Äripäev general manager Igor Rõtov writes that the change of government and replacement of Andrus Ansip as Prime Minister with Siim Kallas is a good opportunity to overcome political and economic stagnation.
The following are excerpts from Rõtov’s opinion article headlined “Old geezers bring joy to the society” that was published in today’s Äripäev. The news that Andrus Ansip was being replaced by Siim Kallas has already created new hope in the people who are not satisfied with the current situation in politics or economy.
While some time it seemed that the only way to have change was to have a left-wing coalition of Centre Party and Social Democrats after the next general elections, things have definitely changed now. What is somewhat surprising is that Siim Kallas agreed to replace his cushy job in Brussels and jump head first in the everyday politics of his home country. It’s a good thing that he agreed because this could be the best political solution for Estonia. We simply don’t have anyone else with such an authority and credit of trust.
Some critics such as Andres Herkel have even gone further and call it a Putin-Medvedev thing. One problem with the change is that Kallas is already 65 and Ansip is 57. So, instead of fresh faces we have two diehard politicians and administrators with a background in the Soviet Communist Party switching seats.
At the same time, 65 is quite a suitable age. For instance, Winston Churchill became the British Prime Minister at this age. After all, the years that Kallas has spent in Brussels are almost like his political rejuvenation. Kallas is also a much better option than Jürgen Ligi or Rein Lang although he also has his baggage which includes his past in the Communist Party, his alleged involvement in the VEB Fund scam, the 10-million-dollar affair of hidden financing of Reform Party at its early years.
Ansip’s best decision
Andrus Ansip’s decision to step down was one of this best in the last three years. He has never admitted it, but since 2011 the country had been at a standstill and he has been unable to put it back on track. People with leftist views accuse Ansip that he is interested only on liberal economic policy, low taxes and economic growth. Business community and people on the right say that tax burden is already too high and has become a major obstacle to economic growth.
Kallas who is much more empathic and politically experienced has all the necessary preconditions to conciliate the business community and the Reform Party. In my opinion the real reason why Kallas accepted the job was to free Estonia of a Prime Minister who did not listen, who preferred to speak alone and who kills dialogue, ridiculing people who though differently. Ever since Silver Meikar became the whistle-blower and unveiled how Reform Party used illegal donations to fund its activities, Ansip has been in the defensive which has restricted his choices.
However, Ansip’s almost 10 years as Prime Minister is a remarkable achievement not only in Estonia, but also in today’s Europe. He started well and his campaign to make Estonia one of Europe’s five richest countries did not seem utopic in the 2005-2006 boom years. Estonian economy was outpacing that of Europe and the living standards were converging.
The first major setback was the Bronze Night riots in 2007 which created a rift with Russia and caused businessmen, especially Russian businessmen, to point an accusing finger at Ansip. It must be said, however, that the Bronze Night unified Reform Party and increased the popularity of Ansip as a strong leader. Ansip’s second mistake was to ignore obvious signs in 2007 and 2008 and deny that Estonia was about to plunge into a crisis.
He managed to salvage the sinking ship in 2009 by putting the country into an austerity program without devaluing the currency or foreign loans. Estonia’s economy started to slow down and Ansip did little to bring it out of the recession. Reforms were stalling and the government nor the Reform Party offered no new initiatives.
It must be said that in spite of all the criticism and claims that it is undemocratic, the Ansip-Kallas switch is not a done deal. First, the two old politicians may have agreed to make Kallas Prime Minister and Ansip EU Commissioner, but things may still change. After all, President Ilves may decide to ask someone else to form the next government.
Moreover, the Estonian Parliament may also decide against the Ansip-Kallas agreement or the European Commission president may have another candidate for the Transport Minister’s job or IRL may manage to put forward its own candidate for the job. All these things may happen. But let’s be realistic, it is not very likely.
So, in a few weeks, Siim Kallas will take over as PM and continue with the current government, perhaps with a minor cabinet reshuffle. Ansip will take up his new job in Brussels. And, let’s face it, as Marju Lauristin said - the personal characteristics of Ansip that we so dislike here in Estonia could serve him well in the bureaucratic machinery in Brussels.