Nursipalu training area expansion bill passes first Riigikogu reading

Approach to the Nursipalu training area.
Approach to the Nursipalu training area. Source: Mirjam Mõttus/ERR

A bill which would grant the legislative basis for the expansion of a military training area in South Estonia passed its first Riigikogu reading on Wednesday. The bill allows for the expansion to go ahead while circumventing standard planning procedures, in the interests of national defense and security.

The planned enlargement will see the existing training area at Nursipalu, Võru County, more than triple in area from its current 3,000ha, with the aim being to bring it up to parity with its North Estonian counterpart, the Central Training Area in Harju County, and to accommodate heavier equipment such as self-propelled guns.

Nursipalu training ground. Source: ERR/ Datawrapper

The project has met with push-back from local residents, including those owning properties inside the planned expansion zone. The owners of the reported 21 properties that will be subject to forced sale will be compensated by the state.

The opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) tabled a proposal to reject the bill during its first reading, but this proposal was voted down by 53 against to 13 votes in favor.

Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) presented the bill, and answered questions on it for around 90 minutes. The Riigikogu National Defense Committee member Kristo Enn Vaga (Reform) provided an overview of the discussion which had been held on the bill, at committee level.

The bill to amend the Weapons Act and other related laws (144 SE) was initiated by the government and expedites creating the legal basis for the development of training fields used by the regular Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) and the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit).

Expanding the zone is a critical prerequisite in the current security environment in order to increase Estonia's military defense and collective defense capabilities, the bill's explanatory memorandum reads.

It also stipulates the government's right to decide, at the proposal of the Minister of Defense and on the basis of a corresponding threat assessment, the establishment or expansion of the EDF/Defense League training area, without carrying out normal planning procedures.

Such a right is only viable if the sole purpose of constructing a military training area is to ensure national defense and if any delays to this construction arising from planning processes could lead to increased national security risks.

MPs Rain Epler (EKRE), Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform), Enn Eesma (Center), Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa), Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) and Kalev Stoicescu (Eesti 200) spoke on behalf of their parties at the Riigikogu.

Between the first and second readings of the bill, amendments can be submitted – the deadline for this is 10 a.m. on Friday, June 2.

A bill must pass three Riigikogu readings before it can be sent to the head of state for their assent.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

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