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Riigikogu passes five bills related to confidence vote in overnight sitting

Riigikogu.
Riigikogu. Source: Erik Peinar/riigikogu

The Riigikogu passed five bills related to the government's confidence during the sitting that began on Wednesday afternoon and lasted through the night, but the bill on the 2024 state budget remained pending. The debate on the budget resumed Thursday morning.

At the sitting, which started at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, the ministers of the respective areas presented the bills related to the vote of no confidence in the government, which, according to the coalition, are related to the 2024 state budget.

Questions were asked mainly by members of EKRE and, to a lesser extent, Isamaa. As all MPs can make speeches during the procedure for bills passed by a vote of confidence, the procedure leading up to the final vote took longer, as opposition MPs often took advantage of this opportunity.

Before the final vote on each bill, opposition MPs asked for a ten-minute break.

The first bill, the Act on Amendments to the State Fees Act (298 SE), reached the voting stage after only 40 minutes and was passed by 55 votes, with 27 against, at 2.48 pm. The act amends state fee rates on environmental protection permits, the maritime sector and land transport.

The final vote on the bill amending the Environmental Charges Act, the Forestry Act and the Industrial Emissions Act (300 SE) was passed around 7 p.m. by 57 votes in favor and 32 against. The law hikes the level of pollution charges from July 1 next year.

The third bill related to the confidence in the government on the agenda was the draft act amending the Nature Conservation Act and the Land Register Act (301 SE), which also took about two hours to process, and at around 11 p.m., Toomas Kivimägi, deputy speaker of the Riigikogu, declared the act passed with 59 votes in favor and 32 against.

The Law restricts the preemptive right of the state to transfer immovable property in a coastal no-development zone, a permanent habitat of a species of the first protection category, or a restricted protection zone, protection area or a nature reserve. According to the explanatory memorandum, the abolition of the right of first refusal will reduce the administrative workload when transferring certain properties and will speed up the conclusion of sale-purchase transactions.

The fourth draft bill (305 SE) was approved by 59 votes in favor and 23 against at about 3 a.m. The law will reduce salary increases for members of the government, judges and some senior civil servants between 2024 and 2028. Salary increases for the prime minister and ministers, the state attorney general, the secretary of state, members of the Supreme Court, district, regional and administrative court judges, the national conciliator and the commissioner for gender equality and equal treatment will be cut by 50 percent from April 1 next year to March 31, 2028 compared with the current law.

In addition, the pay cuts will affect the salaries of undersecretaries, prosecutors, judicial assistants and advocates general, as well as the chairs of labor dispute committees and the chair and members of the Public Procurement Disputes Committee, which are linked to the salaries mentioned in the law on the salaries of senior civil servants. According to the Finance Minister, the changes will help save €20.4 million over five years.

The Riigikogu passed the fifth bill, amending the State Budget Act (304 SE), at 6.20 a.m., with 59 MPs voting in favor and 29 against.

This law amends the rules on the general government balance that underpin the preparation of the state budget.

The amendment will bring Estonia's budget rules into line with the limits allowed by EU law and international agreements, abolishing the stricter requirements that have proved too restrictive in budget planning, especially during and after major economic crises, the Riigikogu press service explained.

In the run-up to the second reading, the draft amended the conditions under which the minimum structural deficit can reach 1 percent of gross domestic product under the medium-term budgetary objective.

The amendment foresees that, if the ratio of public debt to GDP at current prices is below 30 percent and the risks to the long-term sustainability of public finances are low, the structural deficit may be limited to 1 percent of GDP at current prices within the medium-term budgetary objective. In this way, the allowable public debt ratio will be reduced from 60 percent to 30 percent and the conditions will remain in place until December 31, 2029.

As the sixth and last item on the agenda, at 6.20 a.m. on Thursday, the Riigikogu began the second reading of the 2024 state budget bill (306), which the government had also linked to the confidence vote.

The bill passed its first reading in the Riigikogu on October 18 and 745 amendments were tabled by the deadline.

On November 23, the government decided to link the draft bill to a vote of confidence before the second reading.

Proceedings on the bill were left pending as Wednesday's sitting of the Riigikogu ended shortly before 10 a.m.

Discussions on the bill resumed with a new sitting that started on Thursday.

At the same time, the speaker of the Riigikogu, Lauri Hussar, at the government's proposal, has already called an extraordinary sitting of the Riigikogu for Friday, where the adoption of the state budget is also on the agenda.

Hussar told ERR's on Wednesday that next year's state budget will be adopted by parliament this week.

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Editor: Mait Ots, Kristina Kersa

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