Mart Helme, Estonia’s interior minister and the leader of the far-right Estonian Conservative People’s Party, EKRE, claimed on Sunday that his party has put the Rail Baltica project – aimed at connecting Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland with a high-speed railway – at a standstill.
Helme made the comments at his party’s paid weekly broadcast on Estonia’s Tre Radio, co-hosted with his son, EKRE’s deputy leader and the Estonian finance minister, Martin Helme.
The far-right leader made the comments in a context of discussing that both the supporters and the critics of EKRE have recently claimed their party has not fulfilled its election promises, including not halting the Rail Baltica project. “Actually, Rail Baltica is not moving forward. Yes, there is land acquisition and certain types are sitting around and being paid a decent salary. But in fact, the project is at a standstill. And that is largely because we have stopped it,” Helme said.
Spending money on “useful things” that do not help building Rail Baltica
Martin Helme added that, although something has been done for the money of the Rail Baltica project, there is no sign of the railway itself yet.
“There are things done within [the] Rail Baltica [project] that are good for our economy anyway. Where has the Rail Baltica funding been spent so far? On viaducts and a tram line in Tallinn. If the rest of Rail Baltica never materialises, the tram line to the [Tallinn] airport – I think it is good for us. That was constructed with Rail Baltica funds,” Martin Helme said. “We don’t have Rail Baltica’s railway; we haven’t started building it. If we go into details and see where the money has been spent – we are trying to spend it on things that are useful to us and do not really help to build this railway.”
EKRE’s coalition partners in the government, the populist centre-left Centre Party and the centre-right conservative Isamaa, have yet to react on the Helmes’ latest comments. As recently as in February this year, the Centre’s Party chairman and the prime minister, Jüri Ratas, met with his Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts, after which the Baltic leaders said they wanted to “move forward with Rail Baltica as soon as possible”. “Our wish is to complete Rail Baltica by 2026,” Ratas said after the meeting.
The EU has already spent hundreds of millions
Rail Baltica is a planned 870-kilometre (541-mile) electrified high-speed railway from Tallinn in Estonia to the Lithuanian-Polish border. The infrastructure would allow passengers to reach Tallinn from Pärnu in 40 minutes and Riga in two hours. The cornerstone of the first construction structure on the Rail Baltica main line in Estonia, the Saustinõmme viaduct, was laid on 28 November 2019.
In 2015, the European Union decided to support the Rail Baltica-related rail projects in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with approximately €734 million from the Connecting Europe Facility Programme for Transport. The building of the Rail Baltica’s railway is expected to begin in 2020 and the whole project is estimated to cost €3.68 billion.
Cover: Mart Helme at his manor house in 2008. Photo by Külli Tammes/Wikipedia.