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Estonian government supports legalizing damages compensation to churches

St. Nicholas' Church in Tallinn.
St. Nicholas' Church in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Estonian government at its Thursday meeting approved a bill of amendments to legislation regulating the use of money received from privatization, which will allow for the compensation of damages incurred by Estonia's churches during occupation.

The bill will enable the state to allocate support from the ownership reform reserve fund to compensate for the damages done to churches with the violation of the right of ownership during war and occupation, the government's press office said.

Another amendment will create the opportunity to use reserve fund money to cover the expenses of the maintenance of buildings left unused during the ownership reform or as a result thereof.

The Ministry of Finance said that an increasing problem is the relinquishment of abandoned apartments to the state, foremost in Ida-Viru County, and covering related expenses. While in previous years, a maximum of a couple of apartments per year have been handed over to the state, altogether 15 apartments were relinquished to the state in 2016 and 78 apartments were handed over last year.

The action plan as a whole for reorganizing housing in regions with a decreasing population foresees expenses totaling €1.2 million in 2018 and €2.2 million in 2019.

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).

More specifically, the government decided to allocate assets from the ownership reform reserve fund as non-repayable assistance to help compensate for damages caused with violations of the right of ownership during the war and the occupation.

According to Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, the Estonian government's December decision to allocate this money to churches lacked legal grounds, and thus the allocation of money to churches sourced from the ownership reform reserve fund was unconstitutional.

Madise submitted a proposal to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) in which she requested that the subclauses of the goverment's regulation according to which money was allocated from the reserve fund be brought into conformity with the Constitution. She also found that allocating money from the ownership reform reserve fund to cover for damages to ownership caused by war and occupation is unconstitutional as well.

In a letter sent to Madise, Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) then said that the in the interest of ensuring legal clarity, the government had decided to amend the bill concerning the use of money received from privatization. "Before the law is adopted in the Riigikogu, no support for the churches will be paid out," the letter stated.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

Source: BNS

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