Andrew Langley and Ott Ummelas, Bloomberg, May 12, 2019
He wants to keep his country racially pure and makes gestures used by white supremacists. And this week he will sit down with the rest of the euro region’s finance ministers.
The new man in charge of Estonia’s national wallet, Martin Helme, will take his seat for the first time at the heart of the continent’s mainstream policy-making at the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels on May 16. He’s a member of the anti-immigrant EKRE party that secured some of the Baltic country’s key government positions after winning 18% support in a March election.
Helme, 43, took his oath of office in April and marked the occasion by flashing a white supremacist hand sign also used by the perpetrator of this year’s deadly New Zealand terrorist attacks. Like his father, EKRE Chairman Mart Helme, he wants an Estonia free from all other nationalities. In March, he stood by an earlier remark about how to decide who should live in his country, saying “if he’s black, send him back.”
Despite a population of just 1.3 million people, Estonia is important. It’s seen as an example of successful post-Soviet economic transition, a front-runner in digital government and a model of fiscal conservatism inside the euro region. The country is also among the EU’s staunchest backers of sanctions against President Vladimir Putin’s government over Ukraine, while being home to a sizable NATO troop contingent from Western members.
There have been blemishes. Estonia is grappling with its part in a $230 billion money-laundering scandal. But burgeoning support for the far right in the wake of Europe’s refugee crisis had gone largely unnoticed as Estonia successfully branded itself as a modern, western state, according to Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia and an expert on populism.
EKRE, the country’s third-biggest party, has links to political bedfellows in neighboring Finland and eastern European countries and has applied to join Salvini’s nationalist group.
It has the usual credentials. As well as railing against immigrants – the Helmes complain of a “replacement of indigenous people” in Europe – EKRE opposes same-sex partnerships. In 2016, U.S. alt-right figure Richard Spencer tweeted a photo of himself with EKRE’s youth-wing leader, now a lawmaker, writing “my new Estonian friend.”
Meanwhile, they have escalated criticism of President Kersti Kaljulaid after she attended the April 29 swearing-in of the cabinet wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan “speech is free.” They also said she had dishonored her office by failing to congratulate the government.