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At today’s sitting, the Riigikogu approved the Cohabitation Act (650 SE), initiated by 40 members of the Riigikogu. The Bill concerning the increasing of the role of the parliament in the nomination of the Estonian candidate to the European Commission, initiated by the Social Democratic Party Faction, passed the second reading.

The Cohabitation Act gives the persons living in non-marital cohabitation the possibility to register their cohabitation and to regulate their mutual legal relations as well as legal relations with third persons. The scope of application of the Act covers the procedure for entering into a cohabitation agreement, the rights and responsibilities of registered civil partners, and the bases for terminating the cohabitation agreement. The cohabitation agreement is certified by a notary. The agreement and the proprietary relationship chosen in the agreement is entered in the register. The Bill allows also same sex couples to register their cohabitation. 1 January 2016 has been established as the date of entering into force of the Cohabitation Act and its implementing legislation.

Kristen Michal who took the floor as the representative of the Reform Party Faction said that the Cohabitation Act was necessary for the solution of the everyday problems of actual life. “This is the first criterion of a good Act,” he said. “The Cohabitation Act provides the opportunity to register a cohabitation. This will not replace or alter marriage. The Act allows to solve the issues of everyday life which are mainly the issues of different-sex couples. Sometimes also the issues of same-sex couples.”

Michal said that, in the Reform Party Faction, there were many who thought that the Act was ready and many who did not think so. “And after this voting we will go on, respecting each other’s different opinions and experiences,” he added. “I wish the same also for all those who were in favour and all those who were against. This is not an end of something, but a little freer world.”

Eiki Nestor who spoke as the representative of the Social Democratic Party Faction said that, with regard to the Cohabitation Act, the content of this Bill had caused much discussion because it was gender neutral. “I praise the working group who prepared the Bill particularly for drafting it as gender neutral. If we say clearly that we have legalised marriage and it is now possible to also register a cohabitation, but it is allowed only for same-sex couples, then reasons would have to be given as to why different-sex couples do not have the right to register their cohabitation. I cannot give reasons for that. In fact, it is impossible to give reasons for that, and therefore we must proceed from the equal opportunities that people have,” he added.

Kaia Iva who took the floor on behalf of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction called on MPs to not to support the Bill. “Insufficient protection of the interests of children is indeed the really weak spot of this Bill. Neither does the “main package” of the Act contain for example the maintenance obligation of the cohabitee after the end of the cohabitation. There is also no obligation to maintain the ex-cohabitee who is expecting their common child or rearing their infant,” she said.

Iva said that, in the course of the proceedings on the Bill, there had been attempts to mislead people and that these proceedings were an example of bad legislative drafting. “It was stressed that the Act was needed above all for currently “cohabiting” couples, that this Act would provide protection for them and it would protect the weaker party upon termination of a factual cohabitation. Let it be recalled that the amendments to the Family Law Act submitted by the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction at the beginning of this summer would have provided the actual protection for the weaker party upon termination of a factual cohabitation. Unfortunately, the government coalition discarded them without a further consideration,” she said.

“The truth about the Cohabitation Act is, however, that this Act does not provide an automatic protection but establishes an additional form of notarised agreement, which will provide a certain protection. That is, to enter into such an agreement, one would have to say a clear “yes” at the notary, and the actual reason for the submission of the Cohabitation Bill was to establish a special contractual institution for cohabitation for same-sex couples,” Iva said. “It would have been fair to say so at once, and the discussion would have been much more to the point, more honest and more respectful in that regard.”

Kadri Simson who spoke on behalf of the Centre Party said that the members of the Centre Party Faction each vote as their conscience tells them. “Like you, I have read many moving addresses both in favour of and against this Act in recent weeks and days. I think that both positions can be accepted and must be accepted,” she said.

40 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Cohabitation Act and 38 voted against.

The Bill on Amendments to the Government of the Republic Act and the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act (604 SE), initiated by the Social Democratic Party Faction, passed the second reading in the Riigikogu. It aims to change the current procedure for the nomination of a candidate for Commissioner and to increase the role of the parliament in the nomination of a candidate for Commissioner. According to the current procedure, the Government nominates a candidate.

On the proposal of the Constitutional Committee, the Riigikogu made amendments to the Bill and excluded the clause according to which the Riigikogu would nominate the Estonian candidate to the European Commission by voting. The Bill was amended by adding a clause according to which, before nomination by the Government, a candidate to the European Commission makes a report at a Riigikogu sitting and answers questions of the members of the Riigikogu.

“The majority of the committee members were of the opinion that it is not reasonable to create a potential conflict between the national parliament and the European Parliament with a binding decision adopted by the Riigikogu because the European Parliament may not approve the candidates nominated and we would be back in the beginning,” the Chairman of the Constitutional Committee Rait Maruste justified the amendment. “Therefore it was found that, in order to introduce a Commissioner candidate publicly, he or she might make a report to the Riigikogu plenary assembly, introduce his or her views and be questioned in order to ascertain and discuss the suitability of his or her candidacy. However, the Riigikogu should avoid a binding decision.”

The Bill also provides that, upon the nomination of a candidate for a Judge of the European Court, the Government hears the opinion of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Chancellor of Justice, and the Constitutional Committee hears and questions the candidate.

Photos of the sitting: https://fotoalbum.riigikogu.ee/v/2014/Riigikogu/09102014/

The verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian): https://www.riigikogu.ee/?op=steno&stcommand=stenogramm&day=08&date=1412841493