Külli Taro: Riigikogu meaning lost if trailing behind events

Külli Taro.
Külli Taro. Source: Rene Riisalu

Legislative drafting seems to be behind developments these days. Whether we're talking about the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act (NETS) or the bill to ban hostile symbols, necessary decisions are made based on existing legislation, with the latter amended after the fact, Külli Taro finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

The Riigikogu is processing yet another iteration of the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act. The infamous NETS that was apparently adjusted on several occasions during the pandemic. And yet, the parliament is once again discussing ways the state should have for interfering in people's lives in future epidemics.

The impulse to finally have a piece of legislation people would be able to understand is noble. We should by now have enough know-how and experience to clearly phrase the necessary limitations in the law.

The new bill gives the government the right to order the very same measures that have been in effect in Estonia over the last few years. One might be tempted to ask why change the law in a situation where it has not stood in the way of necessary decisions until now. There is no time to delve into the details, while the Supreme Court's input is noteworthy. Recent court practice has been favorable for the powers that be, while this might not be the situation for much longer.

Legislative drafting increasingly comes off as a back marker. Whether we're talking about the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act (NETS) or the bill to ban hostile symbols, necessary decisions are made based on existing legislation, with the latter amended after the fact. Have decisions been illegitimate or current legislation not an obstacle in making them?

However, what caught my eye was a new kind of backdoor introduced to the NETS bill. It stipulates that the government could order compliance with other relevant measures, not specified in the law, if they are absolutely necessary and regarding which a Riigikogu committee has been consulted and its board notified.

I deem extremely dangerous a practice where restrictions not pursuant to the law require the legislator to merely be heard. Whereas the purpose of notifying the Board of the Riigikogu remains illegible.

The bill's explanatory memo states that asking for the position of a Riigikogu committee is not unprecedented in Estonian legal practice. In truth, we are dealing with a fundamental and unique precedent. The memo's examples of appointing state agency directors or asking the parliamentary committee's opinion on EU affairs are hardly fitting. It is an attempt to compare the incomparable, situations where the Riigikogu is not the final decision-making body.

Why have laws in the first place if the government is left a backdoor for making decisions above the parliament's head if need be? By simply hearing out and notifying the latter. Could such constructions be used in other laws in the future? That would no longer be parliamentary democracy based on the separation and balance of powers.

The Riigikogu is more than a public forum or meeting place. The Riigikogu is a place for making decisions, fundamental choices. No committee or even the Board of the Riigikogu can represent the whole parliament in legislative drafting. Nor should domestic policy be compared to European Union affairs in this context.

The bill claims that its goal is to strengthen the Riigikogu. But turning the parliament into an organ simply to be heard out or notified fails to achieve that goal. It is the parliament's right and obligation to set clear limits for executive power and include in legislation which restrictions are in order. Therein lies the importance of the Riigikogu.

The Riigikogu doing what it is meant to do does not require its importance to be highlighted through quizzical measures. Besides, asking whichever Riigikogu committee for its opinion is by no means prohibited today and requires no legislation.

While such details might seem trifling under the current circumstances, I sincerely hope the Riigikogu will not swallow the bait and create a dangerous precedent. We are looking at very exciting parliamentary elections next spring, while both the latter and the Riigikogu as a whole lose their meaning if the parliament cannot decide matters and is forced to lag behind events.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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