The role of parliament in state affairs has decreased, Riigikogu members should have higher salaries and the presidential election system should be reformed, President Kersti Kaljulaid said in her speech at the opening of parliament's autumn session on Monday.
In her last speech opening a Riigikogu session as president, Kaljulaid started by saying people's trust in the Riigikogu has decreased and this is a serious concern.
"The Riigikogu must be an institution the country trusts when we are seeking consensus for important decisions that will have long-lasting effects. The tone of public attention that shadowed the presidential election showed this certainly isn't the case today," she said.
Kaljulaid said it is necessary to increase the role of the Riigikogu in the decision-making and the discussion of government decisions. She said the role of the Riigikogu has also been too passive in establishing coronavirus restrictions.
"It isn't fair to have public officials decide the new balance between rights and freedoms – the head of the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board, the head of the Estonian Defence Forces, directors of hospitals and ambulance services, or company CEOs. The balance is yours to make, dear Riigikogu," said Kaljulaid.
Kaljulaid said members of the Riigikogu often find it too difficult to understand legislative drafts and this could be one reason why personal advisers or assistants could be considered.
She was also critical of the budget process.
"Another striking example of the same phenomenon – officials always know best – is dwindling debate over the national budget in the Riigikogu. The institution's role has diminished more and more, to the point where members no longer even have at their disposal an elementary report of costs and expenses that could enable them to make substantial proposals if they so pleased," said Kaljulaid.
The president said it would also be appropriate to increase the salary of Riigikogu members calling today's salary "simply unattractive" for many.
"Naturally, the work of representing Estonia's citizenry is something not done for money, and this hall is certainly home to lofty ideals and standpoints and a desire to shape the country according to the wishes of one's voters, but a member of the Riigikogu is essentially a CEO of the Estonian state – all 101 of you – which means the salary must be motivating," she said.
"At one point, I believe there was broad consensus that it should be four times the average Estonian salary. Today, it is less than three."
Kaljulaid calls for presidential election reform
Kaljulaid also called for a change in the presidential election system.
Kaljulaid noted that although this year's presidential election was conducted exactly as prescribed by the Constitution, it, together with the Riigikogu, was subjected to unfounded public criticism.
"That criticism is unfounded – you all did your job swiftly and well. Our parliamentary state functioned the way it was supposed to," she said.
Kaljulaid suggested the registration date of presidential candidates could be moved up a month or two earlier, rather than one day before the vote.
"Anyone who doesn't want to vote will have voluntarily stepped aside, no matter that they are essentially present. It is their choice and their right, but abstention should not affect the electoral results to any greater extent than the choice of a representative who has considered the candidates and come to a decision. And thirdly, local governments deserve greater representation in the electoral college," she said.
"In this way, the public's faith in the procedure for electing the president of the Republic of Estonia will be easily restored. There's actually very little for us to do!"
The full speech can be read here.
Editor: Helen Wright