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Minister of Culture Indrek Saar presented the report on the implementation of “The Fundamentals of the Cultural Policy until 2020” in 2016.

In his speech the Minister of Culture pointed out that for two successive years it had been possible to find resources for increasing the minimum monthly salary of cultural workers with higher education. “In two years, the minimum salary has increased by 29 percent, or by 211 euro, from 731 euro to 942 euro per month,” Saar said.

“In addition to that, the Ministry of Culture made it possible to increase the salary fund of those cultural workers with higher education whose income exceeded the level of minimum salary by 2 percent in 2017. We also ensured 1 percent increase of the salary fund of employees providing support services,” the Minister added. Saar also mentioned that last year the artist’s and writer’s salaries had been introduced, which would give freelance top professionals wages and social guarantees.

In the Minister’s opinion, the amendment to the Health Insurance Act, which entered into force in the beginning of last year and established the possibility to obtain insurance cover on the basis of monthly totalisation, is also important.

Saar said that clear principles for supporting culture and transparency of financing were inevitable. “This will reduce unnecessary spending of resources on bureaucracy and also increase the purposefulness and effectiveness of using of finances,” the Minister stated.

The Minister also spoke about the Estonian National Museum and its importance. He emphasised that several high-level events of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union would be held there.

“Symbolically, the hobby activities reform will be completed in the Year of Children’s and Youth Culture,” Saar noted. The Minister said that, as a result of the reform, the participation of 7–19-year-old children and young people in regular hobby activities would increase, the availability and quality of service would improve, and more diverse choice in all regions of Estonia would be ensured. In Saar’s opinion, each child, regardless of their place of residence and the thickness of the wallet of their parents, should have the possibility to take part in hobby activities. He pointed out that the possibility of supported hobby activities would be provided in three areas, namely culture, sports, and natural and exact sciences and technology.

Saar said that the preservation of cultural monuments was a constitutional obligation of the state. “Unfortunately a significant part of our national wealth is perishing, because around 25 percent of the heritage buildings of Estonia are in a bad or emergency situation,” the Minister remarked.

According to him, it is time to move on from controlling heritage conservation to inclusive heritage conservation. “This means continuing reforms in the National Heritage Board and passing of a new Heritage Conservation Act,” Saar said.

The Minister also said in his speech that it was the task of the state to think even more about how to create high-quality living environment where people liked to live and that would be sustainable in every way. “Therefore it was provided in the new coalition agreement that under the leadership of the Ministry of Culture, a cross-ministry body of experts will be formed to establish a state spatial planning competence in cooperation with the Estonian Association of Architects and other professional organisations,” he said.

The Minister expressed the opinion that, in the course of the ongoing administrative reform, it should be provided by law that the organisation of culture should also be a task of local governments. He added that it should be ensured in cooperation with the local governments that the network of theatres, cinemas, concert halls and exhibition halls covered the territory of Estonia evenly.

Laine Randjärv from the Reform Party Faction, who took the floor in the debate, emphasised that she did not approve of such a system of paying salaries to state writers, and that the state financing of Linnahall concert hall in Tallinn was questionable. In her opinion, the future of the money distributed by the Gambling Tax Council also needs clarification.

Randjärv said that she was happy that the Bill supporting hobby activities of young people had successfully passed the first reading in the Riigikogu. She thinks that another important trend of culture policy is supporting of innovative ideas, creation and expression of modern culture, and preservation of traditional culture in the name of future. Thirdly she pointed out that it was important to make ourselves and our culture understandable also to other nations besides the Estonians.

Toomas Jürgenstein from the Social Democratic Party Faction said that a certain level of income was necessary for commitment to the creation of culture. In his opinion, the cultural workers should have decent salaries, and therefore the target of the Estonian average wage is more than self-evident and commendable.

He stressed that enabling wider participation for young people, be it in drama circles, choirs, folk dance groups or role play clubs, would connect them more closely and stably with our culture. He also spoke about smart ides such as the Estonian National Museum.

Krista Aru from the Estonian Free Party Faction said that she was glad that the Minister of Culture had taken steps to ensure a minimum salary to all culture workers with higher education, but she would like to encourage him to continue on that path.

Aru also spoke about health insurance cover. She said that half of the problem had been solved under the leadership of the Minister, but now it was necessary to solve also the other half. “If it is possible to totalise the remunerations received from different organisations, then maybe now it would be necessary to take the next step and divide it by months, so that it would be possible to have health insurance cover for a longer period,” she said.

The Riigikogu passed two Acts:

The Riigikogu approved with 48 votes in favour the Act on Amendments to the Procurement, Handling and Transplantation of Cells, Tissues and Organs Act and the State Fees Act (278 SE), initiated by the Government. It transposes into Estonian law two relevant European Commission directives that ensure that cells and tissues imported from third countries comply with European Union standards of quality and safety.

The Act specifies that tissues and cells used for advanced therapy medicinal products must be traceable at least until transferred to the ATMP manufacturer. After the implementation of the directives, the State Agency of Medicines will have to record in the EU Tissue Establishment Compendium all undertakings who engage in the procurement and handling of cells and tissues and to whom the relevant activity licence, including the import certificate, has been issued.

The explanatory memorandum notes that, at present, nine undertakings engage in the handling of cells and tissues in Estonia, two of whom engage in the importation of cells and tissues from third countries. When the Act enters into force, these two undertakings have to apply for the relevant import certificate. An activity licence for manufacturing of advanced therapy medicinal products has been issued to one undertaking. Advanced therapy medicinal product is a medicinal product intended for gene therapy or somatic cell therapy or a tissue engineered product. Starting from 29 April 2017, a single European code consisting of a donation identification sequence and a product identification sequence will be allocated to all cells and tissues procured and handled, and to manufactured products derived therefrom.

The Riigikogu approved with 58 votes in favour the Act on the Ratification of the Agreement between the Republic of Estonia and the Republic of India on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons (375 SE), initiated by the Government. It provides for the ratification of the agreement between Estonia and India on the transfer of sentenced persons.

The purpose of the Agreement is to give persons the opportunity to serve their sentences in their own society. The Agreement can be applied only in the case when the sentenced person, as well as both countries have agreed to the conditions for transfer. Either of the contracting States may grant pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence in accordance with its constitution or other laws.

One Bill passed the second reading:

The Bill on Amendments to the Taxation Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (320 SE), initiated by the Government, will make several amendments aiming at better tax behaviour of persons and more efficient tax collection. On the proposal of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the range of data subject to disclosure will be extended. So, persons liable to value added tax will have to set out the amount of value added tax declared on a quarterly basis, and the number of employees in the enterprise, on the website of the tax authority.

The Bill will increase the flexibility of the payment of tax arrears in instalments. So far it has been possible to pay tax arrears in instalments only if arrears exist. According to the amendment, in the future, it will be possible to apply for payment of tax arrears in advance if the taxpayer knows that he or she will not be able to meet a fixed-term payment obligation known to him or her.

Two Bills passed the first reading:

The Bill on Amendments to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Fuel and Electricity Excise Duty Act and the Tobacco Act (380 SE), initiated by the Government, provides for the charging of excise duty on alternative tobacco products with a view to eliminating unequal competition between alternative and classical tobacco products. Alternative tobacco products are for example refill liquid for electronic cigarettes, the liquid used to flavour the steam stones replacing waterpipe tobacco, steam stones used as solid substitute for tobacco, etc.

The excise rate for alternative tobacco products will be 0.2 euro per millilitre of tobacco liquid or 0.2 euro per milligram if the product is gelled. The excise for one cigarette is approximately 0.1 euro this year and in 2018. About 5.6 cigarettes correspond to one milligram of tobacco liquid. The excise rate for solid substitute for tobacco will be similar to the excise rate for smoking tobacco which will be 76.84 euro per kilogram as of 2018. To mitigate the impacts of possible business at the border, a lower excise will be established for alternative tobacco products than for cigarettes.

As a result of the taxation of alternative tobacco products, an additional around 1.1 million euro will be accrued to the state budget in 2018.

Also, similarly to the excise duty rate for cigarettes, the excise duty rate for cigars and cigarillos will become two-component (the current excise duty rate is 211 euro per 1000 cigars or cigarillos). It will consist of a fixed amount per quantity of product and a proportional share depending on product price. Starting from 2018, the excise rate for cigars and cigarillos will be 151 euro per 1000 cigars or cigarillos and 10 per cent of their maximum retail price. In 2018, the excise duty rate for cigarettes will be 69.5 euro per 1000 cigarettes and 30 per cent of their maximum retail price. As a result of the amendment, an additional 0.1 million euro will be accrued to the budget in 2018.

The Bill will reduce the administrative burden for traders involved in payment of excise. Paper-based maintenance of records of tax stamps on tobacco products will be replaced by maintenance of records with the help of an electronic database which will also simplify the work of the tax authority. In the future, traders will no longer need to print the delivery note required for transport from an electronic database. The tax authority will check the existence of a delivery note in the electronic system. The requirement to submit a notarially authenticated document certifying the right to use the territory and buildings of the excise warehouse will be eliminated because the tax authority will obtain the necessary information from the relevant electronic database.

The procedure for payment of excise duty in distance sales will be amended by giving the recipient of excise goods the possibility to pay excise. Under the current procedure, distant sellers located in other Member States must choose a tax representative for the payment of excise duty, but in many cases they fail to do so. According to an amendment, the recipient of excise goods will be liable for excise duty in distance sales, in order to ensure performance of the obligation to pay excise duty. The recipient of excise goods will not be liable to pay excise duty if the distance seller has chosen a tax representative for the payment of excise duty.

The Bill on the Ratification of the Agreement on Amendments to “The Agreement between the Kingdom of Denmark and the Government of the Republic of Estonia for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments” and on Termination thereof (379 SE), initiated by the Government.

The agreements for the promotion and protection of investments concern areas that are regulated by European Union law – they concern in particular the freedom of establishment and the free movement of capital and payments. Thus, protection of investments and equal treatment of investors is regulated by European Union law, and there is no need for bilateral agreements between member states. However, these agreements may go into conflict with European Union law when, in the resolution of a dispute by an arbitral tribunal, material questions concerning the interpretation of European Union law arise that should be resolved by the Court of Justice instead of an arbitral tribunal situated in a third country. To preclude such a conflict, the European Commission has deemed it necessary to terminate the mutual agreements between Member States, and has started infringement proceedings against five Member States.

The Agreement must be amended before it is terminated, because it provides that, in respect of investments made during the time that it is in force, the Agreement remains in force for ten years after the termination of the Agreement. The Agreement will be amended so that, upon termination thereof, the application of the Agreement would also be terminated.

Termination of the agreement between Estonia and Denmark for the protection of investments is necessary in order to ensure that investors from all EU Member States are accorded equal treatment based on European Union legislation. Earlier, Estonia has terminated bilateral agreements on the promotion and reciprocal protection of investments with Italy and Czechia. As regards European Union Member States, Estonia has entered into analogous agreements with Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

A Bill and a draft Resolution were dropped from the proceedings of the Riigikogu:

The aim of the Bill on Amendments to the Government of the Republic Act (354 SE), initiated by the Free Party Faction, was to give to the President of the Republic the right and obligation not to appoint as ministers persons who are unsuitable for the office of minister. A minister must be a citizen of the Republic of Estonia who has full active legal capacity and who is proficient in Estonian, who is reliable and has no punishments imposed for criminal offences in force.

Mihhail Stalnuhhin from the Centre Party Faction and Andres Ammas from the Free Party Faction took the floor during the debate.

The lead committee moved to reject the Bill at the first reading. 57 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the motion and 8 were against. Thus the Bill is dropped from the proceedings.

The Draft Resolution of the Riigikogu “Formation of the Riigikogu Study Committee to Analyse the Problems related to the Decrease of Population” (343 OE), submitted by the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction, the Estonian Free Party Faction and the Estonian Reform Party Faction, provided for the formation of a six-member study committee on population, comprising representatives from all factions of the Riigikogu. The committee would have been charged with the task of examining the current state of the fundamentals of national policies, sectoral development plans, development plans for areas of government and programmes, and of making proposals to improve the situation.

Yoko Alender from the Reform Party Faction, Mihhail Stalnuhhin from the Centre Party Faction and Andres Ammas from the Free Party Faction the floor during the debate.

The lead committee moved to reject the draft Resolution at the first reading. 35 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the motion, 6 were against, and there were 2 abstentions. Thus, the draft Resolution was dropped from the legislative proceedings.

The sitting ended at 6.13 p.m.

Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian) http://stenogrammid.riigikogu.ee/en/201702221400

Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu (NB! The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)

Riigikogu Press Service
Marie Kukk
631 6456; 58 213 309
[email protected]
Questions: [email protected]