No. 20




The competence of Estonian parliament and its activity in organizing foreign relations from independence to the restoration of the constitutional order

In foreign relations, the competency of Estonian parliament as a legislative body can be thought of as consisting of two elements. First, legal competence of parliament, which is set forth in the Constitution and legislation and international legal acts governing foreign relations (conventions, treaties, operating principles of international organizations), and political competence, which develops through the distribution of functions between government agencies.

Political competence is part of a state’s foreign relations and, depending on the state’s legal framework and political structure, varies from one country to another, but is based on practices and customs developed in international relations. The relationship between legal and political competence is not always clearly delineated, and thus disputes may arise from time to time over the competence of different institutions in countries with different legal systems and historical backgrounds.

This article gives an overview of legal acts organizing Estonia’s foreign relations from the creation of the Republic of Estonia in 1918 up to the legal acts now in force; it describes and analyzes the competence of parliament with regard to foreign relations proceeding from various levels.

Several fairly different state models can be distinguished over the course of Estonian statehood.

  • From independence to the 1934 coup – parliamentary democracy;
  • 1934–1940 presidential autocracy;
  • 1940–1991 occupations and annexation by foreign countries (USSR and Germany);
  • From 1992 – return to parliamentary democracy.

In addition, two interesting transitional periods can be seen when there was no clear distribution of powers due to the fact that the institutions of the independent state were in a developmental stage (1918–1920 and 1990–1992).

The first parliamentary democracy was characterized by the fact that parliament’s power was not in balance and the government was in complete dependence on the will of the parliament. The function of creating the foreign policy framework was delegated in its entirety to parliament. The ratification of foreign treaties was a function of parliament. On a day-to-day basis in practice, the government dealt with foreign policy and the parliament did not have an independent apparatus for doing so; yet as the government had been rendered, in effect, a chancellery for the parliament, the latter’s determining role is to be emphasized.

After the 1934 coup, parliament was stripped of its powers to organize foreign relations. But this power was not transferred to the government but to the head of state (1934–1938 riigivanem ‘state elder’, 1938–1940 the president). The functions of the government did not actually change significantly, the president merely took over the role of the parliament in foreign relations, including that of ratification of treaties.

During the foreign occupation, Estonia had no independent foreign policy relations, even though the local pseudo-Constitution gave the Soviet republic such a right.
The 1992 Constitution restored the functions of parliament mainly along the lines of the 1920 model, but government’s independence in exercising executive power is greater. Ratification of treaties is again a parliamentary function, but the consistency of foreign policy carried out by the government enjoys better protection due to the more stable political system. This has however led to a noteworthy decrease in the political competence of parliament, and from time to time, criticism is voiced that the parliament has given away its power.

Full article in Estonian