The Riigikogu passed the Act on Amendments to the Courts Act and the Code of Civil Procedure (175 SE), initiated by the Government, which establishes a new mechanism in the Courts Act. It provides for the right to refer court cases to other courts of the same instance for adjudication if this is necessary for the functioning of the administration of justice pursuant to the procedure.
The jurisdiction of court cases and the location of hearing a matter will not change in the course of the delegation between the courts. In the case of an emergency situation set out in the Obligation to Leave and Prohibition on Entry Act or in the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens, the Act grants the chairmen of circuit courts the additional right to temporarily include county court and circuit court judges in the panels of administrative courts to review applications for permission to detain aliens. Besides that, the right to obtain extraordinary assistance is provided; with the consent of the chairmen of courts, matters can also be heard on a voluntary basis at other courts of the same or a lower instance, that is, in the mission for proceedings of a judge.
Additionally, in exceptional cases, it will be allowed to extend the authority of judges released from office at their request or due to age where this is necessary for finalising the proceedings on matters distributed to them. The Act extends the obligation of a judge to notify of his or her request to be released from office at least nine months in advance, instead of the current six months.
With the amendment to the Code of Civil Procedure, the adjudication of all appeals filed against orders on entry in registry matters will be transferred to the special jurisdiction of Tartu Circuit Court through Tartu County Court. The aim of the amendment is to concentrate the competence in registry matters permanently to the territorial jurisdiction of Tartu courts and thereby to increase the specialisation of judges.
90 members of the Riigikogu voted for the passage of the Act.
The Riigikogu passed two other Acts
The Riigikogu passed an Act under which the Agricultural and Food Board will be established on the basis of the Agricultural Board and the Veterinary and Food Board. The new agency will start operating on 1 January 2021.
The merger of the authorities proceeds from a more general principle of the state reform, namely to reduce the duplication of activities in different state offices, to reduce the number of administrative agencies and to improve the quality and availability of public services.
The Agricultural and Food Board to be formed after the merger of the agencies will perform all the current main functions of the two agencies, which will require retention of the present staff, among other things. With the reorganisation of the two agencies, the capability of risk-based inspection will increase, the management of information in the entire food production chain will improve, and the quality of the prevention and information activities to reduce offences will grow. The communication aimed at clients will be more comprehensive, and the administrative burden to clients will be reduced.
89 members of the Riigikogu voted for the passage of the Act on Amendments to the Government of the Republic Act and Other Acts in connection with the Reorganisation of the Agricultural Board and the Veterinary and Food Board into the Agricultural and Food Board (164 SE), initiated by the Government.
The Act on Amendments to the Foreign Service Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (45 SE), initiated by the Government, makes the current foreign service officials’ salary system similar to that of other officials, among other things. The principles of the reimbursement of the costs relating to the payment of the foreign mission allowance and to long-term assignments abroad are also changed.
The procedure for the assignment of specialised diplomats and non-staff administrative officials to foreign missions is also amended, and the decision-making competence relating to the assignment, including appointment to posts, is left to the sending ministry. The amendments will also bring greater flexibility to deciding issues at local level. The expenses and the frequency of the acts connected with the issuing of diplomatic passports will also be reduced.
The amendments concern all officials employed in foreign missions and their family members, that is, approximately 800 people, and will not reduce the total income of officials who are on long-term assignment abroad. The aim is that the living standard of officials would not deteriorate as a result of the harmonisation and simplification of the foreign service. On the entry into force of the Act, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu will see to it that the implementing acts meet the set aim.
87 members of the Riigikogu voted for the passing of the Act.
The Riigikogu concluded the second reading of 12 Bills
The Bill on Amendments to the Police and Border Guard Act (161 SE), initiated by the Legal Affairs Committee, provides for ensuring the police officers and border guard officials as well as their family members, who have been granted the pension for incapacity for work or the survivor’s pension, a pension that is at minimum equal to the pension they would have received if the basis for calculating their pensions had not been reduced by 8 per cent from 1 July 2009.
The Bill was occasioned by the need to treat equally the persons who receive the superannuated pensions of police officers as well as the persons who receive the pensions for incapacity for work and survivor’s pensions of police officers and border guard officials.
The second reading of the Bill on Amendments to the Trade Unions Act, the Working Conditions of Employees Posted to Estonia Act and Other Acts (158 SE), initiated by the Government.
The Bill will establish measures to better protect the rights of posted workers. It will be specified that posted temporary agency workers who are posted by user undertakings in the framework of the provision of services are also posted workers. The Bill will also amend the terms and conditions of employment that must be ensured to posted workers during their stay in Estonia. According to the Bill, instead of the minimum remuneration, remuneration will have to be ensured to workers, and expenditure incurred on account of the posting will have to be reimbursed additionally. A regulation for long-term posting will be established, under which the whole Estonian labour law, instead of the minimum terms and conditions of employment listed in the Act, will have to be applied to a posted worker after he or she has worked in Estonia for 12 or 18 months.
Urmas Espenberg (Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction) took the floor during the debate.
The Bill on Amendments to the Recognition of Foreign Professional Qualifications Act and the Building Code (179 SE), initiated by the Government, will specify the provisions relating to the recognition of professional qualifications on the basis of a relevant EU directive that has been transposed into Estonian law; the European Commission has initiated infringement proceedings because it has found that the directive has not been transposed as required.
The purpose of the recognition of professional qualifications is to ensure access to the pursuit of regulated posts and professions in member states of the European Union, member states of the European Economic Area and the Swiss Confederation under equal conditions. The Bill will also specify the regulation of the recognition and the acquired rights of architects.
The Bill on Amendments to the Plant Protection Act, the Organic Farming Act, the State Fees Act and the Plant Propagation and Plant Variety Rights Act (142 SE), initiated by the Government, will bring the Acts into conformity with the EU Plant Health Regulation and the Regulation regulating the carrying out of official controls, which are applied from 14 December 2019. For that, several provisions of the Plant Protection Act, the Organic Farming Act, the State Fees Act and the Plant Propagation and Plant Variety Rights Act are updated or repealed. Besides that, the Plant Protection Act is amended due to the amendments to the relevant EU directive.
A significant amendment to the Plant Protection Act is the extension of the obligation to submit a notice of economic activities to almost all operators engaged in the sale of planting material. The requirement of activity licence will also be extended to the operators who, for example, wish to engage in wooden packing material, and to operators who wish to issue plant passports.
The principles of financing follow-up plant health checks will be changed. The state fees of the plant health field have also been updated to cover the costs of official controls.
In the Organic Farming Act, the general bases for carrying out official controls, and the requirements for sampling and analysis will be provided. Pursuant to an amendment, the authorisations for placing imported organic products on the market will be no longer issued because the relevant EU import system has changed. The state fees for supervisory acts on organic farming will also be updated in order to compensate the increase of the supervisory expenses due to the rapid development of the organic farming sector.
During the debate, Urmas Kruuse (Reform Party), Merry Aart (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Heiki Hepner (Isamaa) and Aivar Kokk (Isamaa) took the floor.
The Bill on Amendments to the Government of the Republic Act and Other Acts (merger of the Environmental Board and the Environmental Inspectorate) (184 SE), initiated by the Government, provides for the merger of the Environmental Board and the Environmental Inspectorate, two governmental authorities in the area of government of the Ministry of Environment. The name of the merged agency will be the Environmental Board. For that, amendments will be made to the Government of the Republic Act and 38 other Acts.
The merger of the Environmental Board, which implements the policy of environment use, nature conservation and radiation safety, and the Environmental Inspectorate, which exercises environmental supervision, is part of the state reform plan. The merger of the Environmental Board and the Environmental Inspectorate will also give a certain saving, in particular in terms of more effective use of vehicles and real estate.
According to the explanation, the Environmental Board and the Environmental Inspectorate employ a total staff of 512. The new agency will have its official address in Pärnu. Both agencies are already now in dispersed locations across Estonia. According to the current plan, the merged Environmental Board will start work on 1 January 2021.
During the debate, Peeter Ernits (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) and Siim Kiisler (Isamaa) took the floor.
The Bill on Amendments to the Road Transport Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (157 SE), initiated by the Government, will extend the range of persons who will be exempt from the requirement of the professional training for professional drivers. For example, in the future, the requirement to complete professional training will not extend to persons engaged in the maintenance of category D vehicles who drive vehicles without passengers from the vehicle storage facility of the carrier to a nearby maintenance or repair facility.
With a view to implementing the new European Union framework Regulation on the type-approval of motor vehicles and their trailers, the bases for the invalidation of type-approvals will be specified. According to it, the Road Administration will be able to invalidate type-approvals on broader bases than before, including also in the event of submission of false data during market surveillance.
The Bill will also establish an obligation for vehicle owners to have their vehicles repaired where the vehicles have manufacturing defects or do not correspond to their type-approvals. According to the Bill, the obligation to bring vehicles into conformity will lie with manufacturers. The Bill will provide for an obligation of vehicle owners to enable manufacturers to implement corrective measures to bring vehicles into conformity. Vehicles that are not in conformity will not be able to pass roadworthiness tests in the future.
The Bill on Amendments to the Public Procurement Act and the Commissioning of Artworks Act (177 SE), initiated by the Government, will amend the provisions regulating electronic information exchange. As a result of an amendment, suppliers will be released from the obligation of electronic information exchange in public procurements of small value, less than 30,000 euro in the case of supplies and services, and less than 60,000 in the case of works.
Under the current Act, high-security electronic exchange of information must be used in the case of every public procurement regardless of the value. The purpose of the amendment is to enable simpler electronic information exchange (e.g. by e-mail) in public procurements of smaller value whereby the workload of contracting authorities and the administrative burden of tenderers will be significantly reduced. In the case of reopening a competition on the basis of a framework agreement, the obligation of electronic information exchange would not apply where the estimated value of the public contract to be awarded is below the simple procurement threshold, that is, below 30 000 euro in the case of supplies and services. In the case of public procurements that do not fall within a simplified procurement threshold provided for by law, the obligation of electronic information exchange would apply starting from the public procurement threshold.
An amendment to the Commissioning of Artworks Act will increase the threshold that requires the commissioning of artworks in connection with contracting for works. The current threshold of 450 000 euro will be raised to 750 000 euro. The price cap for art works procured will also be increased. Starting from 2010 when the Commissioning of Artworks Act was passed, the price cap for art works procured has been limited to 65 000 euro. The Bill will increase the price cap to 110,000 euro. The general principle remains in place that the total price of works of art without the value added tax must be at least 1/100 of the price of the procurement contract or the total price of the procurement contracts but the maximum price does not exceed 110,000 euro. The cap of 110,000 is not an obligation but the highest possible price limit.
In addition, the Minister of the Environment will be given the authority to establish mandatory environmentally sound criteria in procurements to purchase furniture, cleaning products and services, office IT-equipment, and copying and graphic paper.
The Bill on Amendments to the State Borders Act (178 SE), initiated by the Government, will establish a border zone and amend the provisions concerning the border strip so that they would be in conformity with the actual needs.
In the designing of Estonia’s eastern border and the construction of test sections, it has become apparent that it is very complicated to construct the elements necessary for guarding the border on the up to ten-metre border strip required by law. Since the landscape varies in all border sections, different solutions are needed to complete them and every border section must be designed in a different way. Therefore the ‘ten-metre’ definition will be eliminated from the Act, and in the future the Government of the Republic will determine the width of the border strip with its Regulation.
The Bill will provide for a regulation of the border zone in order to ensure efficient border security and border regime. A territory with a width of up to five kilometres, extending inland from the border strip and parallel with the border strip, constitutes the border zone. The width of the border zone will also be determined by a regulation of the Government of the Republic, taking into account the size of the territory necessary for guarding the state border and the natural conditions.
The organisation of the entry of vehicles in road border crossing points will be amended. Under the current Act, the minister responsible for the area may transfer the task of organising the entry of vehicles in a road border crossing point and of managing the database of the border crossing queue to the local authority or a legal person in private law.
The Bill will grant the minister responsible for the area the right to authorise the Police and Border Guard Board to conclude the abovementioned contracts under public law; the fees charged for the organisation of a border crossing queue will be established to the accuracy of euro; the regulation of the organisation of a border crossing queue will be separated from the border regime regulation in the Act because it is a traffic organisation measure, and the regulation will be made clearer and more understandable.
The amendment will help enhance the organisation of the entry of vehicles in road border crossing points, which will improve traffic safety on the roads leading to border crossing points.
Riho Breivel (Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction) took the floor during the debate.
The Bill on Amendments to the Aliens Act, the Income Tax Act and the Taxation Act (reduction of the abuse of the rules for working in Estonia) (145 SE), initiated by the Government, will prevent the abuse of the rules for working in Estonia and ensure that businesses do not evade the payment of taxes and pay the average gross monthly wage in Estonia to aliens as required by law.
The explanatory memorandum notes that the factual activities of an alien employed in Estonia must meet the legal basis for and the purpose of his or her employment in Estonia. In addition to third-country nationals who are being employed in Estonia for a short term and their employers, the obligation to prove the legality of the employment in Estonia would also extend to undertakings using temporary agency staff, that is, user undertakings. If an alien does temporary agency work or provides a service in Estonia, the user undertaking is also required to ensure that the alien is employed in Estonia according to the legal basis given therefor and the contract entered into between the employer and the user undertaking or another agreement. Upon failure to meet the obligation, in the future, it will be possible to bring to justice and punish user undertakings by a fine under misdemeanour law. The maximum fine rate will be 300 fine units for natural persons and 32,000 euro for legal persons. The same fine rates are also in force now.
The legal basis for workers’ stay and employment in Estonia can be checked through electronic queries on the homepage of the Police and Border Guard Board. In the case where a worker has no legal basis for employment, it will also be possible to submit applications for the registration of short-term employment of an alien electronically through the self-service environment of the Police and Border Guard Board.
The aim of the amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Taxation Act is to ensure that the income tax liability of all undertakings offering the temporary agency staffing service in Estonia and the people employed in Estonia is as similar as possible. As a result of the amendments, the right to tax the remuneration of non-residents working in Estonia will be specified. An obligation to register with the Tax and Customs Board and to withhold income tax on remunerations will be established for non-resident undertakings who have employees in Estonia.
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 transpose a European Union anti-money laundering directive and establish several international standards within Estonia. The prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing in the Republic of Estonia will be enhanced thereby. Also, a framework for the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing will be prepared for an upcoming international evaluation.
The Bill will establish a register of bank accounts to link all Estonian credit and payment institutions, establish a list of positions of politically exposed persons and create a mechanism to improve the quality of the data on beneficial owners in the commercial register. At the same time, the possibilities to check banks’ compliance with international financial transactions will be increased, additional measures to protect “whistle-blowers” will be established, and the possibilities for banks, notaries and other obliged entities to exchange information among themselves will be improved.
The Bill on Amendments to the Alcohol Act, the Local Government Organisation Act, the Local Government Financial Management Act and the Income Tax Act (194 SE), initiated by the Finance Committee.
The Bill will extend the deadlines by which local governments will have to adopt amendments to the budget strategy and the development plan and, on the basis of that, submit the draft budget and the explanatory memorandum to the municipal council this year. The regulation for withholding income tax on Natura 2000 support for private forest land will also be amended.
In addition, the Bill will specify the Alcohol Act. The explanatory memorandum notes that, under the current Act, alcoholic beverages must not be placed so as to inevitably expose consumers to them when visiting the shop and the display of alcoholic beverages shall not be noticeably visible from the rest of the sales area, unless the compliance with those requirements is not reasonably feasible due to the size of the sales area. The Bill specifies that, among other things, a selection of alcohol may be placed behind the seller in a shop, so that visitors cannot enter such part of the area of the display of alcoholic beverages. The display area may be located behind and beside the seller, and the seller may move around in it, but the decisive criterion will be that the area must not be accessible to visitors.
Jevgeni Ossinovski (Social Democratic Party) took the floor during the debate.
The Riigikogu concluded the first reading of a Bill
The Bill on Amendments to the Medicinal Products Act and the Health Insurance Act (205 SE), initiated by the Government, will improve the availability of medicinal products, simplify the regulation of the import and export authorisations for medicinal products, and improve the pharmacy service. At the same time, the regulation of marketing authorisations for medicinal products will be updated, and the requirements for advertising medicinal products will be brought into conformity with EU law. In the future, it will be easier for consumers to dispose of unusable medicinal products.
The Bill provides for the possibility to issue authorisations for import of unauthorised medicinal products by way of exception for compassionate reasons to a group of patients with a chronically or seriously debilitating disease or whose disease is considered to be life-threatening, and who can not be treated satisfactorily by an authorised medicinal product. The amendment will give the Estonian patients access to medicinal products in the clinical trials stage in situations where this remains the only possible solution for a patient.
The Bill will simplify the procedure for carrying medicinal products when travelling. Instead of the State Agency of Medicines, pharmacies will begin to issue the relevant certificates for certain medicinal products valid in the Schengen area.
Pharmacies will be enabled to issue to consumers medicinal products prepared or sold in other pharmacies. To improve the availability of medicinal products, it will be permitted to also provide the pharmacy service via video call in branch pharmacies located in rural areas where there is no other pharmacy in the vicinity.
An amendment will update the conditions for advertising medicinal products, and will eliminate the restriction under which only marketing authorisation holders and their representatives may make and commission advertisements of medicinal products. In the future, in addition to the marketing authorisation holder, it will also be possible to hold liable the person placing, producing or publicising advertising, that is, the person who commits the violation.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.
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