The Riigikogu's National Defense Committee has opted to put back the discussion of a petition against the expansion of a military training area in South Estonia, to after the March 5 general election.
The XIV Riigikogu has four working weeks left until its dissolution, ahead of the election, which the defense committee said is insufficient time to deal with the appeal in a meaningful way.
The Riigikogu board on January 10 agreed to take the petition, signed by 11,590 people and entitled "No to the expansion of the Nursipalu training ground," into its proceedings, forwarding it to the defense committee.
Nursipalu is an existing Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) training area in Võru County set to be tripled in size to around 9,000ha, meaning there is no way to avoid the relocation of residents living in the expanded area and to compensate them for land losses.
The expansion will improve capabilities for training both EDF and NATO allied personnel and accommodate state-of-the art weaponry.
Defense committee chair Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE) noted that the committee is: "Of the view that the topic of expanding the Nursipalu training ground needs a thorough discussion, while the national defense committee must consider defense, legal and economic circumstances within this process.
"The committee must hear out all related parties, and include representatives of the petition, local government and state institutions, related to the topic in the discussion," he continued.
Committee members from all five currently represented Riigikogu parties concur about postponing the matter, Kaljulaid said.
"When processing this popular initiative, the fact that the powers of the XIV composition of the Riigikogu are due to expire soon, and a new composition of the Riigikogu will be elected, which will also of course mean a fresh composition of the National Defense Committee, with new committee members and a new leadership to be elected," Kaljulaid went on.
Kaljulaid also noted that this new committee composition will not have taken part in previous discussions on the Nursipalu issue.
The Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act states that committees have up to three months to discuss popular initiatives, and up to six months to make a decision.
The election to the XV Riigikogu takes place on March 5, preceded by several days' advance voting. Once elected, represented parties meet to form up a coalition, a process which can take several weeks, though the new legislature composition convenes once elected.
The remaining four weeks will also be used to process any outstanding legislation which it is felt should be processed.
Popular initiatives are usually filed on the Rahvaalgatus site. If a petition attracts a certain number of digital signatures, usually a minimum of a thousand, it will be taken into consideration by the Riigikogu's board, for a potential discussion.
The Nursipalu ground affects three municipalities, Rõuge, Antsla and Võru, while residents outside, but nearby, the expanded zone may also receive compensation for the upheaval.
President Alar Karis recently noted that the current situation of distrust between the those overseeing national defense – the Ministry of Defense and its agencies, and the EDF – and the local governments and members of the public in and near Nursipalu, could not continue, and dialogue is needed to resolve the issue, both in terms of ensuring national defense and security, and in ensuring the Estonian people are fairly compensated if affected by the changes.
The president also suggested other developments relating to Nursipalu, including the re-commissioning of a currently disused rail link, and noted that the most comparable countries to Estonia in this situation, namely Latvia and Lithuania, are facing the same issues and dealing with them.
Editor: Andrew Whyte