No. 6




The Riigikogu and the constitution

17 December 2002


RiTo No. 6, 2002

The constitution has worked well since 1992. It has effectively fulfilled the role of foundation of a democratic society.

The democratic mechanisms set forth by the constitution are functional. In ten years, Estonia has not had a constitutional crisis. The people are not estranged from the constitution and consider it their document. As evidence of this, consider the fact that the constitution is not a topic of daily conversation. There is no reason why we should think of it; it’s like a fine Swiss watch that keeps on ticking and does not require maintenance.

Estonian political parties can take pride in the fact that unlike the first era of independence, no current party states extensive amendment of the constitution as its main priority. Only a few ideas, such as direct election of the president or amendment by popular initiative, resonate through party platforms and have as a result reached the floor of the parliament. The bill in favor of popular presidential elections was also cosponsored by outgoing president Lennart Meri on his last day in office. I feel it is my duty to point out that presidential referenda are justified in countries where the president carries out an executive function. In a parliamentary country, where the head of state fulfills ceremonial duties, a popular election can introduce tension and ambiguity in defining the roles of the legislature, president and government.

Estonia’s government and people aspire to the EU and upon entrance we will begin to enjoy the rights of membership and fulfill the duties of same. The decision to accede must be formulated in a legal document. To this end, 74 members of parliament have introduced a draft amendment to the constitution that has passed the first reading in the Riigikogu. When it is passed, EU law will become one of the bases for interpreting and implementing the constitution to an extent determined by the membership agreement.

But the decision to amend the constitution must not be made in haste. The draft amendment will be discussed in three readings with at least three months between the first and second readings. A three-fifths majority in the Riigikogu, or 61 votes, is necessary to send the bill to referendum. The referendum can take place three months after passage in the Riigikogu, at the earliest. Personally, the procedure we use to amend the constitution appeals to me – we add a new act and leave the original unchanged. So we can say even after amendment, the spirit and letter of the constitution are retained.

Full article in Estonian