Estonian President Alar Karis said in a speech made at the opening sitting of the fall session of the Riigikogu on Monday that governance must be subject to parliamentary control and the governing political parties must have the opportunity to implement their program, but in a way that is compatible with the rule of law.
Karis said that Juri Kaljuvee, who served as an expert in the Constitutional Assembly, argued a few years ago that instead of a powerful president, Estonia got a government that is hungry for power. According to Kaljuvee, the government in Estonia has steadily expanded its power and has become a body that determines policy, the president said.
«I am guided by two principles: for the state to function and to solve the tasks facing the state, it must be possible to govern, and for this the Government of the Republic must have sufficient freedom of action, but the second principle is that governance must be democratic -- transparent, reasoned and subject to parliamentary control,» Karis said.
According to the head of state, democracy does not end when a majority is received in parliamentary elections.
«The governing political parties must have the opportunity to implement their program, but in a way that is compatible with the rule of law,» Karis said.
«It is clear that there is some tension between these principles. For example, the committee of investigation of the Riigikogu may get in the way of the government, but that is no reason to reduce the parliament»s possibilities to investigate. Or another example: a flexible budget that only mentions lines of action makes it easier for the government to work,« he added.
According to the president, the Constitution gives the government a number of important levers to protect its ability to work.
»One of these levers is the possibility of linking a draft law to the question of trust. This way, it is possible to avoid a situation where the Riigikogu does not have the majority to express lack of trust in the government and form a new government, but the work of the government is still made impossible by obstructing the draft laws essential for the implementation of the program of the Government of the Republic,« Karis said.
»As the Constitution was drafted, it was already noted that linking drafts to the issue of confidence could become a solution of convenience for the government, essentially shutting parliament out of the life of the state. There is no doubt that such an exaggeration would be contrary to the spirit of the Constitution,« he added.
»Although the Constitution does not draw a precise line here -- and it would be impossible to draw one anyway -- I am of the opinion that only those draft laws can be linked to the issue of confidence without which the government could not even carry out the core of its program. Blocking such draft laws in the Riigikogu would be tantamount to forcing the government to resign, although there are not enough votes to express lack of confidence in the government. As I said, this is a situation that our Constitution was meant to avoid,« the president said.
»On the other hand, the opposition also needs levers to play its role, especially when the government threatens to overstep constitutional limits with the support of a parliamentary majority,« he added.
»I have already said that if the work of the Riigikogu gets bogged down by obstruction, the Riigikogu itself must find a solution. But a simple principle applies here: don«t do to others what you don»t want done to you. Today«s majority must implement the rules of procedure of the Riigikogu in such a way that the chosen solution would be recognized as fair and reasonable even when it ended up being the minority,» Karis noted.
«By democracy, I also mean informed and critical citizens, whose trust is not only won by a majority in parliament and a government pointing at its election win -- who expect, for every law they have to obey, that the state has made it wisely and carefully. Classification of documents that justify -- or criticize -- draft laws does not increase the trust of citizens,» he added.
According to Karis, when the process of creating a law has been transparent, citizens will have more confidence that it has not been passed in the interests of a few companies or interest groups, that the justifications that accompany the law are not just a sham.
«Free debate is also part of democracy. Hate speech cannot be defined so broadly that it also includes criticism of political beliefs. Sadly, it often happens that criticism of political positions tends to become personal. A good debate culture condemns personal attacks that create nothing of value,» the president added.