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Prime Minister: Stance on UN compact revealed on Thursday

The Riigikogu in session.
The Riigikogu in session. Source: Erik Peinar/Chancellery of the Riigikogu

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas announced the government will make a decision on the UN's Global Compact on Migration at its sitting on Thursday.

Opinions had been divided over the last few days, not only on whether Estonia should partake in the compact, dealing with the plight of over 230 million people worldwide which the UN says are migrants, but also whether it was binding or not. The compact requires no signature, but national leaders are to effectively endorse it by attending a UN meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, on 10-11 December. Several countries including Donald Trump's US are staying away.

President Kersti Kaljulaid, who said she would not be on the plane to Marrakesh without government unity on the issue, as well as Urmas Paet MEP (Reform), who accused opponents of fear mongering, and Riigikogu foreign affairs committee chair Marko Mihkelson (Reform) who unequivocally said the government had kept parliament out of the picture on the question, have all had their ten cents' worth.

The prime minister, who was in Germany when the furore began, had not spoken publicly on it until Wednesday.

Opposition, questions, solutions

The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) obtained a 1,000+ signature petition against the compact in under half a day earlier in the week, and its members plan to picket Toompea Castle, the seat of the Riigikogu, on Thursday. Isamaa/Pro Patria has also voiced its opposition.

"We have agreed that tomorrow [Thursday] after lunch, when the Cabinet sitting begins, this topic will be under discussion,'' said Mr Ratas at prime minister's question time in the Riigikogu on Wednesday.

''We will also definitely make a decision regarding it tomorrow," he said, in response to a question from Jürgen Ligi (Reform).

Foreign minister Sven Mikser (SDE) touted one possible solution, namely adding a declaration by the government reaffirming the principle of Estonian sovereignty, as put forward by professor of international law Lauri Malksoo, from the University of Tartu.

Justice minister questions legality

Meanwhile justice minister Urmas Reinsalu (Pro Patria) said that the law could in practice be binding, in contradiction to Sven Mikser's earlier assertion to the contrary, citing Rene Värk, a researcher in international law, in support, and using the Austrian experience as a case study.

"According to the Austrian federal government, this agreement specifically addresses 17 issues [out of a total of 23 separate commitments from countries party to the agreement's objectives-ed.]. Which regulate migration far beyond the existing framework of national law in that country,'' Mr Reinsalu said, at Wednesday's Riigikogu session.

Austria is one of several European countries which will also not give its assent to the compact.

Presidential powers

The justice minister also noted that while the agreement may be non-binding in principle, there are mechanisms in place for monitoring and verifying compliance with its obligations, which presumably give the lie to claims about its voluntary nature, in his view.

Mr Reinsalu had already questioned the reach of the Estonian President's powers in this issue, concerns echoed by Marko Mihkelson.

The prime minister, however, also noted that the compact pays attention to the rights and protection of vulnerable groups such as women and children.

The government holds a regular press conference on Thursday lunchtimes at its seat, the Stenbock House. Government ministers do not sit in the Riigikogu, but are responsible for answering questions and other communications with the latter nonetheless.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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