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Today, the Riigikogu deliberated of the matter of significant national importance “Is the rule of law under threat?”, initiated by the Estonian Reform Party Faction.

Reports were by Chairman of the Estonian Reform Party Faction Kaja Kallas, President of the Estonian Bar Association Jaanus Tehver, and former State Prosecutor and Member of the Board of Transparency International Estonia Steven-Hristo Evestus.

In her report, Kallas said that since the restoration of independence, Estonia had been state based on the rule of law where all citizens, regardless of their position, were subject to rules that were supreme. She stated that the inevitable co-product of rule of power was corruption, and that uncontrolled power redistributed national income in the interests of power and not the people.

“Ministers are using telephone justice by pressuring the agencies subordinated to them to make favourable decisions for certain businesses. Ministers are consistently calling into question the reliability of the functioning of the state, sowing doubts about the work of the authorities and also the activities of the institutions safeguarding the rule of law. And finally, the ministers announce in justification of their doings that their understanding of rule of law is different from the one that has been prevailing in Estonia until now,” Kallas gave examples of moving away from the rule of law towards the rule of power.

Chairman of the Reform Party faction said that a rule of law did not change into a rule of power overnight, it took place step by step. “Scandal after scandal, people are becoming more and more apathetic, authorities and officials are becoming more cautious,” Kallas said. According to her, rule of law is and must remain the basis of life in Estonia and success of Estonia. “When the rule of law is under threat, and I believe that most of us understand these threats, then we all, especially the MPs from the coalition, have to deal with it,” Kallas said.

Jaanus Tehver said in his report that the fundamentals of rule of law stood firm in Estonia. “I dare say that the principles of the rule of law have become a part of our culture and identity. This fact in itself is the best guarantee that these principles will last,” he pointed out.

However, in the opinion of the Chairman of the Estonian Bar Association, inciting mistrust through looking for conflicts and increasing them with the help of the means and methods of today’s media is a wider problem in society. According to him, it also has an impact on the preconditions for the functioning of rule of law. Tehver stated that in Estonia, both the prosecutor’s office and the courts were independent of the legislative and executive power to such extent that no investigations or court cases that resulted from some political or other non-regulatory motivations were initiated or conducted in our country. He added that independence of the courts was very well ensured in Estonia also according to all international indicators.

Tehver said in conclusion that in his opinion the rule of law was not under threat in Estonia. “Please believe that it functions! Trust its rules and institutions. As legislators, you have the power to consolidate the principles of the rule of law even more, and believe me, in a long-term perspective this serves the interests of both the coalition and the opposition, of all political forces, the interests of us all,” Tehver told the Riigikogu.

Member of the Board of Transparency International Estonia Steven-Hristo Evestus thinks that several ethical fundamental principles and values have come under pressure recently. According to Evestus, the Group of States against corruption GRECO has given Estonia guidelines, which have to be met by June next year. He explained that one of these guidelines was that the activities of ministers and their political advisers had to be transparent, or be based on ethics and generally accepted values.

“Today, we are in a situation where we all, as the citizens of the country, have had to be parties or givers of assessment in a case where we have all gotten more detailed information on what the conflict of interests described in the Anti-corruption Act means, or what the risk of corruption means at all,” Evestus said. He added that in a state based on rule of law, he had expected substantive explanations of decisions.

Evestus does not think we are losing the rule of law. He said that he believed that the officialdom was not politicised under someone’s will, that the investigative bodies and the prosecutor’s office were capable in their daily work and that the judges were not biased. “But I am of the opinion that our daily fundamental principles of ethics need to be reminded of, and they have to be discussed,” he added.

During the debate, Paul Puustusmaa (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Mihhail Lotman (Isamaa) and Kaja Kallas (Reform Party) spoke on behalf of the factions. Peeter Ernits (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Raimond Kaljulaid, Jürgen Ligi (Reform Party) and Tarmo Kruusimäe (Isamaa) also took the floor.

The Riigikogu passed an Act:

The Act on Amendments to the Seafarers Employment Act and the Maritime Safety Act (56 SE), initiated by the Government, will transpose into Estonian law two European Union directives, and Estonian law will be brought into conformity with the amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention of the International Labour Organization (ILO) that were passed in 2016.

Under the Act, shipowners will have to conclude seafarers’ employment agreements with persons working on fishing vessels of less than 24 metres in length. At present, ordinary labour law regulation applies to persons working under a contract of employment on board such fishing vessels. Seafarers’ employment agreement ensures additional protection to workers. For example, the shipowner must ensure regular food and the provision of medical care on the ship. Fishing vessel means a vessel used for commercial fishing.

The Act will also establish a financial security system to compensate for both abandonment of crew members and for costs for crew members in respect of occupational accident or disease. All shipowners whose ships must have a maritime labour certificate should have sufficient financial security. Liability insurance, a bank guarantee or another security that enables compensation to be paid may be financial security.

The explanatory memorandum notes that the minister responsible for the area will establish by a regulation the principles for evaluating the sufficiency and calculating the amount of the security. The Estonian Maritime Administration will evaluate the sufficiency of security upon the issue of maritime labour certificates. All ships flying the Estonian flag that have a maritime labour certificate already have liability insurance.

Under an amendment to the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention, it is possible to extend an existing maritime labour certificate for up to five months upon expiry of the certificate. This is done where the ship has successfully passed the renewal inspection, but a new certificate cannot immediately be issued to the ship. Under the current law, there is no possibility to extend the certificate.

The Act enters into force pursuant to general procedure. Under the Act, a transitional provision will be established under which employment agreements concluded with workers working on fishing vessels of less than 24 metres will be deemed to be seafarers’ employment agreements as of 1 January 2020. The employment agreements in force will have to be brought into conformity with the law by 31 December 2020.

93 members of the Riigikogu voted for the passing of the Act.

Photos of the sitting

Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)

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

Riigikogu Press Service
Kristi Sobak
Phone +372 631 6592, +372 5190 6975
E-mail [email protected]
Questions [email protected]