Dozens of business organizations in Estonia have issued a joint appeal expressing dissatisfaction with the government's legislative practice in recent months, where only a few business days are given to provide feedback on bills significantly impacting the business environment, impact analyses of planned changes are significantly flawed or missing altogether and the changes aren't substantiated.
In their joint appeal, the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EKTK), Estonian Employers' Confederation (ETK) and a further 34 business organizations note that in September alone, business organizations have been given a maximum of four business days to provide feedback on bills on at least five different occasions, in addition to other violations of the principles of good legislation.
The organizations have specifically been frustrated by recent practices utilized in the handling of a bill of amendments to the Environmental Charges Act, a bill of amendments to the State Fees Act and the Forest Act, a bill of amendments to the Earth's Crust Act, a bill of amendments to the Environmental Charges Act and the Forest Act as well as a bill of amendments to the Land Tax Act and the Taxation Act.
Business owners noted that there have been more such cases over the past half a year, of which the biggest impact involved a package of amendments to tax laws that included VAT, income tax as well as excise duty hikes.
In accordance with the "Basic Principles for Legislative Policy until 2030," legislative policy must be inclusive, foreseeable and knowledge-based. The signees of the joint appeal find that in the aforementioned cases, these principles have been breached.
"If a ministry only leaves interest groups a few business days to analyze a bill and prepare a response, then that is performative inclusion, because such a short deadline doesn't allow for business organizations to thoroughly discuss the planned changes with their members, analyze their impacts or provide ministries with comprehensive feedback," the appeal states.
On top of the short turnaround time given for feedback, the signees also cited concerns with the bills' impact analyses — which were either missing altogether or were significantly flawed, e.g. they didn't analyze or sufficiently analyze the impact of planned changes on businesses and their competitiveness.
"The quality of bills and letters of explanation is also negatively affected when the primary objective of a bill is to increase state budget revenues and this is also the focus of the impact analysis, but other and even more important goals and impacts are sidelined," the organizations wrote. "In the absence or due to the superficiality of an impact analysis, the planned impact is unclear, and it is difficult to implement long-term strategic objectives."
The business organizations acknowledged that in cases such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unexpected and unforeseen circumstances arose in which expediting the handling of bills may have been justified. However, urgency in handling the aforementioned bills has been justified with the drawing up of next year's state budget bill, but the state budget cannot possibly be unexpected for the state, thus justifying the expedited handling of these bills.
"Business organizations are against fast-tracking the handling of bills and are requesting the government halt recent weeks' handling of bills as matters of urgency," the signees of the joint appeal wrote. "Upon improving the analysis and explanations and revising the bill, we request that these bills be submitted for a new round of approval and interest groups be granted sufficient time to provide feedback. Due to the aforementioned reasons, the entry into force of the amendments included in the urgent bills must be postponed as well."
Furthermore, failure to comply with the principles of good legislation must be avoided in the future, they added.
Editor: Aili Vahtla