The nomination of Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform) as Estonia's representative at the European Court of Auditors (ECA) was procedurally legitimate, while its political aspects are for the politicians, State Secretary Taimar Peterkop says.
Pentus-Rosimannus was nominated to the post last week, to replace Juhan Parts, whose term ends on December 31. However, controversy has arisen as to the legality of being nominated while a minister – to a post which is in fact up to the finance minister to select.
Peterkop said: "Formally speaking there has been no violation of the operating restriction. In terms of content, there was a political will to nominate Keit Pentus-Rosimannus as a candidate for the ECA."
The state secretary pointed out the candidate, whoever it is, is to be submitted at government level, while only a minister or, the state secretary if he or she has the permission of the prime minister, can take their proposal to the government.
Peterkop said: "In the given context, ie. in this case, I think the Minister of Finance should be used as a courier, who brings these materials to the government so it can make a decision."
"In order not to head off any apparent violation, a substitute minister carried out this task, but in my opinion, this has not contradicted the anti-corruption law in its essence, because the political will was there, ie. the prime minister was the figure who wanted the issue addressed at government level; the Ministry of Finance prepared the materials, and the substitute minister brought it to the government," the state secretary continued.
A former state prosecutor, Norman Aas, said earlier on Tuesday that the extent to which Pentus-Rosimannus had taken part in her own nomination was the main question; the substitute minister, Urmas Kruuse (Minister of Rural Affairs, Reform) had deputized for Pentus-Rosimannus while she took part in an EU finance ministers meeting – ministers deputizing for one another is standard practice in such cases, but some claimed that this had been a workaround to avoid the finance minister nominating herself for a post, and potentially falling foul of legislation.
Peterkop said the legality of the process can only be assessed in the context of the formal processes of the decision, adding he does not have an overview of the birth of any political agreement which earmarked Pentus-Rosimannus for the post; the politicians who participated in that process must provide an overview of this, Peterkop said
"Such political practices can be evaluated by other politicians and journalists, but it may not be appropriate to apply law enforcement mechanisms there," he said.
Center Party leader Jüri Ratas said Tuesday that Pentus-Rosimannus as potential next ECA representative from Estonia had been raised in the context of the Reform-Center coalition, in office to June this year but which Ratas did not directly participate in, since he was and is Riigikogu speaker and was not a minister at the time.
No consensus between the two parties had been reached at the time, he added.
Pentus-Rosimannus' nomination was reported last week, while a piece by another former state prosecutor, Steven Hristo Evestus, first publicly cast doubt on whether the process had been handled correctly.
The three main pieces of legislation pertinent to the case also reportedly contradict one another in that while it is the finance minister who should nominate the ECA representative, a minister or official may not nominate themselves to a position.
The ECA is not an actual court, but is one of seven primary EU institutions by which it audits its own activities.
Editor: Andrew Whyte