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At its Thursday sitting, the Riigikogu analysed the application of the Estonian civil society development concept as a matter of significant national importance, focusing on the issues surrounding the development of the civil society and the promotion of civil initiative.

Member of the Constitutional Committee Rein Lang reported on the situation of the social capital in Estonia. Lang highlighted the Defence League and the community and village associations in Tallinn as good examples. “My Estonia is a country with highly developed civil society,” Lang said. “The civil society should definitely be trusted much-much more, also in the government. I am not talking about participation; that is to be expected. Rather, I am saying that the civil society could also be trusted to carry out the government’s tasks in maintaining law and order,” Lang said, adding that Estonia’s legal order provides an excellent opportunity for this in the shape of administrative contracts.

Lang sees us facing a dilemma on whether to develop constitutional representative democracy towards an increased interconnectedness of the society, or to carry out a radical reform towards direct democracy.

Minister of Internal Affairs Hanno Pevkur emphasised the remarkable role of volunteers in the Estonian society. The study on Volunteering in Estonia in 2013 showed that one in three Estonian residents have participated in voluntary activities within the last year. Pevkur compares this indicator to the EU average.

The Minister stressed that the amendments to the Income Tax Act will make the compensation of the expenses related to the participation of volunteers more clear.

Pevkur considers participation in decision making as a mutually responsible process. “I believe that year by year we have made progress in involving NGOs, but in order for this to become self-evident, we need to continue our joint and systematic efforts,” Pevkur said.

Pevkur also introduced the Civil Society Development Plan 2015–2020 which is to be presented to the government early next year. The development plan envisions capable NGOs and socially active citizens.

Promoter of volunteering and film producer Artur Talvik says that the civil society of today must overcome the so-called glass ceiling which stops communities from participating in policy shaping. One of the reasons behind this is the lack of trust, says Talvik.

Talvik highlighted the subsidiarity principle in Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union, which says that decisions should be made at the lowest level possible. “We remember the subsidiarity principle in Estonia’s relations with the European Union, but we forget it on the national level. Decision-making levels keep moving higher, further from the grass roots level,” Talvik said.

He pointed out that a strong civil society acts on its own free will and funds itself by itself.

He suggested that the Riigikogu might like to discuss giving the population the opportunity to direct a certain percentage of their income tax to associations that strengthen their community or ensure their security.

Siim Kiisler, Inara Luigas, Andres Herkel, Paul-Eerik Rummo, Mihhail Korb and Aivar Riisalu spoke during the debate.

The Riigikogu concluded the second reading of the Bill on Amendments to the Military Service Act, the Military Service Act Implementation Act and the Health Services Organisation Act (721 SE), initiated by the Government of the Republic. The aim of the Bill is to increase the social and psychological well-being and satisfaction of persons who have chosen the profession of active serviceman, and to support the active servicemen who have participated in international military operations in preparing for a civilian career and, in case of injuries, also in preparing for a change of speciality within the Defence Forces.

The Bill on Amendments to the Law Enforcement Act (717 SE), initiated by the Centre Party Faction to ban the consumption of alcoholic beverages in public places, under certain restrictions, was withdrawn from legislative proceeding.

Mihhail Stalnuhhin took the floor during the debate.

37 members of the Riigikogu supported the rejection of the Bill and 21 were against it.

The verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian) 

Photos of the sitting 

The Riigikogu Press Service