President returns law changes on diplomats' partners to parliament

President Kersti Kaljulaid.
President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Raigo Pajula

President Kersti Kaljulaid has opted to not promulgate amendments to an act governing and regulating Estonia's foreign service and diplomatic corps, citing inconsistencies with the Estonian constitution regarding the status of those legally married compared with those in registered partnerships.

The president, who is exercising her constitutional right to not sign acts where she sees conflict with the same constitution, said that the amendments, to the Foreign Service Act, grant unequal treatment to the actual spouses of members of the foreign service as against partners registered in accordance with the Registered Partnership Act.

The head of state elaborated by saying the portion of the amendments regulating social guarantees for spouses and partners of officials in foreign service runs counter to the constitution, BNS reports.

In the bill as passed by the Riigikogu, these provisions only regulate social guarantees for an accompanying spouse, not for a partner in the understanding of the Registered Partnership Act.  

This contradicts the principle of equal treatment set forth in Section 12 of the constitution, the president said.

"Diplomats who have contracted a marriage in accordance with the Family Act, as well as those who have registered their partnership in accordance with the Registered Partnership Act, have both regulated their relationship under the laws valid in the Republic of Estonia, which is why such families must be treated in a uniform manner," the president said Thursday, according to BNS.

The president has as per protocol asked the Riigikogu to discuss the amendments again and to bring the bill into accordance with the constitution. 

Since the Riigikogu broke up for summer last week, the chamber will not be able to look at the amendments until early September at the earliest. The government and parliament could either make changes to the proposed bill and vote on them, or not; if the bill is returned to the president unchanged the next step would be to put it before the Supreme Court, with the Chancellor of Justice representing the Estonian state. This recently happened with the bill aiming to reform the pension system.

The president also cited a Supreme Court precedent from 2019, in which the top court deemed similar unequal treatment in the context of the social tax to be anti-constitutional.

Describing keeping the legal space of Estonia in line with the constitution as one of the most important tasks of her office, the head of state said that in not signing her assent to the law, she was not offering an assessment of any of the other provisions of the law, as the substantive aspects of the reform of foreign service were not constitutional issues. 

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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