At the beginning of today’s sitting, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas made a political statement in connection with the submission of the State Budget for 2017 Bill.
The Government submitted a budget of 9.47 billion. “I call the state budget for 2017 a budget of growth, because it aims to increase the economy, the welfare of the people, the sense of security, as well as the effectiveness of the state,” Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas said.
“Next year, the Government will continue the course that has brought success to Estonia. We will lower labour taxes, we will increase the taxation of harmful activities and pollution, and improve the subsistence of families. The Government’s idea of tax incentive is simple: our people must be able to keep more money for the good of themselves, their families as well as their children,” Rõivas said.
The Prime Minister pointed out the Government’s five priorities in the budget. “First, strengthening of security. Second, contributing to the economic growth and lowering of labour taxes. Third, improvement of the subsistence of the low-waged. Fourth, improvement of the subsistence of families with children, and further development of an environment favourable for the birth of children. Fifth, an innovative and better governed state, including successful European Union presidency which was scheduled earlier than originally planned, as a result of this year’s events,” Rõivas said.
“We have reason to be proud of the achievements of our people and country. However, we must continue efforts to ensure that security and the sense of security of the Estonian people would grow and the economy would gain a boost. That no one in Estonia would feel left out or abandoned. That more children would be born in Estonia. That the effectiveness of the state would increase, and the competence of the people who work for the state would grow. Next year’s working document of public finance is oriented towards growth,” he said.
Andres Ammas from the Free Party took the floor during the debate. “It is good that this budget does not forget the weaker ones, but it stops halfway in all good intentions; not even a half of the calculation is made, but a quarter or even less,” he said. Ammas said that serious work will have to be done with the budget together, and the Free Party is ready for that.
Kadri Simson from the Centre Party Faction said that the raising of fuel excise duty is what worries her particularly about next year’s state budget. She said that they were waiting for the readings – the first, second and third reading in the Riigikogu – and promised constructive help to improve this budget.
Remo Holsmer from the Reform Party Faction said that the context in which the Government had drafted the budget had to a large extent been affected by external factors, that is, things that cannot be changed. He also underlined once more the priorities of the budget. He said that he hoped that the political parties in the parliament would not “put in doubt” the priorities of the budget during the proceedings.
Andres Anvelt from the Social Democratic Party Faction said that the Social Democrats could be happy with this state budget in general. „The parliament definitely still needs to work hard on it, but I still hope that this is the budget that will take us forwards and not backwards,“ he said.
Martin Helme took the floor on behalf of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction. “We all like it when child benefits rise, we all like it when the salaries of culture workers rise. However, the actual longer-term perspective is that the Estonian state will not keep up economically this way. Every year it is becoming more and more difficult to put together the budget, and it is requiring increasing resourcefulness to find places to squeeze out something,” he said.
The Riigikogu passed an Act:
The Act on Amendments to the Civil Service Act (Estonia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union) (240 SE), initiated by the Government, provides for a temporary amendment to the Civil Service Act in connection with the performance of the task of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union by Estonia.
The Act provides for specifications for officials who perform functions related to the Estonian Presidency. Prior to the EU Presidency and for the time of the EU Presidency, a specification will be established for more flexible recruitment of personnel under which an official may be appointed to the service for a specified term without competition. To compensate for an intensive work period and increased workload, and to motivate officials, there will be a possibility to grant an additional holiday of up to 10 calendar days and a possibility to pay a higher additional remuneration. All specifications introduced into the Act concern only the officials who perform functions related to the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
57 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the passage of the Act, there were 3 abstentions, and nobody was against.
One Bill passed the second reading in the Riigikogu:
The Bill on Electronic Identification and Trust Services for Electronic Transactions (237 SE), initiated by the Government, will create a national regulation for implementation of the EU Regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions (eIDAS Regulation).
The European Union wishes to enhance trust in electronic transactions in the internal market by providing a common foundation for secure electronic interaction between citizens, businesses and public authorities. The EU Regulation regulates the cross-border use of electronic identification and the provision of trust services such as electronic signature, time stamp, website authentication, etc., in the internal market on the basis of uniform rules.
The Regulation contributes to the promotion of the single market and facilitates the cross-border use of online services. Under the electronic identification cooperation, authorities of Member states will have to begin to mutually recognise digital signatures in 2016, and electronic identity in 2018. Member States may mutually recognise electronic identities of other Member States already earlier.
The Riigikogu concluded the first reading of nine Bills:
The first reading of the Bill on Amendments to the Obligation to Leave and Prohibition on Entry Act (262 SE), initiated by the Foreign Affairs Committee, which had been adjourned due to the end of the working hours of Tuesday’s sitting, was concluded. The purpose of the Bill is to amend and specify the legal bases for imposing a prohibition on entry on aliens so that they would be in conformity with the international security situation, take into account the risk assessments of security authorities, and create a real and direct connection between the practice of prohibitions on entry and risk assessments.
The recommendations of the European Parliament and other international institutions on imposing visa sanctions on persons responsible for violating the human rights of Sergei Magnitsky and causing his death, which could be implemented also in other similar cases in the future, were also taken into account when the Bill was drafted.
The reason for drafting the Bill is the worsening of the international security situation, especially the increased threat of terrorism, and the offences by officials of some neighbouring countries of Estonia that have become more frequent in recent years, which have not been committed in the legal space of Estonia but have a cross-border nature and threaten the security situation of Estonia. The Bill also takes into account the judicial practice of some Schengen countries, like Germany, and its entering into force will ensure better protection of the legal space of Estonia against possible abuse by aliens in the future.
Mihhail Stalnuhhin from the Centre Party Faction, who took the floor during the debate, was impartial with regard to the Bill, and Henn Põlluaas from the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction supported the Bill.
The Bill on the Ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (279 SE). initiated by the Government. The aim is to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, and to implement the Convention in Estonia.
This Convention entered into force internationally on 1 July 2010. Estonia signed the Convention on 17 September 2008. 47 Member States of the Council of Europe have signed the Convention and 41 have ratified it as at 3 June 2016. The Convention is the widest international agreement concerning the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. The Convention is geared to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse of children, ensuring protection of the rights of child victims of sexual exploitation and abuse and promoting national and international co-operation in combating the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. In order to ensure effective implementation of its provisions by the Parties, the Convention sets up a monitoring mechanism.
Marianne Mikko from the Social Democratic Party Faction took the floor during the debate.
The Bill on Amendments to the Value Added Tax Act (276 SE), initiated by the Government, will increase the threshold for taxable turnover in excess of which the person engaged in business will be required to be identified for VAT purposes and to supplement the list of goods subject to special arrangements for VAT – the reverse charge.
The Bill on the Ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Estonia and the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income and the Protocol thereto (277 SE), initiated by the Government. The aim is to ratify the Agreement and the Protocol thereto, and to create the possibility to apply it.
The Agreement will create more favourable conditions for investments between the states and for free movement of people, goods and services. The purpose of agreements for the avoidance of double taxation is to facilitate investments, for example, the Agreement restricts the rights of a state to tax the income of residents of the other Contracting State. Also, a state may not tax its own nationals more favourably than the nationals of the other state. The Agreement prevents double taxation that may occur as a result of joint influence of the Acts of two states.
The Bill on the Ratification of the Agreement between the Republic of Estonia and Georgia on the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments and the Protocol to Amend It (242 SE), initiated by the Government. The aim is to ratify the Agreement and the Protocol and to enable their enforcement.
The aim of the Agreement is to promote closer economic co-operation between Estonia and Georgia, and to stimulate the flow of private capital and the economic development of the Contracting Parties. It is also intended to create a favourable investment environment, to ensure equal treatment of investors of both countries, and to establish a most favoured nation treatment according to which neither Contracting Party shall accord to investments and returns of investors of the other Party a treatment less favourable than that which it accords to investments and returns of investors of any other third State. The Agreement determines the requirements related to investment, such as free transfer of payments, expropriation of investments and the compensation paid for it, etc., and establishes the procedure for the settlement of disputes arising from the Agreement.
The need to conclude the Protocol to amend the Agreement arose from the judgment of the Court of Justice of 2009 according to which, in agreements on the protection of investments concluded with third countries, a Member State must stress the competence of the European Union to restrict money transfers to non-EU countries in certain cases. Both the Agreement and the Protocol will have to be ratified in the Riigikogu. Georgia has already ratified the Agreement and the Protocol.
The Bill on the Approval of the Protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty on the Accession of Montenegro (283 SE), initiated by the Government. The aim is to approve the Protocol and to enable its enforcement. The aim of the Protocol is to arrange the accession of Montenegro to the North Atlantic Treaty.
The Protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty on the Accession of Montenegro regulates the arrangement of the accession of the state to NATO. Montenegro’s accession to NATO will increase security in the Euro-Atlantic area and contribute to achieving a whole, free and peaceful Europe. The explanatory memorandum notes that Montenegro’s cooperation with NATO began in 2003 when the federal state of Serbia and Montenegro joined the programme “Partnership for Peace”. After the disintegration of the federal state in 2006, Montenegro set the goal of accession to NATO. At the meeting of NATO foreign ministers on 1 December 2015, it was decided to invite Montenegro to accession negotiations. The draft protocol of accession was approved in the North Atlantic Council on 22 March 2016. It is the fifth enlargement of NATO since the end of the Cold War. Montenegro has participated in NATO operation in Afghanistan (ISAF, International Security Assistance Force) in 2010–2014, and is on the follow-up mission there at present, advising and assisting Afghan security forces and training them.
The Bill on Amendments to the Foreign Service Act (241 SE), initiated by the Government, will amend the Foreign Service Act in connection with the performance of the task of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union by Estonia in the first half of 2018. The aim of the amendments is to simplify the appointments of staff related to the presidency of the EU and to reduce the workload connected with it, to enable smooth and operative posting of public servants to posts related to the presidency of the EU, and to clarify the current regulation.
Current Act does not allow for the flexibility needed for the presidency of the EU Council, and operative processing of documents relating to postings under conditions of increased workload. The Bill will allow also the Government Office to post specialist diplomats on the basis of the Foreign Service Act in the future. The amendment is connected with the performance of the tasks related to the presidency of the EU which will increase the number of officials posted from the Government Office. The Bill creates the possibility of employing specialist diplomats in foreign service also when English is the only foreign language they speak. At present, the requirement is two foreign languages, one of which is English or French. A specialist diplomat is a specialist in a particular field whose most important asset is their specialist knowledge. The amendment is necessary because the requirement of two foreign languages is an obstacle to posting competent specialists as specialist diplomats.
The Bill on Amendments to the European Union Common Agricultural Policy Implementation Act (249 SE), initiated by the Government, will bring the European Union Common Agricultural Policy Implementation Act into conformity with the specified requirements of the European Union and the amendments made to launch the new organic farming funding period 2014–2020. The Act will also be amended by adding provisions in connection with changing the activities carried out with the rural development plan supports, termination of the implementation of the milk production quota, and field book.
The Bill will simplify the changing of the activities carried out with the supports of the Estonian Rural Development Plan 2014–2020, and provide for the cases when activities may be changed without losing the support. For example, in grounded cases, milking equipment of one manufacturer may be replaced with milking equipment of another plant, or one make of tractor may be replaced with another make, if other significant characteristics set out in the price offer remain the same. In the case when an agricultural producer has failed to pay the surplus levy for milk production by due date, the Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board will have the right to set it off with the supports paid to the agricultural producer. The Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board will be given the right to seek compulsory enforcement if it is impossible to set off the unpaid levy within a reasonable amount of time, and it will be provided that a set-off may be made also after seeking compulsory enforcement. The payment of late interest on levy not paid by the due date will be established. The amount of the late interest will be the rate established in the Commission Regulation – three months EURIBOR as of 1 October every year plus 1%, for each year of delay. Persons engaged in agriculture will have to enter also the data set out in the conditions for receiving the support, in addition to the data required by the Water Act, into the field book. For example, data concerning the taking of soil samples and the results of analyses thereof, monitoring of plant pests, crop varieties grown, etc. It is information that in most cases is already entered into the field book. The amendment is necessary in order to ensure more effective checking of the requirements for receiving the environmental payments given within the framework of the Estonian Rural Development Plan 2014–2020, as well as organic farming payment.
The Bill on Amendments to the Organic Farming Act (282 SE), initiated by the Government. The aim is to take increasingly more products to the consumer labelled as organic, and to facilitate the consumption of organic food and increasingly wider use of organic raw materials in mass catering operations.
The Bill will provide for the possibility to refer to organic raw materials through a mark developed specifically for caterers. There will be possibility to indicate the percentage of organic raw materials within three ranges: over 20 to 50 per cent of raw material is organic; over 50 to 80 per cent of raw material is organic; over 80 to 100 per cent of raw material is organic. It will be possible to calculate the range on the basis of the quantity or the cost of the agricultural products brought for preparation of food to the enterprise in the previous month. Data will be obtained from the accounting records of the enterprise. Caterers will be given the possibility to decide for themselves whether the quantity or the cost of the products will be taken as the basis for calculating the percentage. The current Act allows use of the national ecolabel in mass catering operations if at least 95% of the raw material used originates from organic farming, but this is difficult to comply with in many enterprises.
One Bill was dropped from the proceedings of the Riigikogu:
The Bill on Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia for Enabling Public Initiative (228 SE), initiated by 27 members of the Riigikogu, provided for the establishment of the possibility for citizens to initiate Bills independently of the initiatives of the political parties represented in the Riigikogu. At least 25 000 citizens of Estonia with the right to vote and citizens of the European Union and persons who are not citizens of Estonia or another European Union Member State but who reside in Estonia on the basis of a long-term resident’s residence permit and the right of permanent residence and are at least 16 years old have the right to initiate Acts on public initiative.
Jüri Adams from the Free Party and Anneli Ott from the Centre Party took the floor during the debate.
The lead committee moved to reject the Bill at the first reading. 55 members of the Riigikogu were in favour of the motion, 24 were against, and there were no abstentions. Thus the Bill was dropped from the proceedings of the Riigikogu.
The Bill had been initiated by Anneli Ott, Kadri Simson, Marika Tuus-Laul, Heimar Lenk, Märt Sults, Kersti Sarapuu, Mihhail Stalnuhhin, Valeri Korb, Vladimir Velman, Oudekki Loone, Andrei Novikov, Dmitri Dmitrijev, Enn Eesmaa, Tarmo Tamm, Rein Ratas, Olga Ivanova, Jüri Ratas, Martin Repinski, Erki Savisaar, Jaanus Karilaid, Aadu Must, Viktor Vassiljev, Siret Kotka, Mihhail Korb, Peeter Ernits, Toomas Vitsut and Mailis Reps.
Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian) http://stenogrammid.riigikogu.ee/et/201609281400
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.)
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