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President's Office dismisses MPs' rebukes over Independence Day invite cuts

Guests dancing at the presidential Independence Day reception.
Guests dancing at the presidential Independence Day reception. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Office of the President on Monday dismissed the criticism of MPs who had objected to not being invited to Estonia's Independence Day reception next month, citing instead the aim to fit all invited guests into the main hall at the venue as the reason why not all 101 MPs received an invite this year.

Karis announced Friday that he would be inviting only the Board of the Riigikogu, committee chairs and deputy chairs as well as parliamentary group chairs to this year's Independence Day reception, ultimately leaving out most of the Riigikogu's 101 MPs.

The Estonian head of state's decision sparked resentment among some of the MPs that weren't invited, prompting references to the country's parliamentary system of government and the dignity of the Riigikogu – as well as attempts to tie Karis' decision to the president's constitutional roles.

"It is quite the stretch to claim that one invitation to a reception could have any effect whatsoever on Estonia's constitutional order," Communications Adviser to the President Indrek Treufeldt said in a written response to ERR.

"The head of state's wish is to invite to the Independence Day reception as many people of Estonia from various fields as possible who have stood out with their activities and promoted life in Estonia," Treufeldt noted. "He also wants for all guests from Estonia to be able to fit in the Theater Hall at Estonia Theater, so that none of them should have to watch from a screen in the next room."

The exception, he noted, will be accredited ambassadors to Estonia, for whom interpreting will be provided in an adjacent room.

According to the adviser, the president invited guests to this year's reception accordingly as well.

"There are fewer guests than last year," he acknowledged, not specifying how many guests were invited this year or in previous years.

The February 24 reception is the Estonian head of state's Independence Day reception, and the organization thereof and any possible changes thereto are up to the president to decide, Treufeldt stressed.

"[Karis] has also publicly stated that he wants to make changes to the organization of the reception each year," he added.

The adviser confirmed that the budget for this year's event is nonetheless in the same ballpark as last year's, which cost around €250,000.

"But unfortunately, prices have also gone up," he pointed out.

Nonetheless, he declined to respond directly when asked why the president chose to invite only the Board of the Riigikogu, [Riigikogu] committee chairs and deputy chairs, and party whips to the Independence Day reception this year.

Asked whether this means that Karis, who has angered MPs with his choice, doesn't plan on running for a second term as president, Treufeldt replied, "The head of state's independence, holding of office or reelection in no way has to rely on whether he sends someone reception invites or not."

Constitutional law professor: No issue with leaving MPs out

Paloma Krõõt Tupay, associate professor of constitutional law at the University of Tartu (TÜ), doesn't consider Karis' decision unconstitutional or against the law.

"It's worth noting that the Independence Day reception is a lovely tradition here in Estonia, but in essence doesn't involve any political decisions or legal effects," Tupay told ERR on Monday.

Paloma Krõõt Tupay. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"It should be kept in mind that the event as such doesn't in itself have political significance," she said. "Nor does it mean, of course, that the Riigikogu's decision-making powers have been reduced somehow in a formal capacity, or that it would have an impact on Riigikogu decisions in the future."

As head of state, the professor noted, the president has the duty of impartiality, which means that their decisions may not be politically biased. The MPs that were invited received invitations as representatives of the Riigikogu as a body, regardless of the political views they represent, and thus it cannot be argued that the president's decision was politically motivated.

"What's also been talked about is that constitutional institutions have been invited," she continued. "In this regard, that is correct – the Riigikogu is of course a constitutional institution; it is an institution of ours that is provided for in the Constitution. Even so, each individual MP does not in themselves comprise a constitutional institution."

"[Thus] I don't explicitly see political bias here," Tupay said. "I also don't see it as possible here to establish a specific conflict with the Constitution. Even if the president were to decide to cancel the entire Independence Day reception, there still wouldn't be any grounds for taking that to the Supreme Court."

The professor nonetheless acknowledged that she would not start expressing an opinion regarding the symbolic meaning of Karis' decision, as the latter aspect isn't in her wheelhouse.

"Now, if you ask what effect it will have on the Riigikogu as an institution, then that is no doubt a question to ask the head of state himself," she added.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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