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Estonian watchdogs in July 2013

This being said, it should be noted, that 2012 was a relatively turbulent year in Estonia and left many questions unanswered. In some sense the Estonian activists are living in the aftermath of the events of 2012. In March 2012 Estonian teachers held a three-day strike for a 20 percent pay increase, they were supported by trade unions of other professions and so the wave of strikes exceeded the educational sphere. Estonians are known to be modest strikers and this was the most eminent strike since WW II. Public protests were organized against ACTA, Higher Education Reform and against the obligation to teach 60 % of the subjects in Estonian in public minority schools1.

The general atmosphere of quiet discontent reached its peak in May after the disclosure of the illegal financing scheme of the leading coalition party, the Estonian Reform Party. 6 months later this lead to demonstrations in Tallinn, Tartu and Viljandi, although a few thousand people were out on the streets, no consensus on the future perspectives was achieved2. No new demonstrations have been organized but the crisis in democracy persists and will probably at latest find an outlet during the local government elections in October or the parliamentary elections in 2015. Although there are no cataclysmic events to report, the tension has not faded and the recent news from Transparency Estonia and trade unions can be traced back to the events of 2012.

Principle of democracy, Article 41 of the EU Charter – right to good administration 

Transparency International published the results of the Global Corruption Barometer on 9 July. A sample of 1000 Estonians (according to the statistics board the population of Estonia is estimated to be 1286479) were interviewed between September 2012 and March 2012, more detailed materials on the methodology are available on the website of Transparency International. The Estonian results did not contain major surprises. 50% of respondents replied that the rate of corruption has increased meanwhile only 17% believed that the government has succeeded in combating corruption, only 39% found that an individual has any power at all to prevent or fight it and 52% expressed their willingness to report a case of corruption when such occasion would arise. As in the other respondent countries, the public has extremely little trust in the internal democracy of political parties. On the brighter side it should be noted that only 6% of respondents had committed bribery (or admitted to have done so). The Chairman of the Board of Transparency Estonia, mr Jaanus Tehver stated that the results were not unexpected considering the events of 2012 and the relatively lukewarm reactions of the political parties. Besides that, the modest rate of the respondents willing to “blow the whistle” when the time comes can be explained by the lack of efficient measures and legislation designed to protect the whistleblowers.

Urban Idea (Linnaidee) - logo.As the local government council elections are approaching the voices of the local communities are getting louder and louder. To simulate the collaboration between Tallinn city officials and neighborhood associations, NGO Linnalabor launched a new project titled Urban Idea (Linnaidee). The aim of the project is to bring the city government closer to the local communities and to establish a new and more open model of collaboration, which could be relied upon during the upcoming elections. The project involves roundtables, workshops, seminars and different outdoor activities which help to explore Tallinn’s possibilities and the potential to improve mobility and gradually develop into a functioning communal city. The webpage of the project is available in English at http://www.linnaidee.ee/en

Article 28 – right collective bargaining and action

As already mentioned in the introduction, besides being a year of protests 2012 was also a year of strikes. Historically Estonian trade unions have not come off as particularly solidary or strong and the relatively peaceful protests of teachers held in March 2012 are considered to be the most eminent since the restoration of the republic. In order to express their support for the teachers’ demands, various trade unions held support strikes, among them the workers of the Narva Energy Factory.

In its decision of January 2012, the court of first instance (Viru County Court ) determined that the trade union of the Narva Energy Factory did not have the right to organise the support strike. According to the Court’s decision, the support strike was not organised to support the teachers, but had a political nature. In the course of the support strike, the trade union presented demands to the government and Parliament (Riigikogu). These demands were of a political nature, and were not connected with teachers’ employment conditions. At the same time, the court noted that the trade union did not violate procedural rules in organising the support strike, but that the demands presented were of a political nature. According to the Law of Collective Labour Disputes, a strike can only be declared illegal by a court decision.

The court of second instance (Tartu Circuit Court) left the decision unchanged and early in July the trade union of the Narva Energy Factory filed in an appeal of cassation with the court of third (and final) instance (the Supreme Court). Since it is the first time that a strike has been declared illegal, the final decision is likely to have a great impact on the future assessment of collective labour disputes in Estonia. The decision of the Viru County Court has also been covered on the website of European Labour Law Network. On the local level information on the legal dispute can be found on the webpage of the Estonian Employers’ Confederation and in daily media.

Workers of Narva Power Plants in March 2012. Source: http://www.pohjarannik.eeArticles 2 and 35-  right to life, right to health care

In spring the Estonian Patient Advocacy Association turned to the Police and Border Guard Board in order alert about the shortcomings in the investigation of the deaths and serious injuries, which take place in healthcare institutions, emphasizing that patients or their relatives do not have enough options to participate in the investigation3. Therefore the testimony given by the personnel of the institution will be regarded as the sole source of evidence and the patients are left quite helpless. In the beginning of July the representatives of EPAA arranged a meeting with the police officials and it the problems concerning medical crimes were addressed. According to EPAA’s lawyer ms Kristi Rekand, both parties admitted that no less than the right to life is at stake and the Police and Border Guard Board stated that the prosecutors’ offices will be involved in the investigation of these crimes and they will also dedicate to the training of experts in medical crimes.

Article 35 – environmental protection

In its July newsletter Estonian Environmental Law Centre gives its expert comments and explanatory remarks on the amendments to the Draft General Part of the Environmental Code Act. The codification of Estonian environmental law is finally reaching an important milestone. The Act is entering into force in January 1 2014. The recent amendments that were introduced to the draft general part concern the alteration of environmental permits and the duty of the operator to report on the changes made to the initial plan, the availability of environmental information, public use of bodies of water and procedure of issuing environmental permits. On the whole, the amendments serve the precautionary principle and strengthen the control over potential environmental risks.

[1] For more information see for example  Sulev Vedler  “Divide and Conquer in Estonia”, available online http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/30851/.

[2] For a comprehensive overview of the strikes and protests of 2012, please see for example the blog of journalist Vahur Koorits, available in English at http://vahurkoorits.blogspot.com/2012_12_01_archive.html

[3]  Weppage of Estonian Patient Advocacy Association http://epey.ee/index.php?page=91&action=article&article_id=89

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This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.

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