No. 48



Challenges and Opportunities for Estonian State Renewal

13 December 2023


RiTo No. 48, 2023

  • Leif Kalev

    Leif Kalev

    Professor of Political Studies, Tallinn University

  • Georg Sootla

    Georg Sootla

    Professor of Public Policy, Tallinn University

  • Kersten Kattai

    Kersten Kattai

    Lecturer of Public Administration, Tallinn University

The analysis of the state reform by the Ministry of Finance in 2023 provides a good opportunity to reflect on its progress, developments, challenges, and future possibilities.

This is done primarily based on the expert opinion on state reform (Kalev et al., 2023). The discussion covers what can be learned from the ongoing reform process and what are the needs and opportunities for state renewal.

Compared to other countries, Estonia’s concept of state reform is comprehensive and, as such, relatively unique. Its goal is to fundamentally organize units and activities across the entire public sector. In addition to conventional executive and public administration reforms typically seen in various states, it also encompasses a broader scope, including state institutions like parliament, the judiciary, local governments, as well as the issues of democracy and citizenship.

This implies that parliament, public discourse, and political parties play a crucial role in a meaningful state reform. If we want the broad state reform plans in Estonia to give results, it is essential that the parliament assumes its proper role as an advocate for the country’s constitutional order, political institutions, democracy, and citizenship. However, the Riigikogu (Parliament of Estonia) has not fully fulfilled this role.

In conclusion, besides an efficient and invisible state, it is crucial to consider a state that is comprehensible to citizens and felt as their own. Alongside the technocratic aspect of governance, it’s essential to uphold democratic governance as a form of policy-making. The actions of public authorities must be understandable and legitimate, with citizens and various institutions having well-defined roles in democracy. At the same time, solutions should be in place to enable political agenda setting, policy formulation and implementation, as well as broader, goal-oriented and context-sensitive coordination and evolutionary renewal in governance. The technocratic and democratic emphasis needs to be consciously balanced.

Renewing state governance is an ongoing and gradual process, not a one-time revolutionary overhaul of everything. The state is not abstract; its renewal involves the reorganization of specific institutions and processes, as well as actors and relationships, goals, solution logics, and resources. It would be prudent to guide this process with a clear strategy and to shape the main directions of state renewal in the Riigikogu by involving political stakeholders and experts.