Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said that Estonia’s security was ensured. In his words, it is based in particular on our readiness to defend our country ourselves and to make efforts for that in numerous fields every day. According to Prime Minister’s speech, it is also based on our membership in the European Union and NATO, the unity of member states, and solidarity. “Our security is also based on close relations with our friends in the Baltic Sea region and our relationship with the United States of America who is Estonia’s most important ally in security policy. The COVID-19 pandemic was a stark reminder of how important solidarity was at critical moments, and how much we depended on mutual support, help and communication. Hopefully this reminder helps uphold the values and international organisations that have sustained the growth of peace and prosperity in Europe over the last 75 years,” Ratas said.
Prime Minister said that there was no reason to doubt the credibility of NATO’s deterrence and collective defence. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was not a military crisis, in Prime Minister’s words, NATO had precisely shown its indispensability in civil crises. No NATO operation was suspended, there was solidarity with the allies who needed help the most, and Estonia also supported its allies.
In his overview, Ratas also pointed out that Estonia needed to be alert to hybrid threats. “The activities of hostile special services against NATO, the European Union and individual member states is a constant threat. Estonia is no exception here. The terrorist threat is high in various parts of the world. At the same time, the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Estonia is low but not non-existent,” he said.
The Prime Minister also said that, with a long determined effort, Estonia had set up military national defence that was based on real capabilities and well-trained women and men. In his words, the numerous exercises were the clearest indication of that: for example, nearly 18,000 people from Estonia and allied and partner counties had participated in the large-scale military exercise “Siil” (“Hedgehog”) in 2018. 9000 people participated in the military exercise “Kevadtorm” (“Spring Storm”) last year. Although, due to the virus outbreak, this year’s large-scale exercise was carried out on a smaller scale than initially planned, the ambitious objectives of the exercise were met, and conscripts passed their maturity examination. “The Defence Forces sent necessary units with nearly 3000 combatants to the reserve, to maintain readiness. Long-term planning and targeted financing at the level of at least 2% of GDP has been the basis for the military national defence based on real capabilities. This has allowed for investment in equipment, ammunition and infrastructure, as well as the development of prior warning, in order to increase readiness. Stable and targeted funding must continue in order to maintain credibility and good conditions for allies.”
In Ratas’s words, the Government is planning to discuss a new internal security development plan for 2020–2030 in the near future. It provides for the continuation of targeted prevention activities, and for the aim of involving more communities and volunteers to ensure the security of their home neighbourhoods. “Estonia’s security is strengthened by a coherent civil society where active citizenship plays an extremely important role in the promotion of security and the sense of security. Estonia’s security is the firmest in a tolerant, caring and inclusive society. In the resolution of any emergency situation or crisis, the unity of society and a common information field are of key importance,” the Prime Minister said.
In conclusion, Prime Minister Ratas confirmed that the principles and courses of action to ensure Estonia’s security were still up to date.
During the debate, Kalle Laanet (Reform Party), Jaak Juske (Social Democratic Party), Andres Metsoja (Isamaa), Oudekki Loone (Centre Party) and Leo Kunnas (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) took the floor.
In his remarks, Laanet made a proposal to start a new analysis in order to prepare a Bill supporting the resolution of crisis cases, whether they be civil or military crises. Juske stressed that it was crucial to keep Estonia’s defence spending at the 2% level, and to add to it the expenses related to the presence of the allies and the investments of primary importance in terms of the improvement of Estonia’s defence capability. During the debate, Metsoja dwelt upon the Estonian defence industry sector. In his words, it should be directed at the international market and be competitive, but it needs the initiative of the Government and the support of the Riigikogu for that. Loone suggested the idea that Estonia might think of creating a national investment bank which would be of help to the industrial and economic branches that are necessary for everyone. Kunnas focused on three key capability gaps that needed to be filled and included in the national defence development plan. They would be the following: mine laying and coastal defence, medium range air defence and, third, the internal defence reserve.
The Riigikogu passed four Acts
The Act on Amendments to the Courts Act and the Prosecutor’s Office Act (134 SE), initiated by the Government, makes changes to Estonian law that are necessary for ensuring Estonia’s participation in the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). The amendments mainly concern the legal status of the Estonian prosecutors working for the EPPO and the extent to which the Prosecutor’s Office Act is applied while they work for the EPPO.
89 members of the Riigikogu were in favour of passing the Act.
Under the Act on Amendments to the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act (176 SE), initiated by the Constitutional Committee, a sitting may be held by remote attendance if the members of the Riigikogu are ensured the possibility to follow the sitting online from a remote location, to carry out the proceedings of the sitting (submitting Bills, presenting reports, asking oral questions, making comments, protests, voting, and other activities), and the possibility to report any impediments to performing such activities.
A sitting by remote attendance is an ordinary sitting, the difference being that the members of the Riigikogu do not have to be physically present in the room where the sitting takes place, and they can participate with the help of electronic means. Holding of a sitting by remote attendance is decided by the Board of the Riigikogu if there are strong reasons for it. The President of the Riigikogu notifies the members of the Riigikogu of holding such a sitting through the media at least three days before the date on which the sitting is to be held. The time for giving notice may be shorter if there are strong reasons for it.
89 members of the Riigikogu were in favour of passing the Act.
The Act on Amendments to the Atmospheric Air Protection Act and the Alcohol, Tobacco, Fuel and Electricity Excise Duty Act (159 SE), initiated by the Government, provides that, from the entry into force of the Act, suppliers will have to fulfil the monthly obligation to reduce fuel life cycle greenhouse gas emissions pursuant to year-based calculation.
The Act amends the definition of supplier in order to also include among reporting entities enterprises who make available electricity, gaseous fuels and hydrogen used in transport. Also, for the purposes of better functioning of the fuel monitoring database, the tasks of the chief processor of the Ministry of the Environment are given to the Environment Agency who is the entity processing and collecting data, and the list of the data entered into the database is specified.
The Alcohol, Tobacco, Fuel and Electricity Excise Duty Act is amended to ensure legal clarity in the interpretation of the definition of shale-derived fuel oil. In addition, the Act is amended by adding a new code of the combined nomenclature which will begin to be used in the definition of the main Estonian oil products in the future. The abovementioned amendment is due to the implementation of a new laboratory method for determination of aromatic compounds.
88 members of the Riigikogu voted for the passing of the Act and one voted against.
According to the Act on the Approval of the Agreement Amending Section 14 of the Statutes, Annexed To the Agreement of 11 February 2004 between Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden Concerning the Nordic Investment Bank (174 SE), initiated by the Government, the amendment to the statutes extends the powers of the Board of Governors of the bank. The statutes are amended by providing that the Board of Governors which consists of the finance ministers of the member countries of the bank is vested with the power of deciding on principles for capital and liquidity management.
In addition, other amendments as to what decisions are within the powers of the Board of Governors are made to the statues, with the aims of using the bank’s funds more efficiently and updating the financial management framework of the bank.
As a result of the amendments, the bank has an opportunity to begin to participate in equity investments, in addition to loans and guarantees. This means that the bank can invest directly in an enterprise and acquire a participation in it. The Baltic countries’ capital market is young, and thus the participation of the bank in Baltic enterprises might stimulate and diversify the Baltic capital market. In the Nordic countries, the need for equity investments is seen particularly in the field of the financing of environmentally-friendly projects and the financing of businesses that are in a growth phase. At present there is a shortage of investors specialised in environmentally-friendly or “green” investments.
77 members of the Riigikogu were in favour of passing the Act.
Two Bills passed the second reading
The Bill on Amendments to the Obligation to Leave and Prohibition on Entry Act and the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens (prevention of mass immigration) (110 SE), initiated by the Government, will transpose Article 18 of the “Returns Directive”. It allows member states to change the requirements for detaining aliens in situations where an exceptionally large number of illegal immigrants arrives in a country.
In emergencies caused by mass immigration, the directive allows for longer deadlines to be provided for in national legislation for checking the lawfulness of the detention of aliens staying in the country without legal basis. It also provides that aliens staying in the country without legal basis may be detained outside detention centres, and that the requirement to ensure privacy may be abandoned when accommodating families. Restriction of the amount of services provided to illegal immigrants will also be justified in an emergency.
In the opinion of the Police and Border Guard Board, a situation where Estonia must receive at least 3000 aliens in a short period of time is an emergency caused by mass immigration.
The Bill will enable to prevent immigration and transition of an exceptionally large number of aliens. It will also enable to establish specifications in legislation under which, in emergencies caused by mass immigration, it will be possible to deviate from the guarantees and services provided for for applicants for international protection and aliens staying in the country without a basis for stay.
The Bill on Amendments to the Aliens Act (135 SE), initiated by the Government, will establish a digital nomad visa that would enable people who work location-independently to work in Estonia on the basis of a visa. A digital nomad visa may be a short-stay visa or a long-stay visa. The general conditions for granting a visa will apply upon application for it. Although it is in essence a form of tourism, it is not tourism in the classical sense but working for a company in a foreign country.
The amendments are justified by noting that Estonia is one of the first countries in the world to enable digital nomads to apply for a visa for the purpose of teleworking. People who work online for example in the IT field, finance or marketing, at the same time travelling around in different countries, are called digital nomads. Digital nomads bring significant added value to a country because they consume goods and services and thereby have a positive impact on local enterprise.
A digital nomad can come to Estonia to telework only through a mediator who is then responsible for his or her stay here. At the same time, the general conditions for granting a visa apply to digital nomads. Among other things, they need to have sufficient financial resources to stay in Estonia.
The Bill will also provide for the obligations of a sponsor for employers who register aliens’ short-term employment. It will also organise the application for a long-stay visa.
The Riigikogu suspended the second reading of a Bill
The Bill on Amendments to the Trade Unions Act, the Working Conditions of Employees Posted to Estonia Act and Other Acts (158 SE), initiated by the Government, will establish measures to better protect the rights of posted workers.
It will be specified that posted temporary agency workers who are posted by user undertakings in the framework of the provision of services are also posted workers. The Bill will also amend the terms and conditions of employment that must be ensured to posted workers during their stay in Estonia. According to the Bill, instead of the minimum remuneration, remuneration will have to be ensured to workers, and expenditure incurred on account of the posting will have to be reimbursed additionally. A regulation for long-term posting will be established, under which the whole Estonian labour law, instead of the minimum terms and conditions of employment listed in the Act, will have to be applied to a posted worker after he or she has worked in Estonia for 12 or 18 months.
On the motion of the Social Affairs Committee as the lead committee, the second reading of the Bill was suspended and the deadline for submission of motions to amend is 4 p.m. on 29 May.
Two Bills passed the first reading
The Bill on Amendments to the Family Benefits Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (185 SE), initiated by the Government, will specify the payment of child benefit for children under 16. Under the current Family Benefits Act, a child who is enrolled in a basic school or upper secondary school, or a child without secondary education enrolled in formal vocational education has the right to receive child allowance until he or she attains 19 years of age. The child benefit is paid retroactively for summer months in the case when the young person continues his or her studies in the same year after graduation from a basic school. At the same time, in the case of young people who complete a year at a secondary school or formal vocational education and wish to study at another school or another specialty, there is currently no direct legal basis for paying family allowances for summer months. There were rules for that in an earlier version of the Act, but they have been omitted by mistake in the course of the amendment of the Act, although the legislature has not wished to essentially change the relevant practice. The purpose of the amendments proposed by the Bill is to restore the earlier procedure and to ensure payment of child allowance for such children in summer months, too.
Starting from 1 July 2020, the payment of parental benefit can be suspended and continued based on calendar months until the child attains three years of age, according to a parent’s choosing. The Bill specifies that a parental benefit can be suspended and continued only after the child attains 70 days of age. The amendments will ensure legal clarity so that mothers who are not entitled to maternity benefit could use their individual right to a benefit during the first 70 days of life of the child, and this right would not be transferable to the father later with a suspension of the parental benefit. In the case of the current regulation, mothers not entitled to maternity benefit have also had the exclusive right to receive a parental benefit to the extent of the first 70 days, which is connected with the need to ensure the health protection of the woman and the child in the first months of life of the child.
The Bill will also amend the Employment Contracts Act by specifying the persons who will be entitled to the father’s additional parental benefit similarly to the persons specified in the Family Benefits Act due to enter into force from 1 July 2020. Under the Family Benefits Act, the mother’s spouse, an adoptive parent, guardian or foster parent is entitled to receive the father’s additional parental benefit. The Employment Contracts Act does not specify the persons entitled to paternity leave. However, if staying on paternity leave is a precondition for applying for the father’s additional parental benefit in the case of persons in an employment or service relationship, it is important that the range of the persons entitled to paternity leave be also set out in the Employment Contracts Act.
The Bill on Amendments to the Waste Act and the Packaging Act (190 SE), initiated by the Government, will amend the requirements and measures relating to separate collection of waste, extended producer responsibility, waste prevention, the waste management plans of local authorities and the state, and the strengthening of waste recycling, with a view to achieving better results in preparing for re-use and recycling of waste. The wording of the liability provisions and punishment rates will also be specified. The Bill will transpose and ensure compliance with obligations arising from the relevant EU directives.
The Riigikogu rejected a Bill at the first reading
The Bill on Amendments to § 13 of the Citizenship Act (147 SE), initiated by the Social Democratic Party Faction, was intended to remove the obstacles established for a segment of people who apply for Estonian citizenship as minors. According to the explanatory memorandum, they are unjustified bureaucratic obstacles that turn the acquisition of citizenship into a process with an up to 18-year waiting period and cause negative feelings towards the country in applicants.
The Constitutional Committee as the lead committee moved to reject the Bill at the first reading; 53 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the motion and 9 voted against.
The sitting ended at 6.17 p.m.
Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)
Photos of the sitting. (Author: Erik Peinar, Riigikogu)
The video recording of the sitting can be viewed later on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)