Estonia

   

Quality of Democracy

#5
Key Findings
With transparency and access improving thanks to sophisticated online tools, Estonia receives a high overall ranking (rank 5) in the area of democracy quality. Its score in this area has improved by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

Internet voting has become common. Campaign information is increasingly available in Russian, as a means of engaging ethnic minorities in electoral processes. While campaign-finance transparency rules and oversight powers have been periodically strengthened, loopholes remain, and there appears to be little political will to increase accountability further.

Civil rights are widely respected. Same-sex partners have only limited registration rights. Gender equality has been a long-standing challenge, but new rules are aimed at monitoring and combatting the gender pay gap. Courts are independent, with a transparent judicial-appointment process. Lawsuit-resolution times are swift by EU-wide standards.

Corporate-ownership disclosure rules have been strengthened, improving transparency. However, lobbying remains unregulated. While electronic media are very important, media ownership concentration is significant. Online access to government information is very extensive.

Electoral Processes

#7

How fair are procedures for registering candidates and parties?

10
 9

Legal regulations provide for a fair registration procedure for all elections; candidates and parties are not discriminated against.
 8
 7
 6


A few restrictions on election procedures discriminate against a small number of candidates and parties.
 5
 4
 3


Some unreasonable restrictions on election procedures exist that discriminate against many candidates and parties.
 2
 1

Discriminating registration procedures for elections are widespread and prevent a large number of potential candidates or parties from participating.
Candidacy Procedures
10
The principles of fair and free elections are laid out in the Estonian constitution. Estonia has a proportional representation electoral system, which means that most candidates are registered within party lists. The composition of party lists is a matter of internal procedures that are set by the statute of the political party. Only officially registered political parties can nominate candidate lists in parliamentary elections. In order to be registered, a political party must have at least 500 permanent members, the lists of whom are made public online. For each candidate, a deposit equal to the monthly minimum wage must be paid. In addition to political parties, two or more citizens can form an election coalition to participate in municipal elections. Every person who has the right to stand as a candidate may nominate him or herself as an independent candidate. Independent candidates can participate in parliamentary, local and European Parliament elections.

The largely ceremonial Estonian president is elected by the parliament or a special Electoral College composed of members of parliament and representatives of local councils. Candidates must be nominated by at least one-fifth of the serving members of parliament.

Citations:
Estonian National Electoral Committee https://www.valimised.ee/en

To what extent do candidates and parties have fair access to the media and other means of communication?

10
 9

All candidates and parties have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. All major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of the range of different political positions.
 8
 7
 6


Candidates and parties have largely equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. The major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of different political positions.
 5
 4
 3


Candidates and parties often do not have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. While the major media outlets represent a partisan political bias, the media system as a whole provides fair coverage of different political positions.
 2
 1

Candidates and parties lack equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communications. The major media outlets are biased in favor of certain political groups or views and discriminate against others.
Media Access
9
Candidates and political parties have fair and equal access to the public broadcasting and TV networks. Access to advertising on private networks and online, however, depends on the financial resources of the political parties. Therefore, smaller political parties and independent candidates have significantly limited access to mass media. There is no upper limit on electoral campaign expenses, which provides significant advantage to candidates and parties with more abundant financial resources. However, these disparities do not follow a coalition-opposition divide, nor is there discrimination on the basis of racial, ethnic, religious or gender status.

Because of the high internet penetration rate, various web and social media tools are becoming widely used in electoral campaigns, including election portals run by public and private media outlets. While this has so far helped candidates to reach a wider public cheaply, the parties have recently increased their online advertising expenditures.

To what extent do all citizens have the opportunity to exercise their right of participation in national elections?

10
 9

All adult citizens can participate in national elections. All eligible voters are registered if they wish to be. There are no discriminations observable in the exercise of the right to vote. There are no disincentives to voting.
 8
 7
 6


The procedures for the registration of voters and voting are for the most part effective, impartial and nondiscriminatory. Citizens can appeal to courts if they feel being discriminated. Disincentives to voting generally do not constitute genuine obstacles.
 5
 4
 3


While the procedures for the registration of voters and voting are de jure non-discriminatory, isolated cases of discrimination occur in practice. For some citizens, disincentives to voting constitute significant obstacles.
 2
 1

The procedures for the registration of voters or voting have systemic discriminatory effects. De facto, a substantial number of adult citizens are excluded from national elections.
Voting and Registration Rights
10
The Estonian constitution and relevant laws guarantee universal suffrage. The voting age is 18 for national and European elections, and 16 for municipal elections. About 6% of the population (or 16% of the voting-age population) are non-citizens who cannot vote in parliamentary elections, but have the right to vote in local elections. EU citizens residing in Estonia can vote in municipal and European Parliament elections. Estonian citizens residing abroad (about 10% of the electorate) can vote in all Estonian elections either at an Estonian embassy or increasingly online.

The state authorities maintain the voter register based on the population-register data. Eligible voters need to take no action to be included in the voter register. Each registered voter is informed by post or e-mail about all voting options, including the voting day, the location and opening hours of his/her polling station.

To facilitate participation in elections, Estonia uses advanced-voting, home-voting and internet-voting systems. Advanced voting is open for 10 days prior to election day. In the 2017 municipal elections, 31.6% of participating voters voted online.

Ethnic minorities’ modest degree of engagement in election processes has been a longstanding issue of concern. To tackle the problem, state authorities are providing more voting information in Russian. The National Electoral Committee (NEC) website now offers election information in three languages (Estonian, Russian and English). Additionally, tools for disabled persons have been added to the website.

Citations:
https://www.valimised.ee/en

To what extent is private and public party financing and electoral campaign financing transparent, effectively monitored and in case of infringement of rules subject to proportionate and dissuasive sanction?

10
 9

The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring to that respect. Effective measures to prevent evasion are effectively in place and infringements subject to effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions.
 8
 7
 6


The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring. Although infringements are subject to proportionate sanctions, some, although few, loopholes and options for circumvention still exist.
 5
 4
 3


The state provides that donations to political parties shall be published. Party financing is subject to some degree of independent monitoring but monitoring either proves regularly ineffective or proportionate sanctions in case of infringement do not follow.
 2
 1

The rules for party and campaign financing do not effectively enforce the obligation to make the donations public. Party and campaign financing is neither monitored independently nor, in case of infringements, subject to proportionate sanctions.
Party Financing
9
Financing of political parties is regulated by the Act on Political Parties (APP). All parties have to keep proper books and accounts, specify the nature and value of donations and membership fees, and publish their financial records regularly on their party’s website. An independent body, the Political Party Financing Supervision Committee (PPFSC), monitors whether parties have properly declared all financial resources and expenditures; the committee can also impose sanctions when parties have violated the law.

The regulatory and investigative powers of the PPFSC have been expanded several times through amendments to the APP. Despite significant progress some loopholes in financing regulations still exist. One of the major concerns is that the PPFSC has limited access to information necessary to deal efficiently with financial fraud. To tackle the problem, the PPFSC regularly proposes amendments to the APP. However, recent proposals have been neglected by the Constitutional Committee of the parliament. There is no political will to make political parties more accountable for financial misconduct.

Do citizens have the opportunity to take binding political decisions when they want to do so?

10
 9

Citizens have the effective opportunity to actively propose and take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through popular initiatives and referendums. The set of eligible issues is extensive, and includes national, regional, and local issues.
 8
 7
 6


Citizens have the effective opportunity to take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through either popular initiatives or referendums. The set of eligible issues covers at least two levels of government.
 5
 4
 3


Citizens have the effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure. The set of eligible issues is limited to one level of government.
 2
 1

Citizens have no effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure.
Popular Decision-Making
3
According to the Estonian constitution, referendums can be initiated by the national parliament (Riigikogu); citizens do not have the power to initiate a referendum. Municipalities can organize referendums on local issues, but their outcomes are non-binding. According to the Local Government Organization Act, popular local initiatives signed by at least 1% of the municipal population must be discussed by the local council, although this provision is rarely exercised.

There is strong public support for the introduction of a binding referendum mechanism at the national level and the issue is occasionally raised by opposition parties. However, no progress has been made toward this goal. Instead of referendums, a 2014 measure enables citizens to initiate amendments to existing laws or propose new laws. To start the parliamentary proceedings of this kind, the proposal must be signed by at least 1,000 people, must include an explanation why the current legal regulation is not satisfactory, and must describe what kind of amendments should be made. An online platform (rahvaalgatus.ee) is available through which citizens can initiate the process and collect signatures. Annually, about 10 initiatives enter the parliamentary agenda and several popular initiatives are included in legislative amendments currently under consideration.

Access to Information

#2

To what extent are the media independent from government?

10
 9

Public and private media are independent from government influence; their independence is institutionally protected and fully respected by the incumbent government.
 8
 7
 6


The incumbent government largely respects the independence of media. However, there are occasional attempts to exert influence.
 5
 4
 3


The incumbent government seeks to ensure its political objectives indirectly by influencing the personnel policies, organizational framework or financial resources of public media, and/or the licensing regime/market access for private media.
 2
 1

Major media outlets are frequently influenced by the incumbent government promoting its partisan political objectives. To ensure pro-government media reporting, governmental actors exert direct political pressure and violate existing rules of media regulation or change them to benefit their interests.
Media Freedom
10
Estonia follows a liberal approach to media policy, with minimal legal restrictions. The Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) company is constituted under the Estonian Public Broadcasting Act and governed by a ten-member council. Based on the principle of political balance, five of these members are specialists in the fields of culture, while the other four represent political parties holding seats in the national parliament. Members of the ERR Council are elected for five years (MPs until the next parliamentary elections).
Globally, Estonia has been ranked high on the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders for several years. In 2017, Estonia again ranked 12 out of 180 countries in the global ranking.

To what extent are the media characterized by an ownership structure that ensures a pluralism of opinions?

10
 9

Diversified ownership structures characterize both the electronic and print media market, providing a well-balanced pluralism of opinions. Effective anti-monopoly policies and impartial, open public media guarantee a pluralism of opinions.
 8
 7
 6


Diversified ownership structures prevail in the electronic and print media market. Public media compensate for deficiencies or biases in private media reporting by representing a wider range of opinions.
 5
 4
 3


Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize either the electronic or the print media market. Important opinions are represented but there are no or only weak institutional guarantees against the predominance of certain opinions.
 2
 1

Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize both the electronic and the print media market. Few companies dominate the media, most programs are biased, and there is evidence that certain opinions are not published or are marginalized.
Media Pluralism
9
A great variety of newspapers exist in the country. There are 11 national newspapers (including two major daily broadsheets), 19 regional newspapers and several Russian-language newspapers. As a rule, newspapers are privately owned but some local and regional papers receive support from the municipalities or counties. Some weeklies (e.g., the Teachers’ Gazette and the cultural weekly Sirp) receive government funds. Printed newspapers struggle with decreasing readership since electronic media has become increasingly dominant. This trend is supported by high Internet and cable-TV penetration rate. All major newspapers have an online version, and there are two other major online news portals. One of these is publicly funded and run by Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR), while another, Delfi, is owned by the private Ekspress Group. All TV and radio channels offer an online presence and make increasing use of social media.

Aside from ERR, media ownership is concentrated in two large companies owned by domestic investors (the Ekspress Group and the Eesti Meedia Group). A third major company, the foreign-owned Bonnier Group, publishes Äripäev, a business daily. Some minor online news portals (e.g., the independent www.poliitika.guru.ee or radical right objektiiv.ee) enjoy an increasing number of followers.

To what extent can citizens obtain official information?

10
 9

Legal regulations guarantee free and easy access to official information, contain few, reasonable restrictions, and there are effective mechanisms of appeal and oversight enabling citizens to access information.
 8
 7
 6


Access to official information is regulated by law. Most restrictions are justified, but access is sometimes complicated by bureaucratic procedures. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms permit citizens to enforce their right of access.
 5
 4
 3


Access to official information is partially regulated by law, but complicated by bureaucratic procedures and some poorly justified restrictions. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms are often ineffective.
 2
 1

Access to official information is not regulated by law; there are many restrictions of access, bureaucratic procedures and no or ineffective mechanisms of enforcement.
Access to Government Information
10
The main principles of access to public and official information are laid out in the constitution. Additionally, the Public Information Act (PIA) has been in force since 2001, and the Personal Data Protection Act since 2007. The act is enforced by the Data Protection Inspectorate (DPI), which acts as an ombudsman and preliminary court, educator, adviser, auditor and law-enforcement agency.

Because Internet use is widespread in Estonia, the strategic policy has been to advance access to information by using official websites and portals. All municipalities, political parties and government institutions must maintain a website, which must contain at least the information defined by legal acts. The situation is annually monitored and evaluated by the DPI. The DPI also monitors state authorities’ web pages and document registries.

Public access to information must be prompt and straightforward, with restrictions strictly defined by law. Any citizen or resident can submit an oral or written information request to the government and officials must provide a response within five working days. The obligations of authorities under the Public Information Act are not only to provide information, but also to assist the public in accessing documents. In conjunction with the EU data protection reform (2018), the information requests to DPI regarding personal data protection, especially in the digital environment, are growing. In order to co-ordinate the development of cross-sectoral data services and ensure compliance with the EU data protection directive, a special council has been established by the DPI at the end of 2017. It includes representatives of government ministries and the Information System Authority.

Civil Rights and Political Liberties

#4

To what extent does the state respect and protect civil rights and how effectively are citizens protected by courts against infringements of their rights?

10
 9

All state institutions respect and effectively protect civil rights. Citizens are effectively protected by courts against infringements of their rights. Infringements present an extreme exception.
 8
 7
 6


The state respects and protects rights, with few infringements. Courts provide protection.
 5
 4
 3


Despite formal protection, frequent infringements of civil rights occur and court protection often proves ineffective.
 2
 1

State institutions respect civil rights only formally, and civil rights are frequently violated. Court protection is not effective.
Civil Rights
9
Civil rights are widely respected and government does not interfere in the activities of the courts. Equal access to the law and equal treatment by the law are legally guaranteed. The courts are widely seen to be independent. Time needed to resolve civil, commercial, and administrative cases has steadily declined and Estonia shows the second lowest figure in the European Union. The same is true for the number of pending cases. Overall, the Estonian court system can be regarded as efficient in cross-European comparison on the basis of several indicators. Primary legal advice is free for citizens with an income considerably below the national average. At the same time, Estonia is one of the few EU member states that require a recipient of legal aid to pay a court fee.

Besides the courts of law, the chancellor of justice plays an important role in ensuring civil rights. She ensures that authorities and officials performing public duties do not violate people’s constitutional rights and freedoms, and that persons held in detention are not treated in a degrading, cruel or inhumane way. Individuals can bring concerns directly to the Chancellor’s Office or send a letter detailing the issue of concern.

Citations:
Com (2018) The 2018 EU Justice Scoreboard. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/justice_scoreboard_2018_en.pdf (accessed 12.10.2018)

To what extent does the state concede and protect political liberties?

10
 9

All state institutions concede and effectively protect political liberties.
 8
 7
 6


All state institutions for the most part concede and protect political liberties. There are only few infringements.
 5
 4
 3


State institutions concede political liberties but infringements occur regularly in practice.
 2
 1

Political liberties are unsatisfactory codified and frequently violated.
Political Liberties
10
Political liberties are an important part of Estonia’s constitution and they are widely respected in society. Eleven political parties collectively covering the entire spectrum of mainstream political ideologies are registered and active. The Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL), which is comprised of 20 branch unions, represents employees’ interests in collective-bargaining agreements and protects employees’ rights in employment relations. It also consults employers on developing a sustainable labor market and participates in policymaking. Civil-society groups organize open forums to discuss important social and political issues. One such forum, the Arvamusfestival (Opinion Festival) is held annually since August 2013 and expands each year. In 2018, over the course of two days, 10,000 people took part in 160 discussions across four areas. There is no state church in Estonia and religious freedom is guaranteed through the presence of 10 religious associations.

How effectively does the state protect against different forms of discrimination?

10
 9

State institutions effectively protect against and actively prevent discrimination. Cases of discrimination are extremely rare.
 8
 7
 6


State anti-discrimination protections are moderately successful. Few cases of discrimination are observed.
 5
 4
 3


State anti-discrimination efforts show limited success. Many cases of discrimination can be observed.
 2
 1

The state does not offer effective protection against discrimination. Discrimination is widespread in the public sector and in society.
Non-discrimination
8
Discrimination is prohibited by law, and several governmental institutions have been established to ensure non-discrimination. Alongside the Chancellor of Justice, the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner (GEETC) acts as an independent and impartial expert tasked with monitoring the issue of discrimination. Legal standards are set by the Gender Equality Act (2004) and Equal Treatment Act (2009). The Registered Partnership Act (2016) allows same-sex couples to register their partnership, but several secondary legal acts are still missing because of heavy opposition from some parliamentary parties.

Gender equality has been a longstanding challenge and is reflected, for example, in the largest gender pay gap in Europe. In 2018, the government introduced several measures to strengthen transparency in public sector pay and combat the gender pay gap. The Labor Inspectorate was given the right to monitor the implementation of equal pay regulations, while state databases were enhanced to allow more rigorous analysis of the situation.

Rule of Law

#13

To what extent do government and administration act on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions to provide legal certainty?

10
 9

Government and administration act predictably, on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions. Legal regulations are consistent and transparent, ensuring legal certainty.
 8
 7
 6


Government and administration rarely make unpredictable decisions. Legal regulations are consistent, but leave a large scope of discretion to the government or administration.
 5
 4
 3


Government and administration sometimes make unpredictable decisions that go beyond given legal bases or do not conform to existing legal regulations. Some legal regulations are inconsistent and contradictory.
 2
 1

Government and administration often make unpredictable decisions that lack a legal basis or ignore existing legal regulations. Legal regulations are inconsistent, full of loopholes and contradict each other.
Legal Certainty
10
The rule of law is fundamental to Estonian government and administration. In the period of transition from communism to liberal democracy, most legal acts and regulations had to be amended or introduced for the first time. Joining the European Union in 2004 caused another major wave of legal reforms. These fast and radical changes, which occurred over a short period of time, produced some inconsistencies. Today, a consistent and transparent system ensuring legal certainty is in place.

To what extent do independent courts control whether government and administration act in conformity with the law?

10
 9

Independent courts effectively review executive action and ensure that the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 8
 7
 6


Independent courts usually manage to control whether the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 5
 4
 3


Courts are independent, but often fail to ensure legal compliance.
 2
 1

Courts are biased for or against the incumbent government and lack effective control.
Judicial Review
10
The structure of the Estonian court system is one of the simplest in Europe. The system is composed of one level of county courts (4) and administrative courts (2), a higher second level of circuit courts (2) and the Supreme Court at the top level. The Supreme Court simultaneously serves as the highest court of general jurisdiction, the supreme administrative court, and the constitutional court. The Supreme Court is composed of several chambers, including an administrative law chamber. Administrative courts hear administrative matters. There are two administrative courts in Estonia, made up of 27 judges (about 10% of all judges employed in Estonia’s court system). Most judges in Estonia are graduates of the law school in Tartu University; however, there are also BA and MA law programs in two public universities in Tallinn. In total, the national government recognizes 11 study programs in law.

Judges are appointed by the national parliament or by the president of the republic for a lifetime, and they cannot hold any other elected or nominated position. The status of judges and guarantees of judicial independence are established by law.

Together with the Chancellor of Justice, courts effectively supervise the authorities’ compliance with the law, and the legality of the executive and legislative powers’ official acts.

To what extent does the process of appointing (supreme or constitutional court) justices guarantee the independence of the judiciary?

10
 9

Justices are appointed in a cooperative appointment process with special majority requirements.
 8
 7
 6


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies with special majority requirements or in a cooperative selection process without special majority requirements.
 5
 4
 3


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies without special majority requirements.
 2
 1

All judges are appointed exclusively by a single body irrespective of other institutions.
Appointment of Justices
2
Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the national parliament, on the proposal of the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The chief justice of the Supreme Court is appointed to office by the national parliament on the proposal of the President of the Republic.

While formally transparent and legitimate, the appointment processes rarely receives public attention or media coverage.

To what extent are public officeholders prevented from abusing their position for private interests?

10
 9

Legal, political and public integrity mechanisms effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 8
 7
 6


Most integrity mechanisms function effectively and provide disincentives for public officeholders willing to abuse their positions.
 5
 4
 3


Some integrity mechanisms function, but do not effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 2
 1

Public officeholders can exploit their offices for private gain as they see fit without fear of legal consequences or adverse publicity.
Corruption Prevention
9
Abuses of power and corruption have been the subject of considerable governmental and public concern. On the one hand, Estonia has established a solid institutional and legal structure to prevent corruption, with the National Audit Office, the parliamentary Select Committee on the Application of Anti-Corruption Act, the Supervision Committee and the Anti-Corruption Act. On the other hand, cases of illegal conduct among high-level civil servants, municipality officials or political-party leaders do emerge from time to time. Such cases can be regarded as evidence of efficient anti-corruption policy. However, they also indicate that loopholes remain in the public procurement process and in party-financing regulations, for example.

As a further step in fighting corruption and abuses of power, all legal persons have been required to make public their beneficial owners through the business register from 1 September 2018. Yet, lobbying remains unregulated, despite the Group of States against Corruption’s (GRECO) recommendations. In October 2018, the Ministry of Finance published “Codes of good conduct in accepting gifts and benefits,” which is intended to guide civil servants and public officeholders in avoiding corrupt behavior.

In 2017, the number of registered corruption offences was the lowest it had been for five years. Most corruption offences are related to bribery, with bribes most often paid during technical vehicle checks, although increasingly also in health care and public sector procurement. The number of corruption cases involving municipalities has decreased and now comprise only 7% of all corruption cases. This suggests that the governmental program to curb illegal behavior and prevent corruption at the local level has been effective.

Citations:
Ministry of Justice (2018). Kuritegevus Eestis 2017. Crime in Estonia. http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/sites/krimipoliitika/files/elfinder/dokumendid/kuritegevuseestis_2017_veebi01.pdf(accessed 20.10. 2018)
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