EKRE to continue filibuster this week despite bill defeat

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EKRE leader Martin Helme attending this past weekend's supplementary Riigikogu session, aimed at clearing the decks of outstanding business ahead of the summer break, which in the event was held up by an EKRE filibuster. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) says it intends to continue its filibuster through to the end of the Riigikogu's spring session this week, despite its amendments to a bill which would centralize biometric data of Estonian citizens in one database being rejected. While the bill passed it second reading just before midnight Sunday, EKRE's delay tactics will likely prevent other bills from passing before the chamber goes on its summer recess.

EKRE chair Martin Helme said his party is ready to end its obstructionist tactics if party-approved amendments are made to the law, known in the Estonian media as the ABIS (Automaatse Biomeetrilise Identifitseerimissüsteemi Andmekogu, English: Automatic Biometric Identification System Database) concerning the centralized personal identification database, which would include all biometric data in on place and which could be accessed during the course of criminal investigations.

However, the chamber rejected this offer of compromise from Helme and the bill passed its second reading (of three, before it enters into force) late on Sunday night.

"During the course of the [ABIS] discussions, representatives of the coalition asked if there were any changes that we could finally accept in the draft. We are always ready to look for a reasonable compromise, which is why we summarized our proposals," Helme had written on his social media account.

However, since the Reform/Center coalition is going ahead with processing the bill, Helme said more filibustering is on its way.

"If the governing coalition still intends to maintain its position that they want to adopt ABIS in the third reading next week, then we will continue with today's agenda as well as next week's agenda in exactly the same way as before," Helme told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Sunday.

The weekend Riigikogu session had been called on an extraordinary basis, to clear the decks of outstanding parliamentary business ahead of the chamber going on its summer recess – the last day of work is this Thursday, June 17 – and EKRE had announced ahead of the session that it would be employing delaying tactics over the issue of the ABIS.

The bill was in the event amended for reasons of legal clarity, AK reported, during its second reading including the provision that biometric data processed for identification or verification purposes will be deleted from the relevant database after it is needed, that biometric data can only be retrieved through the relevant procedural information system.

With the introduction of the ABIS database, data entered in will no longer be stored in other locations it had been up until now, the Riigikogu's press service said.

Twenty-one MPs voted in favor of the EKRE amendment, at the 101-seat Riigikogu, and 57 voted against it, meaning it did not pass. EKRE has 19 MPs, all of whom voted in favor of their own proposal.

The Riigikogu's constitutional affairs plans to prepare the draft for the third reading at a June 15 sitting.

EKRE also plans to submit a motion of no-confidence in Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), who is in Brussels Monday for the NATO summit, this week.

Riigikogu speaker said that the obstructions would hold up other bills and will also require nightly sessions Wednesday and Thursday and possibly some other extraordinary meetings.

There are a total of nine bills scheduled for processing by or on Thursday.

EKRE's proposals included having a strictly defined set of data covered by ABIS – stating that "facial image", terminology used in the bill, was too generalized. The list of those permitted to access to the database would also have been tightly restricted and could not be amended by the government, under the EKRE proposals, while those investigating criminal cases would only ba able to access data for specific cases where there was a clear and present need.

One bill which recently passed its first reading would enact a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on Estonia from this March, which stated that the prosecutor's office could not access data in a criminal investigation without first obtaining permission to do so.

Criminal investigations in Estonia, while conducted by the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), are directed by the prosecutor's office.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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