Estonian interior minister calls Finland’s new leader ‘sales girl’

Estonia’s President has apologized after the country’s interior minister mocked Finland’s newly elected leader and described her as a “sales girl.”

The leader of Estonia’s populist far-right party EKRE, Mart Helme, questioned the ability of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34, to run her country on Sunday.

“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,” Helme said on his party’s radio talk show Sunday, according to Estonian public broadcaster ERR.

Marin — who leads Finland’s Social Democratic party — has spoken about her life growing up in a disadvantaged family and working as a cashier, before she studied at university.

She became the world’s youngest sitting Prime Minister earlier in December after replacing the nation’s former leader, Antti Rinne. Five of Finland’s major parties in parliament are all led by women, four of whom are in their 30s.

“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 tweeted.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid apologized for Helme’s comments during a phone call with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö on Monday, according to a statement on the Finnish President’s website.

Helme on Monday justified his statement by saying: “That specific sentence about the Finnish Prime Minister, which you have interpreted as demeaning, I have actually interpreted as complimentary — as recognition that someone can work their way up from a low social standing to the peak of politics,” according to ERR.

On Tuesday, Helme survived a vote of no-confidence in the Estonian parliament, which was called because of his comments.

It comes after the President of Estonia and its Prime Minister, Jüri Ratas, spoke on Sunday over the phone. According to Mailin Aasmäe, a press officer at the Estonian President’s office, the President “suggested that the minister of interior should be replaced.”

The Estonian President is a largely ceremonial role with no executive powers.

The Estonian interior ministry referred CNN to Helme’s party, EKRE. The party has not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment.

According to Reuters, Helme formerly worked as Estonia’s ambassador to Russia and is known for his outspoken comments.

This story has been updated to correctly state that an Estonian press officer commented on the conversation between President Kaljulaid and Prime Minister Ratas, and has also been clarified to reflect the role of the Estonian President.