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At today’s sitting of the Riigikogu, the National Defence Bill passed the first reading. Its main purpose is to update the provisions concerning national defence in order to ensure Estonia’s preparedness and rapid and flexible response to modern security threats.

The Bill is based on the principle that a state needs to have means that enable to improve the crisis preparedness of authorities and persons, and to implement organisation of the state government differently from the normal situation, and measures restricting all the fundamental rights and freedoms that are intrinsic to the rule of law. It is important to ensure the maintenance of a democratic regime and quick return to the peace-time organisation of government in all situations.

The National Defence Bill (112 SE), initiated by the Government, will establish a uniform and comprehensive framework for preparation for and resolution of crisis situations which would support ensuring national security and constitutional order, implementing the necessary measures.

The definition of “defence situation” will be adopted, which includes both state of emergency and state of war. It will enable to rely on the same bases in the prevention of threats to national security and constitutional order, in preparation for them and when responding to them.

The role of the Government of the Republic and the Prime Minister in the resolution of defence situations will be specified, and the powers of the authority resolving a defence situation will be increased. The management of defence situations has been taken to the lowest possible level in order that cooperation within the administration would run smoothly and be clear. Regarding the management of the resolution of defence situations, the Bill is based on the principle that no essential changes to the principles for exercising governmental authority should occur in defence situations. The Bill will distribute competences and give clear powers for the strategic level and operational and tactical management.

A system of measures restricting the fundamental rights and freedoms of persons based on the extent of threats and the significance of the legal goods damaged will be established. It will ensure that the state applies such restrictive measures as are necessary to resolve crisis situations quickly and to restore democratic organisation of society. The Bill maintains that, regardless of the situation, it is necessary to maintain a balance between the extent and intensity of an infringement of fundamental rights and freedoms, and the weight of the objective pursued with the infringement.

According to the Bill, every authority and person will generally have to continue to perform their current functions also during a defence situation. With a view to ensure quick resolution of defence situations, the regulation of national defence tasks will be specified and national defence tasks will be assigned to persons. National defence tasks will be assigned for example to providers of vital services, the Bank of Estonia, the Financial Supervision Authority, the Estonian Public Broadcasting, the Estonian Health Insurance Fund, the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund and the person who assesses air quality level. In addition, the national defence tasks of local authorities will be specified. Permanent national defence tasks are assigned with the main aim of ensuring that persons and authorities have sufficient means and staff to perform tasks of national importance immediately and quickly in crisis situations.

With the Bill, population security will be included among national defence objectives.

The Bill will also harmonise national defence law regulations. It will resolve problems that have arisen in the co-implementation of the current National Defence Act, Emergency Act and Law Enforcement Act. It will also eliminate duplicating and conflicting regulations from the current law and consolidate the regulations concerning the national military defence and other national security regulations into as few logically systematised legal acts as possible. The Bill consolidates and updates the National Defence Act, the State of Emergency Act and the National Defence Expropriations Act, which are currently in force as separate Acts.

The explanatory memorandum notes that Estonia relies on comprehensive national defence under which representatives of both the national defence sector and the civil sector contribute to the national defence according to their competence to manage possible non-military and military security threats. In order to resolve a defence situation or to protect public order, the state may need to take into use or expropriate objects held by the civil sector or to impose one-off work obligations on persons and to involve them in law enforcement. The Bill will specify and harmonise the current regulation of the duty to grant use of items and the expropriation of items, the imposition of work obligations and the involvement of persons in law enforcement in order to ensure quick and flexible engagement of civil sector resources both in the protection of public order and in national defence. Payment of compensation arising from infringements will be provided for as a new measure.

Four other Bills passed the first reading: 

The Bill on Amendments to the Penal Code (offences against national defence) (113 SE), initiated by the Government. Military service offences are a special category of offences against the state that are directed against the organisation of military national defence and defence forces discipline. Mistakes against the Defence Forces and the defence forces order may paralyse the military readiness of the country, complicate the defence of the country, pose a threat to the rights and interests of the country and persons protected by the law, and jeopardise the fulfilment of international military commitments by the Estonian state.

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that the punishments provided for military service offences and offences directed against the national defence capability would have a preventive effect during a state of emergency and a state of war as well as the defence situation to be introduced, and during mobilisation, demobilisation, and with regard to military service offences committed by persons participating in international military operations outside the territory of the Republic of Estonia.

Amendments will be made to the provisions of the Penal Code that provide for a stricter punishment (circumstances aggravating the necessary elements) for acts that are committed during a state of emergency or a state of war, as well as for acts that are committed during a defence situation, mobilisation, demobilisation, and by persons participating in international military operations outside the territory of the Republic of Estonia (espionage, assumption of authority in the Defence Forces, disclosure of state secrets and classified information of foreign states, failure to comply with a mobilisation order, or evasion of service in the Defence Forces, and abandoning of a sinking warship).

In addition, other amendments will be made with regard to military service offences and offences directed against the national defence capability, so that they would be in conformity with earlier amendments to the regulation of criminal official misconduct and the principles of the penal law revision (for example, elimination of duplicating necessary elements and abandonment of misdemeanour prejudiction).

The Bill on Amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Code of Administrative Court Procedure and the Penal Code and Other Acts (specifications of criminal, misdemeanour and judicial proceedings during state of emergency and state of war) (114 SE), initiated by the Government, will ensure fast and efficient conduct of offence and court proceedings and better and more economical use of judicial resources during a state of emergency and a state of war.

The resources of the bodies conducting proceedings, the prosecutor’s office and courts, planned for conducting offence proceedings, may not be sufficient to conduct offence and court proceedings in a manner equivalent to the normal situation also in a state of emergency or a state of war where the workload may increase or the conduct of offence, civil and administrative proceedings is complicated for other reasons. Therefore, the Bill proposes amendments that allow for quicker proceedings and administration of justice or allow more time to perform procedural acts.

In criminal procedure, the procedure for the formalisation and translation of documents will be simplified, and specifications with regard to the deadlines for various acts will be established. It will also be possible to declare court judgements enforceable immediately and to suspend proceedings due to exceptional circumstances accompanying a state of emergency or a state of war. Suspension of proceedings in a criminal case also brings about a suspension of the expiry of the limitation period for the criminal case. The expiry of the limitation period for misdemeanours is suspended for the time of a state of emergency or a state of war. Persons suspected of criminal offences may still be detained for up to a total of seven twenty-four hour periods without the permission of a court. In addition, the period for the formalisation of permissions for surveillance activities and the notification of persons of the conduct of surveillance activities with regard to them will be extended.

The organisation of work of courts will be made more flexible. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court may appoint a judge to temporary service to another court of the same or a lower instance without his or her consent. Also, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will have the right to form the National Defence Chamber and to launch it at a county court or a circuit court during a state of war to quickly conduct proceedings on offences relating to the national defence capability and military service.

In addition, according to the Bill, in the future, it will also be possible to hold court sessions outside the regular working hours of the court, e.g. in the event of mass offences, where this is necessary for the administration of justice.

In civil and administrative procedure, it will also be provided that, in exceptional circumstances arising from a state of emergency or a state of war, proceedings may be suspended and the court may be given an opportunity to hear matters under simplified procedure at its fair discretion.

The Bill on Amendments to the 2014‒2020 Structural Assistance Act and the Foreign Relations Act (129 SE), initiated by the Government, will specify the implementation of the operational programme for the investment for growth and jobs under the EU Cohesion Policy 2014–2020. The Bill will regulate more specifically the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance as the main entity performing the functions of the Member State, and the State Shared Service Centre as the entity performing mainly the functions of the managing authority in the preparation and implementation of the operational programme. The functions of the authorities will remain essentially the same compared to the ones assigned from 1 September 2018 as a result of the restructuring within the framework of the single assistance application services pilot project. In addition, the obligation to follow the general principles of public procurements in the case of smaller-scale procurements will be mitigated.

The Foreign Relations Act will provide for the possibility to initiate compulsory enforcement proceedings in respect of decisions to reclaim support granted from foreign aid. This is necessary for reclaiming the support granted from of the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism and the Norwegian Financial Mechanism, as well as the funds of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and the Internal Security Fund.

The Bill on Amendments to the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Prevention Act and Other Acts (130 SE), initiated by the Government, will establish international standards within Estonia, and, on the other hand, will transpose an EU directive. Prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing in the Republic of Estonia will be enhanced thereby.

Jürgen Ligi (Reform Party) took the floor during the debate.

Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian).

Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu

 (Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)

Riigikogu Press Service
Epp-Mare Kukemelk
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