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.
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.
Located on the European Union’s eastern frontier with Russia, Estonia is the latest triumph for a growing band of anti-immigrant nationalist from Rome to Helsinki. Led by Italy’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, they’re looking to make inroads in votes for the European Parliament this month.
Helme, 43, took his oath of office in April. 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.”
“Martin Helme, to my mind, is the dangerous fanatic of the family,” said Andres Kasekamp, an alleged “expert” on the radical right at the University of Toronto. “He’s intelligent and he’s been very purposefully working in this direction for a long time. He sincerely holds on to these principles that he espouses.”
Helme said by email that there’s a tendency to label people “too light-handedly.” “Every person has a right to their own opinion and I’ll always stand for personal freedoms,” he said in response to questions.
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.
“In many ways, Martin Helme reflects classic Estonian nationalism,” Mudde said. “He’s added remarkably open racism to it.”
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 the replacement of indigenous people in Europe –EKRE opposes same-sex partnerships. In 2016, U.S. alt-right leader Richard Spencer tweeted a photo of himself with EKRE’s youth-wing leader, now a lawmaker, writing “my new Estonian friend.”