Chief justice: Major pension reform issues resolved at Tuesday hearing

Supreme Court of Estonia building, in Tartu.
Supreme Court of Estonia building, in Tartu. Source: Supreme Court of Estonia

The major disputes surrounding the government's pension reform bill were resolved at a Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday, with two proving most controversial, the court's Chief Justice Villu Kõve told ERR Wednesday.

The hearing lasted from 1 p.m. to around 4 p.m. Tuesday and was attended by the president.

The major sticking points were how and whether the reform, which makes membership of the so-called second pillar of the Estonian pension scheme optional, harms the situation of those retiring in future, in particular with regard to the state pension, Villu Kõve said.

"Another issue that certainly caused more controversy is that of equal treatment, i.e. the possibility of receiving the so-called four percent social tax for those who join the second pillar, but which is not the case for people who have joined the first pillar (state pension – ed.) only," he added.

The reform passed the Riigikogu earlier in the year but was returned twice by the president. Protocol requires the bill to be heard at the Supreme Court in Tartu, with the state represented by justice chancellor Ülle Madise.

Kõve said the court hopes to reach a decision in October.

Parties to the proceedings and others present at the hearing were provided with the opportunity of making statements after the hearing.

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) told ERR that the dispute is largely political, meaning that a court sitting was an inappropriate place to deal with it.

"I wholly dislike the fact that this political dispute is being held in court, and I don't think many judges like it either. Political disputes should take place in parliament," Helme said, noting that the president's veto was political and was not made before the court, and saying the case that the reform violates fundamental rights was a weak one.

He did not however venture to predict what the Supreme Court's ruling in October might be.

Madis Päts, representing President Kersti Kaljulaid, is sticking to the line that the reform is unconstitutional and may in part lead to a fall in people's pension pots in the future. 

Legal clarity regarding the reform was the most important goal, he added.

"As of today there were no winners and losers, but the only sure winner should be rule of law in Estonia. If we get more clarity on these issues, whatever they may be, then today's hearing is in any case over," said Päts.

The session, heard orally due to the public interest aspect of the case, was attended by President Kersti Kaljulaid, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) and heads of the audit office (Riigikontroll), the Financial Supervisory Authority, the Bank of Estonia, the Riigikogu's finance committee and the association of insurance companies, as well as the finance minister.

Reform MP Andres Sutt, who sits on the parliamentary finance committee, said in his public address after the hearing that the opposition parties would be sticking to their position as submitted to the court and agree with the president.

The hearing was held en banc, meaning it requires all 19 Supreme Court judges, with a quorum attained if 11 or more justices are present. 

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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