Legal experts suggest ways to increase opposition's role in Riigikogu

Paloma Tupay and Allar Jõks,
Paloma Tupay and Allar Jõks, Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

New legislation aimed at improving the work of the Riigikogu and reducing obstructions should have "candy for both the opposition and the coalition", legal experts said on Wednesday.

Former Chancellor of Justice of the Republic of Estonia Allar Jõks and the University of Tartu's Associate Professor of Constitutional Law Paloma Krõõt Tupay discussed the issue, which was not resolved over the summer, on ERR's webcast "Otse uudistemajast".

"If we are talking about a bill to make the parliament work better, there should be candy for both the opposition and the coalition. If it's a bill that only benefits the coalition, then, of course, it won't be accepted, and if it only benefits the opposite, then again the coalition won't do it," said Jõks. "For example, there should be a reduction in the possibility of using a vote of confidence – the opposition should be interested in this. And secondly, the Riigikogu board could be given more precise instructions as to when, for example, a bill could be refused if it is seen that the sole purpose of the bill is to clog up the work of the parliament."

Tupay said that the board could also start to see if each draft meets the standard technical requirements.

"After all, this is what the parliament itself has decided, that they want to respect this good legislative practice. Allar and I didn't come up with that, it's in the law that they actually have to comply with [the technical standards]. Here, too, we can at least take the first step and ask whether, if there are, for example, 200 amendments, each with a different date of entry into force, is this a meaningful and sensible proposal with, so to speak, sufficient justification behind it?" Tupay explained.

"I would like to suggest another possibility that could make the amendment of the Riigikogu's Rules of Procedure acceptable to the opposition, so that they would also want to support it," continued Jõks. "This is the case, for example, of regulating the part relating to the committee of inquiry so that it can be initiated by the opposition as an instrument of parliamentary accountability."

He said, under the current rules, an inquiry commission cannot be formed if the coalition opposes it.

"This means that those whose activities, for example, are to be investigated, they can, as it were, shut the whole thing down when they are in power, and I'm not going to take a position on whether [Prime Minister] Kaja Kallas should be investigated, that's a different issue," Jõks said.

In several other countries, such as Germany, similar commissions can be formed if the right circumstances exist, he said, adding this can help strengthen the opposition's rights.

Tupay highlighted that one of the Riigikogu's most important roles is checking the government's power and holding them to account. Another way to give them more power could be to scrutinize drafts submitted by the government.

"A possibility that exists in Germany: to give a minority of, say, a third or a quarter of the Parliament the possibility to initiate a scrutiny procedure within certain limits – it could be a question of bills that are planned to be adopted," said Tupay.

She also said this possibility was raised by the chairman of the Supreme Court in 2014. "But so far, politics has shown no interest in such a strengthening of minority rights," Tupay said.

"There are different possibilities and if we think in a broader way, not specifically about this crisis, then indeed, I think there are a lot of ways in which we can strengthen the possibility for minorities to participate and to be meaningfully involved in the work of the parliament. Because the problem we really have at the moment is that it's difficult to limit the few minority rights that they do have, because essentially there aren't very many of them, and that's one argument," Tupay said.

Both Tupay and Jõks said the opposition's obstruction is not a constitutional crisis. Having more time to process legislation can even be beneficial.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright

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