Rise of EU’s MOST EXTREME populist group sends SHOCKWAVES through Brussels

ON today’s 15th anniversary of the EU’s biggest ever expansion Brussels was today watching how Estonia’s new ultra-right and anti-Europe party steered the tiny but vocal nation.

Shockwaves resounded across the EU when Estonia’s leading eurosceptic party the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) almost tripled their seat count during the 2019 election campaign.

Estonia was welcomed to the EU alongside Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Malta and Cyprus in what became known as “the big expansion” - described at the time as the boldest moment of European post World War II history.

But the realpolitik of that decision was today hitting home in a way few in Brussels might have expected.

EKRE is by far the most extreme legitimate populist political party in Europe. Many members are anti-immigrant, pro-repatriation, anti-feminist and deeply homophobic.

But the EKRE won 19 seats in the election and forms part of the three-way government coalition alongside Estonia’s Centre Party and Pro Patria.

The party had the highest gain of any in the election, increasing their seat share by 12. The group also took 17.8 percent of the national vote, up from the 8.1 percent it took four years before.

The party’s big gains were contrasted with a loss of support for the ruling Centre Party, leaving the Estonian Prime Minister to go against campaign promises that he would not talk to the EKRE to strike a deal and secure a coalition.

EKRE has no qualms about shocking Brussels with its far-right, eurosceptic manifesto that aims to protect the national values and interests of Estonia.

The group have pushed for the government to not take in any refugees and is demanding a 2021 referendum on whether to legally define marriage as between a man and woman.

But, it is believed the party’s strong anti-immigration stance only boosted the party ahead of the election campaign. Estonia has only taken in 206 refugees since 2015 and the nation has consistently ranked highly among Europeans in considering immigration as the EU’s biggest concern.

Party spokesman, Martin Helme, caused controversy in a live television interview in 2013. According to Estonian public broadcaster, ERR, party spokesman Martin Helme said in a live television interview that he wanted “Estonia to be a white country” and “If you’re black, go back”.

At April’s swearing-in ceremony, party leader Martin Helme and his father - the interior minister - both displayed OK symbols, a gesture many associate with white nationalism.

Having launched in 2012, the group picked up seven seats in the 2015 election after some opposition to the government’s decision to allow the registering of same-sex partnerships.

The party was the only political group in Estonia to increase its membership numbers in 2018, claiming they have around 8800 registered members.

Speaking to Politico, Juhan Kivirähk, a sociologist with an independent pollster, said that the party’s success is down to an anti-establishment mood as rural areas don’t experience the rate of economic growth in the country.

He added” “EKRE’s success is probably less connected to Estonian voters being xenophobic or against minorities than there is an anti-establishment mood in society.”

EKRE failed to win a seat in the 2014 European election campaign but currently polls as the third most popular party ahead of May’s vote.  

In April 2019, the party announced it would join a far-right eurosceptic bloc led by Italy’s Matteo Salvini after the EU election campaign.

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