The Role of the Riigikogu in Shaping the State Budget
The drafting and passage of the most important politico-economic document of the year, the state budget, are regulated in Estonia chiefly by three laws: the Constitution, the State Budget Act and the parliamentary rules of procedure.
In the constitution, the part pertaining to the constitution has not always worked that well. Fortunately it has not produced notable problems in drafting and approving the budget. The shortcomings in the constitution stemming likely from Soviet standards have been corrected in the budget law.
In Estonia, the government compiles the budget and sends it to parliament for approval. The parliament’s role in shaping the final text is an active one – the budget is discussed, amendments are proposed and the final budget is passed along with any amendments that received majority support. In analyzing the budget procedures, it emerges that the parliament’s role was active up until 1998. Following that year its role diminished markedly. There were 210 amendments to the 1996 budget, 131 in the 1997 and 241 in 1998 but only 33 in 2002 and 22 in 2003. Moreover, a majority of the amendments now originate with the government (in other words, as it is being discussed in parliament, it is also being finalized), not at the initiative of MPs. The share of amendments made in parliament as a part of the entire budget has also decreased.
All this shows that the period in which the budget was discussed and actively shaped by parliament (and largely this was out of necessity – government structures were still weak) at the same time is ending. The Riigikogu is less in the role of doing the maths and more in the business of discussing and approving the package. This change in role requires that the budget be presented to the Riigikogu in a more itemized and finished form. We can see a trend toward the opposite case in recent years.