Estonia

   

Executive Accountability

#9
Key Findings
With its policy-oversight institutions improving their capabilities over time, Estonia scores well (rank 9) with regard to executive accountability. Its score in this area has improved by 1.5 points relative to its 2014 level.

Citizens are avid news consumers, and internet penetration levels are high. While media offer considerable in-depth information, reporting tends to focus on decisions only after they have been made. Issues are often manipulated for party-political purposes.

Parliamentarians have only modest resources, but strong formal oversight powers. The National Audit Office is independent of the parliament. The Legal Chancellor performs ombuds functions, but is not attached to the parliament, while the Data Protection Inspectorate is responsible for protecting citizen privacy and personal data, and ensuring the transparency of public information.

Political-party decision-making is centralized. Trade union and employers’ associations have expanded their analysis and policy-proposal capacities in recent years. Other civil-society groups have also shown growing sophistication, and many now propose plausible concrete policies.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#10

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual public policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of public policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of public policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
8
The regular and active consumption of news via online portals and public broadcasting services is a fundamental feature of Estonian society. Besides news media, the websites of ministries and executive state agencies inform citizens about forthcoming policy changes (e.g., a change in tax exemptions beginning in January 2018). Extensive media consumption and high Internet penetration suggest that citizens may be well informed on major policy topics. However, there is virtually no survey data on citizens’ policy knowledge. The recent discussion of the U.N. Global Compact for Migration suggests that issues are often trivialized and manipulated for party political purposes.

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
8
In line with the overall e-government approach, all public institutions maintain extensive web resources for public use. There have been attempts to harmonize the website architecture of ministries and agencies, but these efforts have only succeeded to a limited extent. As a result, the user-friendliness of web resources varies across institutions. Available information is generally extensive and kept up-to-date, but often too detailed and sophisticated for citizens’ use; retrospective data (both statistics and legal norms) are not always available.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#4

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
8
Compared to many other countries, the Estonian parliament (Riigikogu) has a rather modest support structure. All administrative staff are employed by the Chancellery of parliament and can be divided into three categories. The first category includes analysts working in the research department who provide expert advice and produce information sheets and study reports. Because of budget and personnel limitations (12 advisers in total), their studies are typically very limited. In addition to in-house experts, the parliament can also commission studies from universities or private companies on a public-procurement basis. However, between 2017 and 2018, only one such study was commissioned. The second category includes standing committee support staff. A standing committee typically has three to five advisers. The third group is made up of the advisers of party groups. In total, there are 31 people working for the six parliamentary party groups. Legislators can use a reading room in the parliamentary building and the National Library, which also serves as a parliamentary library, is located nearby. Members of parliament also benefit from allowances that they can use to order expert analyses, studies or information overviews. Though there is little evidence that the allowances are extensively used.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not request government documents.
Obtaining Documents
10
Parliamentary committees have the legal right to obtain from the government and other executive agencies the materials and data necessary to draft legal acts and evaluate draft law proposals made by the government. The commission can also invite civil servants from the ministries to participate in commission meeting in order to provide additional information or explain governmental position. In 2017, two special study committees were formed to analyze in depth on the demographic crisis and state reform. Both committees can compel information from state authorities, including financial forecasts and expenditures, related to the topic under investigation.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
10
Permanent committees have the right to request participation of ministers in committee meetings in order to obtain information. However, no information on how regularly committees use this ability is available.

In addition, MPs can individually forward written questions and interpellations to the ministers. These must be answered publicly at one of the national parliament’s plenary sessions within 20 days.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
Parliamentary committees can summon experts for committee meetings. They do this regularly, and to an increasing extent. Each committee determines which experts to call for each particular matter. In addition to ministerial representatives, researchers from universities and think-tank representatives, NGO activists involved in draft-law preparatory work are often invited. The scope of hearings varies depending on the public interest and priority of the issue under investigation.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
The 11 standing committees of the parliament by and large match the structure of the government, which is composed of 11 ministries. In addition to task areas that correspond to ministries, there is also a European Union Affairs Committee that monitors the country’s EU policy. Legal affairs are split between two permanent committees, the Constitutional Committee and the Legal Affairs Committee. Cultural and educational affairs both fall under the purview of the Cultural Affairs Committee. This may imply a work overload, as education and cultural policies have been subject to regular and complex reforms.

All members of parliament belong to one or more standing committees, which means each committee has about 10 members. The working schedule of the standing committees is established by the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act; committees’ work sessions are scheduled for three days per week, for a total of 12 hours.

In addition to the standing committees, there are currently three investigative committees. Considering that the members of these investigative committees are also full members of standing committees, the workload of several members of parliament is considerable and concerns have been voiced about unreasonable fragmentation under scarce resources.

Media

#6

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
8
By providing a continuous flow of information and background analysis, the main daily newspapers, TV and radio stations offer substantive information on government plans and policies. There are three national daily newspapers, two main weeklies, two online news portals, four TV channels and three public-radio channels. Together, these comprise the majority of the entire domestic media market (except for radio broadcasting, where music stations account for the largest market share) and provide adequate information and some analysis of government policy. Policy-related information takes different forms, including inserts in regular news programs, interviews with experts, debates between proponents of conflicting views, debates between representatives of government and opposition, regular broadcasts of parliament sessions and government press conferences.

However, there are two important challenges. First, the media tends to pay more attention to the performance of political parties as organizations than to parties’ policy positions; media coverage can also be overly simplified or sensationalist. This is a particularly salient issue in the print media where the small market size means that journalistic competencies are rather low. Secondly, information on government activities is typically not provided in advance of government decisions, but only after decisions have already been made.

Parties and Interest Associations

#26

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
5
Decision-making processes are very similar among the main parties. Formally, each party member can propose issues, but in reality, inner circles of 15 to 20 elite party members make the most important decisions. All parties have an annual congress at which delegates elect the party leader and other governing bodies. One such body is the board, which votes on political decisions, issues statements, and submits proposals to the party’s parliamentary group and to the party’s members in the government. The board also nominates ministerial candidates when the party is part of a coalition government. Another important decision-making body is the council, which manages the party when the general assembly is not in session. The council is comprised of board members and elected representatives from the various regions. The council negotiates agreements with other parties in the parliament, including decisions on whether to enter a governing coalition. Like the board, the council can also submit proposals to the party’s parliamentary group and the party’s members in the government. As a rule, it is the council’s responsibility to compose and agree upon the lists of candidates for general and European Parliament elections. Local party organizations compose electoral lists for municipal elections.

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Employers & Unions)
6
The Estonian Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is comprised of 18 branch unions. In comparison to many western European countries, its policy formulation capacity is rather weak. The head office includes the secretariat that prepares various documents, including draft law proposals, and organizes cooperation between the members of the confederation; there is no special research or analysis unit responsible for preparing concrete policy proposals. Trade unions are typically invited to contribute to policymaking processes initiated by the government.

The Estonian Employers’ Union (EEU) has been more active proposing policies and its analytic capacity has significantly increased in recent years. For example, the EEU was behind the Governance Reform Radar initiative and is closely linked to the State Reform Foundation, which has produced a detailed list of reform proposals. Similar positive change is also visible regarding the ETUC. Both organizations have a “policy impact” section on their websites. Meanwhile, support from the EU Social Fund has played an important role in capacity-building. Both the ETUC and EEU make use of various measures (e.g., training programs, hiring analysts and requesting studies) envisaged in the 2014 – 2020 programming period.

Citations:
The Employers’ Manifesto 2018. Race against the Clock. https://www.employers.ee/wp-content/uploads/Manifest-ENG-compressed.pdf (accessed 24.10.2018)

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
6
The policy-formulation capacity of non-economic interest groups varies across fields of interest and with the scope of the intended impact. Most civil-society associations are small and possess limited financial and human resources. Therefore, their in-house capacity is very low, and most analyses have been carried out as single projects on a contractual basis. The level of capacity also depends on the formal policy agenda, as it is easier to add a new proposal to the existing agenda than to set the agenda. Therefore, social-interest groups lobbying on issues such as better socialization and care for disabled people or same-sex marriage have been quite good at formulating policy proposals, since relevant draft laws were already being considered by the parliament. Environmental groups are mainly local, but their actions can have a nationwide impact on transport and industrial policy. Religious groups are only sporadically active in domestic politics. In recent years, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church has actively criticized the legalization of same-sex partnerships. For example, in 2018, it recommended changing the country’s constitution to define marriage exclusively as a union between one man and one woman.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#15

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
5
The National Audit Office (NAO) is an independent institution defined by the national constitution. According to the constitution, the NAO is not a part of any branch of power, rather it must remain independent. Although the reports of the NAO are aimed at the national parliament, the government and the public, the parliament remains the first client. The Auditor General annually reports to the parliament on the use of public funds and on government budgetary discipline and spending.

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
10
Estonia has a separate and independent legal chancellor who performs an ombuds function. The chancellor’s task is to ensure that legislation conforms with the constitution, and that the citizen’s fundamental rights and liberties are protected. Besides the constitutional review and ombudsman functions, the chancellor also fulfills the role of a national preventive mechanism for ill-treatment and an ombudsman for children. To raise an issue or forward a concern, citizens can submit a petition offline or online.
The current legal chancellor has called for politicians to address important public issues such as the comprehensiveness and readability of legal language, the equal treatment of citizens under digital government, the quality of social services, and the ill-treatment of patients in institutional care. However, while the legal chancellor can point out concerns, real intervention is only possible if the constitution has been violated.

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
10
The Data Protection Inspectorate (DPI) is responsible for protecting citizens’ privacy and personal data, and ensuring transparency of public information. The inspectorate works under the framework of the Personal Data Protection Act and the Public Information Act. Since May 2018, the inspectorate is responsible for ensuring compliance with the European Union’s GDPR. The inspectorate has about 20 staff members and is led by a director general. The director general has can impose legally binding decisions and law enforcement measures, and delegate powers to other officers of the inspectorate. The director general reports directly to the Constitutional Committee of the Riigikogu and to the chancellor of justice. As a law enforcement agency, the DPI can issue proposals or recommendations to terminate infringements, issue binding precepts, impose coercive payments or fines, or apply for criminal proceedings. In addition, the DPI acts as an educator and consultant, answering citizens’ queries and contributing to public awareness of data use.

Citations:
Annual Report of Director General 2017. http://www.aki.ee/en/inspectorate/annual-reports (accessed 25.10.2018)
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