Estonia Picks EU Audit Official as First Female President

  • Kersti Kaljulaid backs incumbent Ilves’s criticism of Russia
  • Kaljulaid urges better ties between Baltic, Nordic states

Estonia picked a European Court of Auditors member who advocates maintaining a tough stance on neighboring Russia as its first female president, unblocking months of deadlock over who’ll take the job.

Kersti Kaljulaid will replace U.S.-educated Toomas Hendrik Ilves, backing her predecessor’s call for an increased NATO presence in the Baltic region and keeping in place sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. The 46-year-old received 81 votes Monday in the 101-member parliament. She stood as a last-minute compromise candidate after lawmakers and then the Electoral Body unexpectedly failed to pick a winner during the past two months.

New Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid on Oct. 3.

Photographer: Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images

The president has a largely ceremonial role in Estonia, representing the nation of 1.3 million people abroad and formally steering defense. But Kaljulaid will have the power to send bills back to parliament if they contradict the constitution, call snap elections under certain circumstances and veto the appointment of some officials, including the central bank governor.

An EU Court of Auditors member since 2004, Kaljulaid has an MBA from Tartu University in Estonia and has served as an economic-policy adviser to the the prime minister. She’ll serve a five year-term after Ilves completed the two allowed by the constitution.

Kaljulaid opposes a more federal Europe and she said last week that she’ll urge the EU to focus on ensuring the freedom of movement for capital, goods, services and people. In an interview with public broadcaster Eesti Rahvusringhaaling, she said Russia poses the biggest security risk to Estonia and also called for more cooperation between countries on the Baltic Sea and in the Nordic region.

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