Authoritarian Populism Index.

The Authoritarian Populism Index is developed by Timbro.

Timbro is the leading free market think tank in the Nordic countries. Our mission is to promote and disseminate ideas supporting the principles of free markets, free enterprise, individual liberty and a free society. Timbro was founded in 1978 by Sture Eskilsson and the Swedish Employers’ Association, a precursor to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.  Since 2003, Timbro is financed by the Swedish Free Enterprise Foundation.


International outreach and translation supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Atlas Network.


Populism Rank: 25


Voter support for radical left in last elections (2023): -0%.
Voter support for radical right in last elections: -1,7%.
Populist or authoritarian parties in government (February 2024): none
Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 1/6

01 Speakers

Nationalism has been a central feature of Estonian politics both before and after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In the 1990s, even liberal and centre-oriented parties advocated strong assimilationist policies towards the large ethnic Russian minority. Still, there has been some space for even more radical alternatives to the right of the mainstream.

The far right Estonian National Independence Party (ERSP) was established in 1988 by nationalist and anti-communist dissidents. Its primary objective was to establish a non-communist Estonia (before independence) and, in line with its anti-Russian stance, to make the country exclusively for ethnic Estonians (after independence). In the first free elections of 1992, the party garnered almost nine percent of the votes and became part of the right-wing coalition government from 1992 to 1995. The ERSP later merged with the Pro Patria National Coalition to form the conservative Pro Patria Union.

Demonstration with the flag of the Estonian National Independence Party to protest the activities of the KGB in Estonia, 1990. On the right: Lagle Parek, chairman of the ERSP and Estonian minister of the interior from 1992 to 1993.

The Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) is the most successful nationalist party in the Baltic states. It was founded in 2012 through a merger of the agrarian People’s Union and the nationalist Estonian Patriotic Movement. Between 2019-21 EKRE participated in a coalition government with the Centre Party.


EKRE employs typical populist rhetoric, claiming that the “liberal elite” is working the against the “real interest of the people”. In an interview with The Guardian, MP Ruuben Kaalep summed up his party’s mission as to fight against “native replacement”, “the LGBT agenda” and “leftist global ideological hegemony”. Consequently, EKRE is strongly nationalist and opposes even small levels of immigration, arguing that Estonia should be a country only for ethnic estonians. At the same time, it has shown an ambiguous attitude towards the ethnic Russian minority since it also wants to attract their votes, many in that group being more conservative and eurosceptic. EKRE therefore avoided taking a clear position against Russia following the war in 2022. The party was accused of being infiltrated by Russian oligarchs ahead of the 2019 EP elections. 


EKRE is strongly conservative on social issues, including a negative stance on HTBQ-rights. Its party leader, Mart Helme, had to resign as interior minister after an interview where he stated that he did not have a friendly view on homosexuals, who he thought would better emigrate to Sweden. A few years earlier, he claimed in a TV interview that blacks were not welcome in his Estonia: “I want Estonia to be a white country”. EKRE politicians have often mentioned Fidesz and PiS as inspiration, and both father and son Helme claimed that Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020 was the result of electoral fraud. Mart Helme also said that “partial” journalists should be fired from public service, and after EKRE took place in the government, well-known public service journalist Ahto Lobjakas quit his job, claiming that although he was not fired, he felt he had to choose between self-censorship or leaving.


On economic matters, EKRE takes a centrist position within the Estonian political landscape,  frequently making populist pledges for lower taxes along with expanded welfare spending. EKRE is sceptical towards Nato and has suggested holding a new referendum on Estonia’s membership in the EU, although it denies it wants Estonia to leave the EU in the current situation. Early in 2024, EKRE is polling around 20 percent, and is currently the second largest party.

Mart Helme, former leader of EKRE.

The Centre Party (EK) was formed in 1991 as a direct successor of the Estonian Popular Front. It is variously described as centrist, liberal or populist. Long time party leader Edgar Savisaar was often criticised for autocratic methods and has also been involved in corruption scandals. The Centre Party did not fully support Estonia’s membership in the EU but has since abandoned its euroscepticism.


The party adopts a distinctly left-wing stance on economic matters while leaning conservative on social issues, such as opposing LGBTQ rights. Despite this, the Center Party is a member of the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament and identifies itself as a social-liberal party. The coalition with EKRE led to harsh critique within the Center Party. It is not included in the list of populist parties, mainly due to its lack of anti-elitism, but it should be noted that it is a borderline case, even more so historically.


To the left of the Social democratic party, there is a void in Estonian politics. No far left party has appeared during the more than thirty year of independence.

EP elections

Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 1/6


The first MEP for EKRE, Jaak Madison, was elected in 2019 and joined the ID group. Madison, who according to The Guardian is regarded as “the polished face of the party”, nevertheless has had his fair share of controversy. A few years before becoming a MEP, , Madison wrote a blogpost where he argued that the Holocaust had “positive aspects”.

EKRE summary

Economics: CENTER
Social issues: CONSERVATIVE
Democratic credibility: LOW