A large part of the work of the Riigikogu takes place in committees. The standing committees cover state matters in their fields of specialisation, and their main task is discussing and preparing Bills. Select committees are formed to perform specific functions. If an issue of significant importance needs solving, a committee of investigation or a study committee is formed.
Each standing committee deals with the Bills of a specific field. Until 2004 the Riigikogu had ten standing committees. When Estonia joined the European Union in 2004, it got one more standing committee – the European Union Affairs Committee.
The committees of the Riigikogu and their fields of work are as follows:
- European Union Affairs Committee: constant monitoring of the Government's European Union policies and of the initiatives of the European Union, forming opinions on important European Union draft legislation
- Environment Committee: issues and Bills concerning environment protection, use of natural resources and the protection of natural objects
- Cultural Affairs Committee: issues and Bills concerning culture, education and research
- Rural Affairs Committee: issues and Bills concerning rural life, agriculture and land reform
- Economic Affairs Committee: issues and Bills concerning the general economic policy of Estonia, entrepreneurship and business activities, foreign borrowing of the state and providing state guarantees for it, ratification of international treaties, ownership relations and housing, and transport and communications
- Constitutional Committee: Bills amending the Constitution, and issues and Bills dealing with the activities and election of constitutional institutions (including the Riigikogu), the Estonian citizenship, protection of personal data and keeping a population record, public service, and other topics concerning constitutional law and general administrative law
- Finance Committee: Bills and issues concerning taxation, banking and the state budget
- National Defence Committee: issues and Bills concerning national defence, service in the defence forces and international military cooperation
- Social Affairs Committee: issues and Bills concerning social security, labour relations and health care, including pension insurance, family benefits and benefits for disabled persons, social protection of the unemployed, social welfare and child welfare, working time and rest time, and health insurance
- Foreign Affairs Committee: issues and Bills concerning foreign relations
- Legal Affairs Committee: issues and Bills regarding civil and penal law
How does a standing committee work?
The first sitting of a committee of the Riigikogu is convened by the President of the Riigikogu. At the first meeting of a committee, the members of the committee elect the chairman and deputy chairman of the committee from among themselves by a secret ballot. Until the chairman is elected, the eldest member of the committee chairs the meeting of the committee.
The sittings of standing committees take place according to the working schedule of the Riigikogu. Committee has a quorum if at least one third of its members are present. Decisions are made by a majority vote and minutes are taken of the sittings.
Committee sittings are not public, in order to enable open-minded discussions and make it easier to reach an agreement. A committee may decide to declare its sitting public if more than one-half of the members of the committee vote in favour of it. During public committee sittings or parliamentary hearings, the opinions of interest groups and specialists of the field are heard.
What is the role of the chairman of a committee?
Chairman of a committee:
- Chairs the sittings of the committee;
- Represents the committee and directs and organises its work;
- Submits the working plan and draft agenda of the committee sittings;
- Decides who is invited to the discussion of the items on the agenda;
- Decides whether to invite representatives of state agencies and other persons to take part in committee sittings.
In the absence of the chairman, these duties are performed by the deputy chairman. Members of the Government of the Republic have the right to participate in committee sittings with the right to speak.
Members of the Riigikogu in Committees
Each member of the Riigikogu is a member of one standing committee.
Each member of the Riigikogu is a member of one standing committee.
The exception is the European Union Affairs Committee, which includes members from all other standing committees. Only the President and Vice-Presidents of the Riigikogu are not members of any committee.
Seats in standing committees are distributed by the Board of the Riigikogu between the factions according to their size. The larger the faction, the more seats they receive. The factions themselves decide who will work in which committee.
Select committees, committees of investigation and study committees
Select committees, committees of investigation and study committees are formed to perform specific functions. These committees do not discuss Bills and their term of office may be shorter than that of the Riigikogu. You can learn more about the work of the Riigikogu Anti-Corruption Select Committee.
A Resolution of the Riigikogu sets out the composition of these committees, including an alternate member for each committee member, and the functions and the procedure for reporting on the activities of the committee. A member of the Riigikogu may be a member of a select committee, committee of investigation or study committee, but unlike being a member of a standing committee, this is not mandatory.
The Riigikogu forms a select committee in order to perform functions arising from Acts or international agreements. During all the Riigikogu terms, the Security Authorities Surveillance Select Committee has existed as a select committee, with the aim to supervise the lawfulness of the security police and surveillance activities.
Committee of investigation
A committee of investigation is formed in order to investigate the circumstances relating to a matter of public interest. A committee of investigation presents an interim report on its activities at least once a year and hands its final report to the Riigikogu upon the termination of its activities.
For example, the 13th Riigikogu formed the Committee of Investigation to Identify Possible Corruption Risks in the Public Limited Company Port of Tallinn.
A study committee may be formed to analyse a problem of significant importance. An example of this is the formation by the 10th Riigikogu of the Study Committee for Enhancing the Prevention of HIV/AIDS and Drug Addiction.
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