselves.
Although vaccination is voluntary in Estonia, I have a request for all people in Estonia: if your doctor recommends vaccination, please listen to them. As Arnold Schwarzenegger said, ‘If your house is on fire, you do not go on YouTube, you call the damn fire department.’ After all, we trust Estonian doctors and the medical system; they are truly doing a good job. Let us trust them when it comes to vaccination.
I also want to acknowledge our previous government in resolving the crisis. Yes, there are many things that we would have done differently and that we have pointed out from the opposition. But in the big picture, Estonia is on the right path. I think that today, all the political forces have realised that we will not be led out of this crisis by political virologists, but by real scientists. We need to analyse with them what Estonia could have done differently and better. In the current situation, wisdom in retrospect is also of great value. The question of why morbidity rates in Estonia are almost ten times higher than in Finland also needs an answer.
I would like to thank all the good people of Estonia who have made many sacrifices for the health of their fellow citizens. However, I also understand those who are tired of the protracted crisis. It is possible that the society’s sense of danger and the necessary attention to the virus was also reduced by the burden of the marriage referendum issue, which did nothing to solve the health crisis. Rather, it had the opposite effect. I very much hope that we will be able to do what is needed, endure a few more months, and then return to a normal life.
The second crisis we are facing is the crisis of values.
When fighting for Estonia’s independence, we had one very clear goal. We also had a common goal in restoring independence. However, when we were finally free and independent, it became clear that we have different views and understandings of how social life should be organised. And that is completely normal in a democratic society! Politics is a debate about how we organise our society and share resources. Why do we have to insult or ridicule another person when presenting our views? Why do we have so much hatred for each other? Where has dignity gone?
Either we like it or not – we are connected to the world. Viciousness can be seen all over the world. The new President of the United States, Joe Biden, gives me hope for a more empathetic environment. To quote him, ‘For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.’
Estonia has also been considered a divided nation. Is that really so? Coalitions may break down, but that does not mean that society is broken. Yes, there is a risk of the society being split. Yes, there are politicians who try to incite people against each other by amplifying sensitive issues in order to benefit politically thanks to blind anger. However, Estonian society is not divided into two hostile sides. I hope that never happens. The vast majority of Estonians still agree on issues that are truly important for the survival of the Estonian state and nation. For example, membership of the European Union. Extremists do not have a significant bearing in Estonia; they are not in the position of speaking on behalf of the people.
The worst thing a member of the government can do to Estonia is to provoke and escalate conflicts. I can guarantee that the new cabinet will not do that. We will not divide society on the basis of ‘us’ and ‘them’. ‘They’ are also our people. We will not be fighting the Battle of Ümera against the Estonian people. It would be pointless to wage such a battle, because even if co-operation with a politician from one party or another is difficult or even impossible, the government cannot be negligent towards any group of the population.
It is time to abandon the idea that the winner takes everything and the loser is left with nothing. Good ideas for promoting Estonian life cannot come only from the government and the coalition. The opposition has also received a mandate from the people to present and defend their ideas – we must learn to listen to each other. There must also be a debate, but I believe that we can do it with respect for each other and that there will be generosity in both the coalition and the opposition. Narrow-mindedness does not make any small country great.
The third crisis we are in is the deepening economic crisis and the resulting mental health crisis. People are anxious and scared. Every day, we see the numbers of those infected, which are many times higher than in the spring. We are in a worse position than in the spring, because people’s resistance to the virus is directly dependent on their mental health and well-being. Many people have lost their jobs and many live in fear of losing their jobs.
People’s mental health is under increasing pressure because we need to communicate and notice each other, but that is lacking. As a mother, it pained me to hear that 14 children took their own lives last year. They could have been helped. Therefore, we consider it essential to adopt amendments to the Mental Health Act without wasting any time to prevent these sad cases in the future. We will also set up a mental health network to detect and help with mental health concerns at an early stage.
All people want to feel valuable members of society. As psychologists say: a sense of belonging is one of the foundations of well-being. However, people also need a job to feed their families. People’s fear of losing a job can only be overcome by the knowledge that the job will be maintained. Therefore, the new government will make efforts to keep the economy running as much as possible and to restart the sectors that have been constrained. European Union subsidies are helpful here, but we must use them very wisely. Spending the money cannot be an end in itself.
We must fight for the free movement of people, goods, and services again. We must make sure that investments are made in Estonia and existing companies would see opportunities to expand their activities here. We must restore Estonia’s good reputation as a business-friendly country.
This crisis has given us the opportunity to organise our work more flexibly, and the law should also encourage flexibility more than before. The needs of teleworking must be supported by infrastructure. Unfortunately, working in remote parts of Estonia is hindered due to poor internet connection. After all, it is not just a question of employment – it is a question of basic living conditions. That is why we will invest European Union money to ensure high-speed internet connections in all corners of Estonia.
I believe that long-term state intervention hinders economic development, but unfortunately it must be done in the short term to restore the economy. However, the distribution of public money for subsidies must end as soon as possible to avoid stifling private initiative and competition. What is particularly important is that the distribution of public money must be transparent and clear – without any exceptions.
This brings me to the fourth crisis we are in, which unfortunately does not allow the new coalition to start from a clean slate. I am talking about the corruption crisis. I am a lawyer by profession. My convictions and my worldview are related to my belief in the rule of law. That is why I am so passionate about it. The agreed rules must be followed. In a state based on the rule of law, decisions must not be made under the influence of secret money. Making exceptions in this area would destroy the credibility of not only one party or government, but the whole country in the eyes of its citizens.
In recent days, several colleagues have declared their zero tolerance for corruption. In reality, this has unfortunately meant nullifying initiatives that would help reduce the risk of corruption. The new government wants to be more consistent. However, I think that the rules governing the funding of political parties or the parliament’s own work should be established on a cross-party basis, or at least with the support of a qualified majority.
The Estonian writer Anton Hansen Tammsaare, most quoted by Estonian politicians, has said in the early days of the republic, ‘Democracy needs self-restraint, self-government, and a sense of responsibility to a much greater extent than autocracy. That is what makes this regime difficult. There are not many people who would like to limit their own desires and actions. No, everyone wants to limit others. Where are those who wish to tame and rule themselves? Everyone tends to tame and rule others. Instead of obliging themselves, everyone is happy to oblige others.’
Dear members of the Riigikogu!
The fifth crisis that is holding back Estonia’s development is the crisis of Estonia’s international reputation. This crisis is not someone’s malicious invention. People who represent our country abroad have experienced this on a daily basis in recent years.
The information about the fall of the government had hardly been made public outside of Estonia when I started to receive messages from the leaders of our allies with the hope that Estonia they love is back. One of the biggest challenges for the incoming government is to restore trust with our allies. Estonia has the potential to become a country larger than its borders, which is valued in terms of openness and innovative technology policy. We want to live in a forward-looking country that is respected in Europe and around the world. This was also our common goal both in gaining independence and in the restoration of independence – to remain Estonians, but also to be European.
The sixth crisis is the crisis of truth. We live in an age where lies spread quickly and far. Winston Churchill said as early as World War II that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. In today’s information society, it is much easier to publish lies and it is almost impossible to prevent them from spreading. The intentions of the incoming government have already been flooded with lies that serve the purpose of intimidation. Lies about tax increases, mass influxes of immigrants, the state’s homosexual agenda, and so on.
People no longer know what to believe and what not. This, in turn, undermines the credibility of decisions in the eyes of the people. That is why we aim to involve scientists and experts in all fields. However, the government must be equally convincing and open in explaining its decisions.
We are in a crisis situation, but if we act wisely, we can use the crisis as fertilizer for the future. The crisis enables us to contribute more to the Estonian digital state and to facilitate the communication of people and companies with the state. Now is also the right time to make our industry cleaner and greener. Smarter jobs give people the opportunity to pay more. We will pay special attention to Ida-Viru County, where investments that require people with similar skills must be made.
Money is needed to realise all of the above, but the situation with the state budget is, to put it mildly, difficult. We cannot live beyond our means indefinitely, so at some point, we need to strike a balance between revenue and expenditure. We realise that this cannot happen overnight.
What is my significant advantage over my predecessor Jüri Ratas? It is not the fact that I am a woman. It is also not the fact that half of the ministers are now women. The advantage is that I have a better coalition partner and that leaves me with more time and energy to dedicate to leading the country.
I know that this is not only a great honour, but also a responsibility and trust that the prime minister must be worthy of. I know that becoming the prime minister is not yet an achievement. It only gives me the opportunity to prove that the government I am running for is able to lead and promote the Estonian state in the best possible way.
I will do my best! Estonia will be back!