Coalition MPs supported a reasonable proposal on Monday, but at the same time an unreasonable one was voted down, in so doing providing balance, writes Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Ruuben Kaalep, in response to a piece which originally appeared in ERR's online news in Estonian, and is in English here.
On Monday, I was among the [eight] EKRE MPs who voted in favor of an amendment tabled by the Reform Party, which specifies the crisis management scheme, during the debate on the Disaster (Management) Act.
I did so following the logic that it is in the interests of all of us to make the draft, which was hastily assembled during a time of crisis, more reasonable, regardless of whether those proposing it are from the coalition parties (Center, EKRE, Isamaa-ed.) or the opposition (Reform, the Social Democratic Party-ed.).
It has been all the more strange to read views in the media which imply the cross-party debate resulted in a "scrap law" being voted-in, because the opposition's remaining proposals remained unsupported by the chamber.
The amendment which did pass was based on the views of the Riigikogu National Defense Committee (Riigikaitsekomisjon), namely that the National Defense Act, one of whose key objectives is ensuring clear lines of command and independent decision making powers for those responsible managers during a crisis, is currently making its way through the Riigikogu process.
A lack of a specific chain of command equates to chaos. Consequently, the Disaster (Management) Act grants the right to issue orders to the authority managing the resolution of the situation, delegated from the government, to facilitate decision-making and responsibility remaining in the hands of the same persons.
However, this should not mean that the government should get involved in a situation where said emergency management body is unable to carry out its tasks, or is performing ineffectively.*
The most meaningful criticism of the act has been that it gives the Health Board (Terviseamet) an unreasonable level of power.
The second amendment proposed by the Reform Party would have removed a paragraph from the law which would allow the government to postpone the entry into force of emergency orders, where necessary.
This paragraph is significant, and balances the powers given to the government and to state officials, ensuring that crisis managers cannot abuse their powers by circumventing the government.
Unlike the first proposal, the deletion of this paragraph did not pass the Riigikogu vote (and remains in the bill-ed.).
As a result, the Reform Party called the result of the vote of the elected assembly a "scrap law", and argued that without the adoption of both proposals together, both lose their meaning.
In fact, the opposite is true: Coalition MPs approved a rational proposal, but this was balanced by a vote against an unreasonable one.
This should be a lesson to both the coalition and the opposition: The "all-or-nothing" principle cannot be used in state affairs. Democracy works exactly as the Riigikogu demonstrated on Monday.
However, the confusion that arose indicates that the draft, which was completed as a matter of urgency, still has several question marks hanging over it.
Such "cluster" laws** tend to carry a wide margin of interpretation, which becomes a risk if one or another aspect brings with it the disproportionate power to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms.
The amendment adopted helps to balance this, but I can't say in all conscience that it has done so sufficiently.
Certainly for that reason, the draft law has been criticized by several civic associations, both liberal and conservative, and more than 1,500 signatures have already been collected against it on [citizens' initiative website] rahvaalgatus.ee.
*The emergency situation (eriolukord) declared by the Estonian government on March 12 is set to expire on May 17. It will be replaced by a constitutionally-defined crisis situation (hädaolukord), seen as a less severe level of alert. The emergency situation itself is less severe than a state of emergency ("erakorraline seisukord"), which is only declared in case of a threat to the constitutional order of Estonia, and has not applied to the coronavirus pandemic.
**"Cluster law" refers to a raft of legislation amending various different acts or otherwise introducing legislation connected to a wide range of areas. Its use has been common during the emergency situation first declared by the Estonian government on March 12 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. A cluster law promulgated by President Kersti Kaljulaid on May 5 contained 35 different pieces of legislation, including those related to migration and to the auxiliary police force.
Editor: Andrew Whyte