Euroskeptic Nationalists Set to Enter Government in Estonia

(Bloomberg) -- Estonia moved closer to forming a government that includes an anti-immigrant party, potentially strengthening the hand of nationalists before May’s European Union elections.

While a pro-European liberal won Slovakia’s presidential vote this month -- denting a populist expansion in the bloc’s eastern wing -- Estonia’s EKRE holds euroskeptic views similar to those of ruling parties in Hungary and Poland. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is threatening to walk away from the EU parliament’s mainstream bloc.

EKRE is set to be a junior partner in Estonia’s new coalition, which will be led by Prime Minister Juri Ratas’s Center party. Ratas outmaneuvered the opposition Reform Party, which won the most votes in the Baltic country’s March election, by reneging on pledges to shun EKRE. His three-party alliance, commanding a 56-seat majority in parliament, signed a coalition agreement on Monday.

Euroskeptic Nationalists Set to Enter Government in Estonia

EKRE’s inclusion “may make partners more cautious with respect to Estonia,” said Kristi Raik, head of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute in Tallinn. But “it will be simple for the government to assume a bit more of a euroskeptic position than average without actually bringing any meaningful changes.”

The coalition pact doesn’t include a shift in Estonia’s orientation, envisaging a “foreign and security policy based on EU and NATO membership.” Estonians worry more than other EU members about immigration, though more than half say they “tend to trust” the bloc.

While EKRE members have publicly used racial epithets, the party dropped demands to scrap same-sex partnerships and state funding of abortion. The government will pursue a controversial revamp of the pension system while a long-delayed Baltic rail project opposed by EKRE will depend on the level of EU aid. EKRE’s five ministerial portfolios will include those of finance and external trade.

“Our wish is a coherent, strong Estonian society,” Ratas said at the signing on Monday. “We want no one to be left behind, and for all 1.3 million residents to be ‘our’ people.”

The coalition must wait at least another week for Ratas’s turn to form a government after President Kersti Kaljulaid on Friday offered Reform the first attempt, though it’s almost sure to fail.

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