The EKRE border treaty proposal, legally stillborn, failed politically as well.

Meinhard Pulk
, ajakirjanik
Estonian-Russian border.
Estonian-Russian border. Photo: Marko Saarm

The proposal of the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) that the government of the republic would withdraw its signature from the Estonian-Russian border treaty concluded in February 2014, failed to gain support of the Riigikogu.

EKRE representative Henn Põlluaas stated in the covering letter of the bill that the Russian federation has not recognized the legal continuity of the Republic of Estonia in any statement or international act since the concluding of the 2005 agreement. On the contrary, it has repeatedly accused Estonia of creating unfriendly atmosphere in a situation where Russia holds in its illegal possession approximately 5.2 percent of the territory of the Republic of Estonia.

“By withdrawing its signature, Estonia would issue a strong judgment of Russia’s aggressive policy of conquest and constant threatening of its neighbors. This move would create an opportunity to bring Russia to the negotiating table and making the continuing validity of the Tartu Peace Treaty the starting point of the talks,” Põlluaas said.

Twenty-eight members (EKRE and Isamaa members) voted in favor of the proposal while 53 voted against it.

Out of the members officially present seven abstained from voting – Kaido Höövelson (KE – Center), Mihhail Korb (KE), Kalvi Kõva (Social Democratic Party – SDE), Helmen Kütt (SDE), Lauri Läänemets (SDE), Sven Sester (Isamaa), Vilja Toomast (Reform Party – RE).

Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee (RE), explained the coalition’s opposition primarily with the legal considerations cited by the Ministry of Foreign affairs. He admitted that the Riigikogu cannot continue with the ratification due to the intensification of the war on February 24.

Mihkelson also emphasized the importance of adhering to the international law. “Estonia’s own little nuclear weapon is the international law, adhering to the international law, acting according to it and maintaining credibility among partners and allies according to it,” Mihkelson said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs: the signature cannot be withdrawn without a resolution of ratification

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also announced its opinion of the bill. Kerli Veski, Director General of the Legal Department, emphasized in her letter that since the border treaty has not been submitted to the Riigikogu for ratification, the signature cannot be revoked. The only thing Estonia can do is to submit it to the Riigikogu for ratification or refusal to ratify. After that the parliament would decide whether or not Estonia would become a party to the treaty.

"Neither the Vienna Convention on the law of international treaties nor the Foreign Relations Act, which governs the procedure for international agreements, recognize the withdrawal or revocation of signature from an international agreement,” Veski noted.

Once the agreement has been submitted to the Riigikogu for processing and ratification, the parliament will have the right and obligation to decide it. “The government has not submitted the state border treaty between Estonia and Russia to the current composition of the Riigikogu because Russia has not yet shown its readiness to do it on its part. Previously, the same bill has been in the proceedings of two compositions of the Riigikogu (XII, XIII), but has dropped out of the proceedings upon the termination of the compositions,” said Veski.

Veski emphasized that the state is obliged to refrain from acts contrary to the spirit and purpose of the treaty once it has signed the document until the state clearly expresses its intention not to become a party to the agreement. In the case of a treaty to be ratified, this primarily means that the Riigikogu should take a decision not to ratify the treaty. Thereafter, a notification shall be sent to the other party that Estonia does not intend to become a party to the treaty. “The original signature will remain with this international agreement forever,” Veski concluded.

The covering letter of the bill reads that the withdrawal of the signature could create an opportunity to bring Russia to the negotiating table and making the continuing validity of the Tartu Peace Treaty the starting point of the talks.

According to the interpretation of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, which also gave its opinion of the bill, it can be concluded that the actual intent is to initiate new negotiations on the Estonian-Russian border issue. “This means that new bilateral negotiations must be started. This, in turn, imposes a later obligation on the government to initiate the bill on the ratification of the Estonian-Russian border treaty between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation.”