President Karis promulgates amended family benefits legislation

President Alar Karis (photo from November 28, 2022).
President Alar Karis (photo from November 28, 2022). Source: Marian Sudakov / Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia.

President Alar Karis has signed into being the amended form of legislation hiking family benefits following amendments made by the Riigikogu over the Christmas break, though maintains inequalities in the legislation remain intact.

The amendments alter three pieces of legislation: The Family Benefits Act, the Family Law Act and the Employment Contract Act, and were originally rejected by the president, on the grounds of inequalities he said they engendered, mostly between smaller (one- to two-child) and larger (with three or more children) families.

The president also said the legislation in its original form ran counter to the Constitution.

The legislation was amended at the Rigiikogu at an off-schedule sitting on December 28, though while President Karis has promulgated the law in this form, he still noted his view of it as being unjust.

"I am promulgating the law, since the Riigikogu has eliminated a provision which was contrary to the Constitution. However, I would remind you that the Republic of Estonia is founded on the principles of freedom, justice and the rule of law. Right now, I would especially emphasize the term 'justice,'" the head of state said Friday.

"I have together with my wife raised three children, but see the injustice in differing levels of support for families with one and two children, as is stipulated in the family support legislation that is about to come into force," he continued.

"This feeling of injustice is also experienced by many parents, who take special care of families with many children as stated in the Estonian constitution as being necessary, but do not understand why families with fewer children cannot be treated along similar lines."

"Even by justifying political choices in such cases, it would help to reduce that feeling of injustice, which many inevitably perceive in the case of unequal treatment, even if the inequality is in accordance with the Constitution," the president went on.

The head of state said he had sent the original legislation back to the Riigikogu on December 21, due to the constitutional inconsistency, adding that neither the explanatory memorandum nor the debate held at the Riiikogu had made it clear why this inequality should be in place.

Nonetheless, that inequality has not been removed, he added.

"The Riigikogu stuck to the political choice it made in the December 28 vote," the president said.

An additional constitutional safeguard would have been to have taken the case to the Supreme Court, which Karis' predecessor, Kersti Kaljulaid, did on more than one occasion with legislation. The state is represented by the Chancellor of Justice in that scenario.

 The law means first and second child will grow from €60, and single parent's benefit from €19.18, to €80 per month, retroactively from January 1 this year, while the additional large family benefit will increase from €300 to €650 for families with three to six children, and from €400 to €850 for families with seven or more children.

The large family benefit will also be indexed in-line with pensions, from May 1, 2024.

The issue of family benefits was the most publicly visible manifestation of a government split which led to the dissolution of the Reform/Center coalition in early June last year, and its replacement with the current Reform/Isamaa/SDE alignment in July.

Less than seven full weeks remain before the Riigikogu reconvenes on January 9, and polling day, March 5, for the Riigikogu elections.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel

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