Riigikogu heads prepared to violate time limits to curb obstruction

A photo taken when obstruction efforts were in full swing in the Riigikogu in May.
A photo taken when obstruction efforts were in full swing in the Riigikogu in May. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The coalition will attempt to rein in the opposition's obstruction efforts by ignoring time limits on proceedings during the Riigikogu's fall session, which started today.

The Riigikogu, now back from its summer break, needs to get through almost 200 bills and 300 interpellations introduced by the opposition.

President of the Riigikogu Lauri Hussar (Eesti 200) said that while all bills will come up for their first reading and every interpellation will be addressed, they will be processed over a longer period of time.

"The Board of the Riigikogu must ensure the parliament's functioning and work, which is what we will be proceeding from in putting together the agenda," the speaker said.

Riigikogu Vice President Toomas Kivimägi (Reform) clarified that the Board of the Riigikogu might only reserve Mondays for processing interpellations. "The Riigikogu can process six to eight interpellations weekly if it is to have time for its other duties. For example, we will hear six interpellations today," Kivimägi said.

If the processing of an interpellation cannot be concluded on Monday, it will not be postponed into Tuesday. "It is my clear position that answering interpellations will be concluded at midnight on Monday and will continue a week from then. The interpellations will not be lost," Kivimägi explained.

The coalition plans to use this relatively relaxed tempo also for hearing the opposition's bills, this despite the letter of the law, according to which interpellations need to be addressed inside 20 sitting days and the first reading of a bill must take place inside seven working weeks from its entry into proceedings.

"I believe that there is clear justification for this course of action, also based on the Supreme Court ruling according to which the right to introduce bills is not unlimited," Kivimägi said. The top court found this spring that limiting the opposition's right to introduce bills and interpellations is not unconstitutional.

Speaker Lauri Hussar said that the Board of the Riigikogu must ensure the parliament's ability to work in what he described as a force majeure situation.

Both Hussar and Kivimägi said that while the opposition's tools of obstruction cannot be taken away, a sensible balance needs to be found.

But Hussar added that occasional night sittings as well as additional sittings will nevertheless very likely prove necessary.

Obstruction also possible when handing over bills

Martin Helme, chairman of the largest opposition force, the Conservative People's Party (EKRE), said that the opposition does not plan to settle for the coalition's relaxed pace. He reiterated the legal time limits on proceedings and emphasized that the Board of the Riigikogu is obligated to honor them.

Helme gave the example of how only Kaja Kallas' answers were put on the parliament's Monday agenda, even though several ministers were willing to give answers. "Now, they are saying that we wouldn't have time for it anyway. And they are right. But they will need to be put on the agenda nonetheless," he said.

Helme said that the same goes for bills, and that the Board of the Riigikogu is effectively taking the liberty of not putting on the agenda things that the law requires them to put there. "It amounts to lawbreaking, trampling on parliamentary rules and ending the parliamentary order in Estonia."

The EKRE leader said that his party is preparing a new Supreme Court complaint. "Because the Supreme Court has not given the Board of the Riigikogu this right," he said.

EKRE might also resort to a new tool for obstructing the parliament's work as there are no time limits on how long an MP entering a bill into proceedings can take to answer questions. Technically, it would be possible for Helme to take an hour to answer every individual question.

While Toomas Kivimägi suggested this can be overcome based on section 13, subsection 2 of the Riigikogu Rules and Procedures Act, according to which the board gets to decide "procedural matters not regulated on the level of legislation," Martin Helme countered by saying that the sitting chair does not have the right to switch off the microphone of an MP presenting a bill, adding that should the coalition resort to such tricks, Toomas Kivimägi will have to physically remove him from the platform.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Marcus Turovski

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: