Minister hails Estonian Constitution on 30th anniversary of its adoption

The June 1992 referendum on the adoption of the present-day Estonian Constitution.
The June 1992 referendum on the adoption of the present-day Estonian Constitution. Source: Jüri Ratas/Social Media

Tuesday marked the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of the present-day Estonian Constitution, which was issued following the restoration of Estonian independence the year before. The fact that the constitution is still hotly debated is a sign of how cherished it is, justice minister Maris Lauri (Reform) says.

Around two-thirds of the citizens of Estonia took part in the referendum to adopt the constitution, with 92 percent voting in favor. The constitution, the third which an independent Estonia has seen, was duly adopted and entered into force on July 3 1992.

Minister of Justice Maris Lauri (Reform) said: "When Estonia's independence was restored in 1991, a constitution which respected the rights, freedoms and obligations of the Estonian populace had to be adopted as the basis of the rule of law, and a new European legal system had to be constructed."

Whereas in 2020 the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the first Estonia constitution saw the ministry focusing primarily on highlighting the balance of fundamental rights and obligations, the anniversary of the current constitution's adoption is paying attention to major legal reforms in the field of justice, at least from the ministry's perspective.

As a result the ministry, along with the Foundation for the Constitutional Law ( Riigiõiguse Sihtkapital), the Supreme Court, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, the Patent Office (Patendiamet), the Estonian Bar Association (Eesti juristide liit) and the Estonian Academic Law Society (Eesti akadeemilise õigusteaduse selts) are jointly organizing a series of conferences on legal history, as well as the present and future, involving experts and practitioners, as well as the framers of the legal reforms.

The constitution has also seen much popular attention in Estonia, not least during the coronavirus pandemic, but also during the recent coalition breakdown.

Minister Lauri said: "It seems to me that in recent years we have as a result talked much more about the constitution than before. During crises, we have had to look for points of reference."

This spoke in favor of the constitution, she added.

"The debate on the constitution demonstrates that we care about him it want its provisions to be taken seriously. The constitution must be the basic law (ministry's emphasis – ed.), and not simply a piece of paper alongside other agreements and rules of real life upon which they are based," she added, noting that the constitution was of help in those areas, legally speaking, where legislation, precedent, common sense and good intentions were not providing answers.

The constitution was drafted by the 50-member Constitutional Assembly (Põhiseaduse Assamblee), which began its work on September 13 1991, less than a month after the declaration of independence and consisting of representatives of the Congress of Estonian ( Eesti Kongress), a grassroots body which was one of the driving forces towards Estonian independence, and the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia ( Eesti Vabariigi Ülemnõukogu), an interim body between the Supreme Soviet of occupied Estonia, and the present-day Riigikogu.

Other 30th anniversaries this year include last week's one marking the adoption of the Estonian Kroon, the currency which independent Estonia used 1992-2011 when the Euro was adopted, and, looking ahead, at the end of September, the founding of the Riigikogu.

The first Estonian constitution was in place during the period of the First Republic, from full independence in 1920, to 1938, though heavily amended in 1934, in response to a threatened takeover by a military veterans' league and heralding the so-called "Era of Silence" during the presidency of Konstantin Päts,

The second constitution was short-lived, lasting from 1938 to the first Soviet occupation of 1940. It allowed for a bicameral legislature as compared with the current unicameral Riigikogu, and curbed the powers of the office of president as compared with those put in place from 1934. One legacy of this constitution, however, is that it set up a system of presidential elections restricted to the legislature, nationally and regionally, rather than directly being elected by the people, a situation which remains in place to the present.

Two illegal Soviet constitutions were also imposed upon Estonia, in 1940, and in 1978.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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