Tallinn mayor stands by stricter city bars closing time bill

Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre) is also a Tae-kwon do black belt, and took an exercise session at Tallinn's Sõle sports hall Friday morning.
Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre) is also a Tae-kwon do black belt, and took an exercise session at Tallinn's Sõle sports hall Friday morning. Source: Ksenia Kurs / City government

Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre) has said that the setting aside of the draft bill on alcohol sales restrictions in the capital stems from both sides of the argument, with opposition to the restrictions joining those who would like to see even stricter limits, including on casinos, in the city.

Kõlvart himself says he stands by the need for the restrictions, which would see alcohol sales in bars, restaurants, nightclubs etc. banned from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. on nights preceding weekdays, shifting an hour back to 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. on weekend nights and nights before national holidays.

Kõlvart says he considers public health of more significance than business revenues.

Tallinn city government approved the restrictions on Nov. 5, and they were due to come into force in June 2020. However, the city government announced a U-turn on the issue on Thursday, saying that more time was needed for analysis, comments and proposals, without saying that the bill would be scrapped.

"Representatives of business have come to us with specific proposals, but not only these [people] alone. A number of proponents of austerity have pointed out that the restrictions could be made even stricter, for example in casinos," Kõlvart said Friday.

The original in-force date of Jun. 1 2020 may still materialize, Kõlvart said, noting that other considerations included tourists coming to Tallinn for cultural reasons.

Chair of the city council's Centre Party group Toivo Tootsen told ERR on Thursday that the city government wants more time to consult with concerned parties.

Reform city government group leader: Centre fears bill wouldn't pass

Reform's city government group chair Kristen Michal said Friday that the reason for the volte face was that Centre was not confident the bill would pass a vote.

Michal pointed to differences of opinion within Centre itself, mirroring differing stances on casinos in the capital, with influence on the party including those who frequent them.

"The reason is that undermining the [Centre] party are quite a few celebrities who are known to find their way to casinos. It would be naive to think otherwise," Michal told ERR Friday.

City officials have at the same tme said there is no reason to apply the ban on alcohol sales to casinos through the night, as casinos are law-abiding.

Michal noted that there had not really been any substantive discussion on restrictions with representatives of pubs, bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. 

"The mayor is looking for a mid-point between locals, the city of entrepreneurs and the police. The goal is not to replace the city authorities, but to be a platform, a solver, a constant seeker of solutions," Michal continued.

Mart Luik: It would have been easy to circumvent the restrictions

Isamaa's city council group chair Mart Luik said that pressure from those with a stake in the matter, including city center pubs and bars, had been behind the decision, adding that the restrictions might be toothless anyway.

"Opposition has been critical of the sales restrictions proposed by the city government, and the latter has found that an agreement with the bars must be reached. The city has also not conducted an impact study on how the costs, including with the many concerts and events which take place in Tallinn," said Luik.

It would also be easy to circumvent the restrictions, he said. 

"For example, some city center pubs set aside a couple of rooms on their premises, rename themselves as accommodation establishments and then sell alcohol around the clock," Luik said.

Alcohol sales in stores are banned in Estonia between the hours of 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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