Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Today, Prime Minister Sanna Marin (the SDP) will make her first official visit to Estonia as the prime minister. She will meet with the Estonian prime minister, Jüri Ratas, in Tallinn and Marin will also make a courtesy visit to President Kersti Kaljulaid.

The relations between the countries are good, have been for a long time.

But in last December Estonia’s Interior Minister Mart Helme—soon after Marin had been elected the prime minister—raised eyebrows on both sides of the Baltic, by commenting on Marin’s election and the new Finnish government.

“Now we see how one sales girl has become a prime minister and how some other street activists and non-educated people have also joined the cabinet,” he said.

Afterward, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid called her Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö, to apologize.

“President Kaljulaid conveyed her apology for the interview given by Estonia’s Interior Minister Mart Helme on Sunday 15 December. At President Kaljulaid’s request, President Niinistö forwarded her apology to Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her government,” the president’s office said in a statement.

“I also admitted to him how embarrassed I am for all this,” President Kaljulaid said.

Marin’s résumé includes working as a cashier before attending the university.

“I’m extremely proud of Finland. Here a poor family’s child can educate themselves and achieve their goals in life. A cashier can become even a prime minister,” Marin wrote on Twitter after Minister Helme’s comments.

In Estonia, the opposition parties demanded Helme, who is the leader of the populist far-right party Ekre, to resign.

The political ruling is divided between the liberal and conservative parties.

According to Kristi Raik, the director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute and a docent of Turku University, Estonia has likely not yet forgotten the domestic controversy, which revealed the differences between the political values of the neighboring countries.

In Estonia, the society is considerably more conservative than in Finland.

“It will remain to be seen how the tensions in domestic politics will be visible during Marin’s visit,” Raik said.

Tony Öhberg