Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Urmas Espenberg has pledged to gift €26,000 Riigikogu severance pay to charity.
Espneberg's charities of choice are the Estonian Cancer Society (Vähiliit), Tallinn Children's Hospital (Tallinna lastehaigla) and a maternity charity.
"Related to Mart Helme's return to the Riigikogu, I received the statutory severance pay, which the press immediately began to discuss as a gross sum, i.e. including taxes," Espenberg said Tuesday.
"This constitute funds for me adapt, find a new job, etc. Unexpectedly, due to Alar Laneman's appointment as Minister of the Interior, I have to return to the Riigikogu. In this situation, I can't keep this money, but I will donate it to charity," he said.
Mart Helme's resignation as interior minister just over a week ago meant that, as per standard practice, he would return to the Riigikogu.
Helme won a seat at the March 2019 elections but, since he was appointed minister, had to vacate it, meaning it went to the next-highest candidate on EKRE's electoral list, i.e. Urmas Espenberg.
Government ministers do not sit in the Riigikogu, meaning if they have won a seat they have to vacate it. At the same time, if they return to the Riigikogu, for example due to resignation, the placeholder MP has to then step down.
This happened with Espenberg but, once EKRE MP Alar Laneman was appointed Helme's replacement as interior minister, Espenberg had to return to the Riigikogu just days after his severance pay was issued.
The severance pay equates to six months' salary, provided the MP has served at least one year in the chamber, which Espenberg had.
While Espenberg was under no obligation to return the funds once it became clear he would be reclaiming his seat, media pressure for him to do so – or at least not to keep the money – was evident.
Espenberg said: "I will begin to grant the money to those who need it immediately, though not to the Riigikogu office, as soon as Laneman's appointment is confirmed by Kadriorg."
While Laneman has been officially proposed new interior minister by Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), the president – whose official residence is in Kadriorg – has not approved it yet, and has three days to do so from Tuesday.
Another recent EKRE ministerial appointee, Rain Epler (environment) was not an MP prior to being offered the job, meaning he has no seat to vacate.
Estonia's d'Hondt system of proportional representation sees electoral lists, in order, running in each district in Riigikogu and local elections (in European elections the country is treated as one district). Seats are awarded on the basis of votes gained in each region in that order, with any outstanding surplus votes obtained nationally being doled out to the next most senior candidate on the list.
The first candidate on the list to miss out on a seat at an election is next in line if the ministerial appointment process outlined above leads to a seat becoming vacant.
The system effectively also enables "flagship" candidates to run in key districts to attract votes, with votes above the threshold being doled out to candidates lower down the list. Candidates can also run on a party's list (or be appointed as a minister) without actually being a party member, though Rain Epler is reportedly an EKRE member. MPs elected in this way would still sit with the party's Riigikogu group, unless they crossed the floor.
Independent MPs are generally also allocated to a party's Riigikogu group, as happened with Raimond Kaljulaid, who quit Center soon after the March 2019 election and now votes with the Social Democratic Party (SDE), although not a member.
MPs can and often do also hold local government seats, flitting between the two chambers.
Editor: Andrew Whyte