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President Alar Karis signs amendments to 2023 state budget into effect

President Alar Karis.
President Alar Karis. Source: Raigo Pajula / Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia

President Alar Karis has given his assent to an act amending this year's 2023 State Budget Act.

The act, which tweaks this year's state budget and is unrelated in that respect to the still under-process 2024 state budget bill, amends the distribution of expenses via activities, the so-called activity-based budge approach, and redistributes funds between expenses and investments – not changes to the actual size of funds in the state budget may be made, once it has passed.

While, with a little over three weeks to go until the end of 2023, the act itself is a formality, it is more significant in that it had been caught up in a long-running filibuster at the Riigikogu, along with the 2024 state budget bill itself.

That it has passed and that the head of state has been able to promulgate the law suggests a light at the end of the tunnel with the deadlock, starting in September, which has seen the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) filibustering and the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE tie many important bills to a vote of confidence in the government itself.

The latter act means MPs are not voting on the content of a bill, nor do they get the opportunity to substantively debate that content, as they are voting on the motion of confidence in the government itself.

Since the coalition has a 60-seat majority at the 101-seat chamber, the tactic is not a huge gamble for the government (if the motion failed, the government would have to step down), though its use has attracted criticism from President Karis.

In mid-November, the deadlock had led to another midnight oil-burning session at parliament with regard to the 2023 budget amendments, as EKRE presented 88 amendments to a fairly run-of-the-mill law, and requested a 10 minute break between the presentation of each of these amendments.

The 2024 state budget bill itself is set to pass its second reading on Friday, MPs say.

The Riigikogu's last scheduled working day before the Christmas break is Thursday, December 21. The state budget bill must pass a third reading before it can enter into law, but no substantive amendments can be made between second and third readings in any case.

Had the state budget bill not passed before Christmas, the process would have continued in the new year, while the Estonian Constitution requires that the state budget be passed by March of the year to which it pertains – failure to do so would trigger off-schedule, emergency Riigikogu elections, which EKRE had hinted that it was aiming for. This eventuality now seems unlikely.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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