Estonia's ruling party taps climate minister for the Baltic country's top job

HELSINKI — Estonia’s ruling center-right Reform Party has chosen Saturday Climate Minister Kristen Michal to replace outgoing leader Kaja Kallas as prime minister of the Baltic country.

The unanimous decision to nominate Michal was made following a closed-door meeting by the party’s governing board, only two days after the European Union tapped Kallas to become the bloc’s new foreign policy chief.

Kallas, Estonia’s first female prime minister since January 2021, currently heads a three-party coalition government. Under her leadership, the Reform Party won overwhelmingly the March 2023 general election.

She has proposed an extraordinary party meeting to elect her replacement as a party chairman on July 14, with Michal expected to take over after his main rival Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Hanno Pevkur bowed out on Friday.

Michal’s nomination for Estonia’s top job will then have to be approved by President Alar Karis and the 101-seat Riigikogu, or Parliament, where the coalition holds a comfortable majority.

He has been serving as the minister for climate affairs since April last year.

Estonia under Kallas’ rule has been one of Europe’s most vocal backers of Ukraine following the Russian invasion that started in Feb.2022.

“The people of Estonia need assurance that our home and land are protected and that the country is well-run,” Michal said in a press statement following the party meeting, adding that national security would remain a key issue for the new Cabinet in the country of 1.3 million that neighbors Russia.

The 48-year-old Michal, a former economics and justice minister, also vowed to improve the country’s economic competitiveness as prime minister. He also hinted that the current 4-year government program the coalition had already agreed on would likely be revised under his leadership.

The climate minister is a seasoned politician who has been active among the ranks of the Reform Party, Estonia’s key political establishment, since the late 1990s. Apart from Cabinet posts, Michal has served as Reform’s party secretary, a member of Tallinn City Council and an adviser to ex-prime minister Siim Kallas, Reform’s co-founder and Kaja Kallas’ father.

He is known for a long and acclaimed political career focused on Estonia’s internal affairs but lacks international experience — almost the complete opposite of Kaja Kallas who has excelled on international arenas with her foreign experience but was clearly out of her comfort zone in domestic politics, leading to a major dip in her popularity among Estonians.

Kallas acknowledged Michal’s strong domestic political experience as an asset. He is “much stronger in political tactics than I’ve ever been,” she told news portal Delfi on Saturday.

The Reform Party said that Kallas will represent Estonia as a prime minister at the NATO summit in Washington in July.

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