Presidential veto would postpone pension reform for indeterminate time

President Kersti Kaljulaid.
President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

If the Riigikogu passing amendments to render funded pension voluntary on Wednesday went ahead without surprises as the coalition had no choice but to demonstrate unity after the vote was tied to a confidence motion, the president's decision – whether to proclaim the law or not – remains unknown. This means that there is also no way of knowing whether and when Isamaa's principal election promise will be entered into force.

The Riigikogu now has five working days to forward the bill to the Office of the President. This gives President Kersti Kaljulaid until February 13. She must decide inside 14 days whether to proclaim the law to render the so-called second pension pillar voluntary or not.

Should the president decide against proclaiming the law, she has two options.

The first would be a political veto. It was previously used by President Arnold Rüütel in 2004 when he blocked legislation to amend the European Parliament Elections Act that he found failed to give voters certainty that the candidate they voted for would end up representing them in the European Parliament, which is why he found the procedure neither clear, universally understandable nor representative of the will of the people. Rüütel returned the bill to the Riigikogu following political motives only for the parliament to pass it again unchanged after which the president had no choice but to proclaim the law.

A political veto cannot be taken to the Supreme Court.

However, the president can also refuse to proclaim a law and send it back to the Riigikogu if they believe it is unconstitutional. This has been the more common reason for presidential vetoes.

The Riigikogu then has two options – either to pass the law again without changing it or take the president's notes into consideration and introduce changes.

Either way, the bill lands on the president's desk once more.

The president will have two weeks in which to make a decision. She could accept the parliament's changes and proclaim the law or, if she believes the Riigikogu has failed to change the law to a sufficient degree, send it to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court Constitutional Review Chamber should make a decision inside four months but can also opt for an extension.

If the Supreme Court decides the law is constitutional and the president is mistaken in her analysis, Kaljulaid will have to proclaim the law immediately.

Should the Supreme Court side with the president and find unconstitutional aspects in the legislation, the Riigikogu can either shelve the bill for good or change it.

If the parliament opts for the latter option and sets about amending the law, the entire circle begins anew.

Therefore, if we believe President Kaljulaid will veto the pension reform and the dispute will move to the Supreme Court, we won't have clarity in the matter for months – until late summer or early fall. And provided the Supreme Court will agree with the president, the current coalition remain in power bent on making the reform happen, everything will continue for an indeterminate number of months after that.

President Lennart Meri vetoed a total of 39 laws in 1992-2001. The Riigikogu made changes in 31 cases and the dispute reached the Supreme Court on eight occasions, with Meri losing only once.

President Arnold Rüütel vetoed a total of 11 laws in 2001-2006, took four cases to the Supreme Court for a result of 2:2.

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves used nine vetoes in 2006-2016, with the Riigikogu changing the law on eight occasions. One law reached the Supreme Court that sided with the president.

President Kersti Kaljulaid has used a veto twice, with Riigikogu elections causing the law to drop out of Riigikogu proceedings on one occasion and the matter reaching the Supreme Court and being found unconstitutional on the other.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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