Letter from a reader: Attack on the Estonian language (18)

Estonian taxi. (Postimees/Scanpix)
By Olav Anton
3/7/2016 1:16 PM
Category: Opinion

Reader Olav Anton submitted a letter regarding the amendment proposed to override a change already signed into law requiring taxi drivers in Estonia to prove B1 proficiency in the national language in order to receive their taxi license, claiming that making exceptions would be at odds with the Constitution.

According to a change to the Public Transport Act that was voted into law last year, as of April 1, 2016, taxi drivers applying for licenses would have been required to prove Estonian language proficiency at a B1 level ("Independent user, threshold or intermediate level"). Under pressure from the Narva taxi driver lobby, Reform Party member Deniss Boroditš and Social Democrat Urve Palo proposed an “urgent amendment” that would have allowed taxi drivers to work without a taxi license until April 1, 2017.

The Estonian Parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee debated the issue at the end of January, arriving at the conclusion that even with the year-long extension on when the law goes into effect, it just wouldn’t be possible to reach the level of language proficiency required. In the end, the committee decided that the language requirement for having a taxi license will not be postponed, rather the provisions imposing the language requirement on taxi drivers will be removed from the current Public Transport Act.

With that decision, politicians directly contradicted provisions of the Estonian Constitution which are mentioned in its preamble: “With unwavering faith and a steadfast will to strength and develop the state, ...which shall guarantee the preservation of the Estonian nation, language, and culture through the ages, the people of Estonia … by a referendum held on 28 June 1992, adopted the following Constitution.”

Estonia is a nation state and the Estonian language is protected by the Constitution. In contrast to the constitution of the USSR, which was declarative only, equipped with the Estonian Constitution one can go to court in order to get activity directed against the Estonian language stopped. According to a publication commenting on the Constitution, the Estonian Supreme Court as a court of constitutional review has boldly joined others who acknowledge the normative nature of the Preamble (see Supreme Court's decisions 3-4-1-7-98 and 3-4-1-6-01).

A court case must be pursued if, bowing to pressure from the Narva taxi driver lobby, Parliament abolishes the Estonian language proficiency requirement from the list of required skills for taxi drivers on March 8. If anyone attempted to do away with driving skill requirements for the drivers (e.g. if a driver lacked a valid driver’s license), that would “only” be at odds with the Traffic Act; repealing requirements for linguistic proficiency, in contrast, would be at odds with the Constitution.

Court can still be avoided if Parliament abstains from adopting the Bill 159 change to the Public Transport Act during their March 8 session, or if the President of Estonia does not sign said bill into law.

Let’s wait and see what happens.

Editor: Aili Sarapik

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