Estonia

   

Executive Accountability

#20
Key Findings
With mixed strengths and weaknesses, Estonia falls into the middle of the pack internationally (rank 20) with regard to executive accountability. Its score in this area is unchanged 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.

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.

Political-party decision-making is centralized. Trade union and employers’ associations are in the midst of expanding analysis and policy-proposal capacities. Other civil-society groups have also shown growing sophistication, and many now propose plausible concrete policies.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#19

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

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


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


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

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy 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.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#19

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 countries, the Estonian national parliament (Riigikogu) has a rather modest support structure. All administrative staff are employed by the Chancellery of the national 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), studies are typically very small. In addition to in-house experts, the national parliament can also commission studies from universities or private companies on a public-procurement basis. In 2016 and 2017, two studies of this kind were performed, fewer than in previous periods. The second category of support resources is the administrative staff employed by the permanent committees. Each committee typically has three to five advisers. The third group is made up of the individual parliamentary groups’ political advisers. 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 possess monthly allowances that they can use to order expert analyses, studies or informative overviews.

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 ask for 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
There are 11 standing committees in the parliament that by and large match the structure of government, which is also composed of 11 ministries. In addition to task areas that correspond to ministry portfolios, 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 are both addressed by the Cultural Affairs Committee. This may imply a work overload, as both education and social policy have been subject to regular and complex reforms.

All parliamentarians belong to one or more standing committee, 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 three days per week, for a total of 12 hours. Considering the recent establishment of two new study committees, the workload of several MPs has increased and some have voiced concerns about unreasonable fragmentation under scarce resources.

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
5
The Estonian parliament does not possess its own audit office. Instead it relies on the National Audit Office (NAO), which 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 the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
2
The Estonian parliament does not have an ombuds office. There is, however, a separate and independent Legal Chancellor who performs the ombuds function. To raise an issue or forward a concern, citizens must contact their member of parliament. If a citizen wants to obtain information regarding the functioning and work of the parliament, he or she can submit information request (offline or online).

Media

#6

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. 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 government decisions. 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, two shortcomings are evident here. First, the media tends to pay more attention to the performance of political parties as organizations than to the parties’ positions on various policy issues. Secondly, information on government activities is typically provided not in advance of decisions, but only after decisions have already been made.

Parties and Interest Associations

#30

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 agendas of issues 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 agendas of issues 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 agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
5
Decision-making processes are similar across the major parties. Formally, each party member can propose issues, but in reality inner circles of 15 to 20 elite party members make 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 into a government 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 political-party organizations compose electoral lists for municipal elections.

To what extent are 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 (Business)
5
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 all kind of documents, including the 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 (and even aggressive) in making policy proposals, especially in the realms of tax and labor market policy. Yet its institutional and analytic capacity is not significantly higher than that of trade unions.
Both the ETUC and EEU are expected to take various measures (such as allocating funds, implementing training programs, and hiring analysts) in the 2014 – 2020 programming period to increase their analytical and policymaking capacities.

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 not active in domestic politics or policymaking efforts.
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