By Andrius Sytas
TALLINN, (Reuters) – Kaja Kallas said she was focused on her next term as Estonian prime minister despite media speculation she could be in the running to lead NATO, with plans including legalising same sex marriage and increasing defence spending.
Parliament voted for Kallas to stay in office after her liberal Reform party agreed a coalition with the liberal Estonia 200 party and the Social Democrat Party, commanding 60 of 101 votes in parliament following last month’s election.
Her government agreed to increase defence spending to 3% of gross domestic product for 2024-2027, from 2.85% in 2023, to arm itself in the face of the threat from its neighbour Russia.
Taxes will be raised to fund the spending in a time of economic contraction, Kallas has said.
The new government will also legislate same sex marriage equality “as fast as possible”, Kallas said, becoming the first Central European country to do so.
Asked if she would take the NATO top job after starting her second term as prime minister, she told Reuters: “I’ve just had very difficult coalition talks, to put together a government. I’m the prime minister of Estonia, and I try to solve all the problems that we have here.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s term ends at the end of September and Kallas’ name is one of a number that have been mentioned in informal conversations among diplomats and media reports as a potential successor. Speculation intensified after Stoltenberg made clear in February he was not seeking an extension to his term.
Kallas has attracted widespread political attention in Europe as one of Ukraine’s strongest allies, pushing European nations to do more to help Kyiv. But some diplomats say she may be regarded as too hawkish on Russia to lead the alliance, whose members are committed to helping Ukraine but anxious to avoid a direct clash with Moscow.
NATO diplomats say the race to succeed Stoltenberg has yet to get into high gear and some do not rule out a further extension for the incumbent.
“I will not get offered the job of NATO secretary general, I don’t think so,” Kallas said.
The new government of the nation of 1.3 million people pledged to push its NATO allies to spend at least 2.5% of GDP on their defence, and to admit Ukraine into NATO – although the former looks unlikely, with some member states already having expressed their reluctance.
However, Kallas signalled its support for Ukraine in terms of donating military equipment would have to be reduced after reaching more than 1% of GDP so far.
“We have given a lot. That means that we have less to give … Now we have to focus on refilling our stocks, preparing ourselves for our defence,” she told Reuters.
“Considering how much a small country like Estonia has given, I believe that the bigger allies, with much friendlier neighbours than ours, still have something in their warehouses that they can give,” she said.