Riigikogu opts to keep EU flag out of Toompea White Hall by one vote

The Riigikogu's White Hall, when the EU flag was still prominently displayed alongside the Estonian blue, black and white.
The Riigikogu's White Hall, when the EU flag was still prominently displayed alongside the Estonian blue, black and white. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Riigikogu voted Wednesday afternoon against displaying the EU flag in the White Hall. The EU flag, which had previously been on display together with the Estonian flag, was removed on the orders of speaker Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) in late April, shortly after the coalition of Centre, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa took office.

Henn Põlluaas, who as President of the Riigikogu, has two Vice-Presidents under him, Siim Kallas (Reform) and Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa), was accused at the time of having acted unilaterally in the matter and exceeding his powers.

The White Hall is a formal room at Toompea Castle which was the location for the first Estonian constituent assembly in 1919, and is today used for formal functions, interviews with MPs and similar.

Two votes on the issue were actually held, following two hours of debating and questions at the Riigikogu on Wednesday afternoon, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

The first, on the Reform Party's proposal to bring back the flag, had 34 votes against the motion to 32 votes in favor, with 27 abstentions.

The second vote was even closer, with 39 opposed to 38 in favor, meaning the EU flag will not be returned to the White Hall.

MPs submitted various questions on the rules of procedure and how it came to a plenary agenda. Põlluaas said that as President of the Riigikogu, he had the right to add extra points to the agenda.

Social Democratic Party (SDE) MP Kalvi Kõva said that the first vote was not legal, since he had expressed a desire to take a break before the vote was taken. Põlluaas said that since Kõva's request had only reached him while the vote was in progress, nothing had proceeded contrary to the rules.

Põlluaas rebuffed other opposition (SDE and Reform) MPs who said the vote had not been in accordance with procedure, stating that it had begun and ended with a striking of the gavel by him as speaker, and that the vote was run in accordance with the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act 2007.

The Reform Party put forward its proposal for a vote at the end of April.

"We regrettably discovered yesterday that, ahead of the 15th anniversary of Estonia's membership of the EU, the unions flags, which had been in the White Hall together with the Estonian flags, had disappeared from the White Hall," its statement at the time read.

"One of the governmental parties which took office yesterday is openly Eurosceptic, and although the prime minister has confirmed that the government's course will not change, symbols tell a different story," it continued.

"The Riigikogu is a representative building of the Republic of Estonia, where events take place in line with European values. It is not a daily routine matter to throw the flag out of the representative hall. This has a symbolic meaning and these symbols should not be treated lightly. Signs have meaning." Reform MP and former prime minister Taavi Rõivas added in a Reform Party press release.

Estonia joined the EU in 2004, and in the latter half of 2017 held the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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