Parliamentary groups or factions are associations formed on the basis of the political opinions of the members of the Riigikogu. It is in parliamentary groups, besides committees, that important collective positions are born. Parliamentary groups develop political opinions, promote parliamentary debate and constitute the majority necessary for the functioning of the parliament.
Work in parliamentary groups
At the meetings of parliamentary groups, mostly the questions arisen on the basis of the draft legislation in the legislative proceeding of the Riigikogu and current political issues are discussed. For that purpose, parliamentary groups invite ministers and ministry officials and heads and officials of other governmental authorities, as well as representatives of non-governmental organisations and interest groups to their meetings. The Chancellor of Justice and the Auditor General also participate in the meetings. The working hours of parliamentary groups are determined by the working schedule of the Riigikogu. Off-site meetings in electoral districts are also a work format of parliamentary groups.
VIII Riigikogu had the greatest number of parliamentary groups, nine, and XII Riigikogu had the smallest number of parliamentary groups, four.
In parliamentary groups, the members of the Riigikogu exchange opinions and develop common positions on Bills, matters of significant national importance, the election and appointment of persons and other decisions within the field of activity of the parliament.
Formation of parliamentary groups
Members of the Riigikogu who have been elected on the basis of the list of candidates of one and the same political party can form a parliamentary group, for example, the Estonian Centre Parliamentary Group or the Estonian Reform Party Parliamentary Group.
A member of the Riigikogu may belong to only one parliamentary group, and after VII Riigikogu it is no longer allowed to change parliamentary groups. The prohibition on changing parliamentary groups in the inter-election period establishes a clear connection between the member of the Riigikogu who stood as a candidate in the elections and the political programme of the political party. This way, it is also understandable to voters who bears political responsibility in the parliament. At the same time, a member of the Riigikogu may leave a political party and join another and cooperate with the parliamentary group of that political party in the Riigikogu in voting.
A parliamentary group elects a chairman and a deputy chairman from among its members; the chairman or deputy chairman of a parliamentary group may not be the President or the First or the Second Vice-President of the Riigikogu at the same time. If a parliamentary group comprises more than twelve members, it has the right to elect a second deputy chairman.
Parliamentary group discipline
Politically, membership in a parliamentary group presumes loyalty of the members of the parliament to the majority of the parliamentary group, and subjection to the decisions of the majority. This is called parliamentary group solidarity or parliamentary group discipline. Legally, according to § 62 of the Constitution, every member of the Riigikogu has a free mandate and the consequent right to vote according to their conscience.
Therefore, parliamentary group discipline may not grow into parliamentary group constraint because that would be in conflict with the Constitution.
Leaving a parliamentary group
It is possible to leave a parliamentary group on one’s own initiative. Also, a parliamentary group has the right to exclude a member of the Riigikogu from the parliamentary group in the case when, in the opinion of the majority, the member of the parliamentary group has gone against the ethical principles expected from a member of the Riigikogu outside the chamber of the Riigikogu.
In the Session Hall, the members of the Riigikogu are seated by parliamentary groups and the members who have left parliamentary groups sit separately.
If the number of the members of a parliamentary group falls below five, the parliamentary group ceases to exist and all members who belonged to it become non-attached members of the Riigikogu.
Parliamentary groups in other countries of Europe
In European countries, different terms are used to denote the parliamentary groups of a parliament. For example, parliamentary clubs in the Polish Sejm, political groups in the National Assembly of France, and parliamentary parties in the House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain.
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