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Estonian government changes orders to allocate money to churches

Tartu Jaani kirik (St John's Church) in Tartu.
Tartu Jaani kirik (St John's Church) in Tartu. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

The Estonian government on Thursday decided to change two government orders adopted in December and allocate money to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) and Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAÕK).

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said at Thursday's government press conference that at the end of last year, the government made a principled decision to resolve "complicated ownership relations" together with churches.

Ratas noted that Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise did not consider the government's December decision to be lawful and had proposed bringing the sub-items of the decision to allocate money from the ownership reform reserve fund to churches into accordance with the Constitution.

According to Ratas, the government found that its decision was lawful, but as the government wants to follow through with the agreement and do so lawfully, it has decided to change the basis for allocating money to churches.

Ratas added that after the previous orders were changed on Thursday, the government ordered the allocation of the money to the churches.

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) said at the press conference that the government decided to change the orders upon which the allocation was based so that it would be possible to end disputes. He added that the sums that are to be allocated to the churches remained unchanged.

According to amendments to the orders made on Thursday, besides helping compensate for damages caused by war and occupation, the allocation is connected to the cessation of churches' possible claims proceeding from the ownership and land reforms, the Ministry of Finance said.

According to Aab, the government with Thursday's decision added an additional legal basis for allocating the money.

Churches to receive over €8 million

The Estonian government on Dec. 28 decided to support churches operating in Estonia with non-repayable assistance in the amount of €8.2 million, €6.8 million of which went to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) and €1.4 million of which went to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAÕK). According to the orders, the money was to help compensate for damanges caused by the war and the occupation.

In a letter sent to Ratas at the end of February, however, Madise stated that this decision was without legal grounds, and thus the allocation of money to churches from the ownership reform reserve fund was unconstitutional.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

Source: BNS

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