No. 2




Toompea Castle becomes Parliament Building

  • Heiki Sibul

    Chairman of the National Electoral Committee of the Republic of Estonia

In the life of the Estonian Parliament, an important change has taken place in 2000 – the Government of the Republic moved out of the Toompea castle into a building at Rahukohtu 3 on Toompea Hill, and thus the separation of legislative and executive power has been effected also on the physical and geographical level.

In the 13th century sources, Toompea castle is called castrum minus, meaning a small castle. The castle’s function as a seat of the parliament begins at the birth of the Estonian state in 1918. The young republic needed quickly a place where the parliament could convene, and in 1920 the Board of Elders of the Constituent Assembly decided that the building of the Riigikogu must be founded on the ruins of the prison of Toompea castle. An interesting fact is that the first building of the Riigikogu, opened on 12 September 1922, was intended as temporary. Construction of a new building was planned for the time when the country’s economic situation has improved. Since that time, extension of the Riigikogu working rooms has been frequently an issue for debate. The question came up especially sharply after the creation of the State Council, or the second chamber of the parliament, in 1938. During the Soviet time, the Supreme Council did not any more in essence fulfil the functions of the parliament (it convened only for a few days a year). Such an imaginary parliamentarism fit into the existing building together with the offices of the then Council of Ministers.

The factual reestablishment of the Estonian parliament began only after the referendum on the Constitution and elections of the VII Riigikogu. The Riigikogu Chancellery was formed on 5 October 1992. As the problem of space was persistent in the 1990s, and guaranteeing of proper working conditions to the Riigikogu was one of the functions of its Chancellery, search for solutions began. Information about the buildings of other parliaments and their use of rooms was collected for the Board of the Riigikogu. If the Estonian Riigikogu will have 10 927 m2 of floor space in Toompea castle, the Finnish Etuskunta has for example 33 940 m2 before their new building is completed, the Danish Folketing has 44 000 m2 and the Australian parliament 250 000 m2.

The problem was also discussed in the development plan of the Riigikogu Chancellery (1997). We found that due to the lack of space, fulfilling of several functions of the Riigikogu was hindered, including its primary function – representing the people. Without their own working rooms, members of the Riigikogu could not satisfactorily arrange meetings with their voters, interest groups and specialists. Fulfilling of the legislative function also requires availability of a separate room for the MPs where they can process the huge amount of information needed for their work.

Analysing the different information, weighing the pros and cons, as well as possibilities, the Board of the Riigikogu and the Chancellery came to a conclusion that for a normal functioning of the Riigikogu the castle should belong to it. With its decision of 4 November 1999 on the transfer of state assets, the Riigikogu Economic Committee gave its approval for handing over the Toompea castle under the administration of the Riigikogu Chancellery. The Government of the Republic began moving out of the castle in July 2000. The leaving of the Government from the Toompea castle improves the working conditions of the Riigikogu and facilitates a better discharge of the control functions and representative functions by the legislative and executive power.

Full article in Estonian

Heiki Sibul, born 1963, lawyer-psychologist 1991 University of Tartu, additional training at Oxford University and University of Helsinki (1990, 1991). Work: adviser of the scientific, educational and cultural committee and media committee of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia 1991-92, head of the legal department of the Riigikogu Chancellery 1992-95, Secretary General of the Riigikogu 1995­, member of the secretariat of the national electoral committee 1992-95, vice-chairman of the electoral committee 1996-2000 and chairman 2000-; member of the World Association of Secretary Generals of Parliaments (ASGP) 1995-; member of the council of the Institute of Law 1994-; member of the council of the National Library 1995.