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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Main executive and legislative bodies


1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.2Main executive and legislative bodies

Last update: 27 November 2023

Estonia is an independent and sovereign democratic republic wherein the supreme power of the state is vested in the people. The powers of state are exercised solely pursuant to the Constitution and laws, which are in conformity therewith. The activities of the Government of the Republic and the courts must be organised on the principle of separation and balance of powers.

Estonian political system is primarily comprised of the following institutions: 1) the people; 2) the Riigikogu (Parliament); 3) the President; 4) the Government.  All issues concerning local life are decided and managed by local governments.

The supreme power of state is exercised by the people through the citizens with the right to vote: 1) by electing the Riigikogu (Parliament); 2) on a referendum.

Citizens of Estonia are the persons who have acquired citizenship by birth or naturalisation. An Estonian citizen who has reached eighteen years of age and who has not been divested of his or her legal capacity by a court has the right to vote.

Legislative power is vested in the Riigikogu. The Riigikogu is comprised of one hundred and one members. Members of the Riigikogu are elected in the course of free elections on the principle of proportionality. Elections are general, uniform and direct. Voting is confidential. Every Estonian citizen who has attained twenty-one years of age and has the right to vote may be a candidate for the Riigikogu. Regular elections to the Riigikogu take place on the first March Sunday of the fourth year after the previous elections.

The main task of the Riigikogu is legislative drafting: proceeding and passing laws and resolutions. In addition, the Riigikogu decides on holding a referendum, elects the President of the Republic, ratifies and denounces international treaties, authorises the candidate for Prime Minister to form the Government of the Republic, decides on the expression of no confidence in the Government of the Republic, the Prime Minister or individual ministers, passes the state budget, declares a state of emergency and a state of war in the state, appoints certain offices, etc.

Executive power is vested in the Government of the Republic but the Government also participates in exercising the legislative power. The Government of the Republic has the right to submit bills to the Riigikogu, it is in its competencies to prepare the draft of the state budget and submit it to the Riigikogu. The government executes the domestic and foreign policies of the state and manages relations with other states; directs and co-ordinates the activities of government agencies; administers the implementation of laws, resolutions of the Riigikogu, and legislation of the President of the Republic; issues regulations and orders on the basis of and for the implementation of law; declares a state of emergency throughout the state or in a part thereof, in the case of a natural disaster or a catastrophe, or to prevent the spread of an infectious disease; performs other duties which the Constitution and the laws vest in the Government of the Republic.

The Government of the Republic is comprised of the Prime Minister and ministers. The Prime Minister represents the government and heads its work.

The State Chancellery, directed by the State Secretary, is within the Government of the Republic. The State Secretary is appointed to and released from office by the Prime Minister. The State Secretary participates in sessions of the Government with the right to speak. The State Secretary, as the director of the State Chancellery, has the same rights that are granted by law to a minister for managing a ministry.

The President of the Republic is the Head of State who represents executive power but stands apart from the Government: he or she is not subjected to the Government nor is the Government subjected to him or her. The President of the Republic represents the Republic in international relations; he or she also has some controlling and co-operational functions with regard to the Riigikogu and the Government of the Republic. The President has been vested with the right to proclaim laws passed in the Riigikogu. In case he or she refuses to proclaim a law passed by the Riigikogu, the law is sent back to the Riigikogu for additional discussions and decisions. In case the Riigikogu does not amend the law, the President has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional. Thus, the Head of State has the power to impose a "postponing veto", which does not allow him or her to take a final decision with regard to proclaiming a law. The President of the Republic is entrusted with authorities in case of a state of emergency. If the Riigikogu is unable to convene in a situation of emergency, he or she may, in matters of urgent national need, issue decrees, which have the force of law and which shall be considered immediately at the next assembly of the Riigikogu. As the supreme commander of national defence, he or she has an important role also in case of other crisis situations.

Corresponding ministries are established, pursuant to law, for the administration of the areas of government. A minister manages a ministry, administers issues within its area of government, issues regulations and directives on the basis and for the implementation of law, and performs other duties assigned to him or her on the basis of and pursuant to procedures provided by law. The President of the Republic may, on the proposal of the Prime Minister, appoint ministers who do not manage ministries.

The educational system of Estonia is administered by the Ministry of Education and Research.

The Ministry of Culture administers activities of culture, physical culture, sports and preservation of antiquities of the state; the ministry promotes the arts, participates in the planning of media related work and draws up drafts of corresponding legislation.

The Ministry creates conditions for the development of folk culture, co-ordinates theatre and concert activity and the museological, cinematographical and library activities, is engaged in the protection of cultural and sports mementos, participates in the planning of education related to culture and sports and co-ordinates the organisation of in-service training within its administrative area. The Ministry supports cultural aspirations of minority groups and co-ordinates their cultural life and activities; organises the procurement of works of art and other cultural heritage for the national funds, manages issues related to media and copyright, participates in promoting cultural foreign relations.

The Ministry of Social Affairs administers the development and implementation of plans for solving social problems in the state, the management of national health protection and medical care, employment, labour market and working environment, social security and welfare, promotion of equal rights for women and men as well as co-ordination of related activities and preparation of corresponding legislation.

Until 31 December 2017, in all counties county governments operated as regional governmental authorities, with a task to coordinate the cooperation of the ministries and other agencies of executive power, local agencies and local governments in the county and direct and coordinate the operation of state authorities under the county government. In the context of the administrative reform, the tasks of county governments have been divided between the agencies in the administrative area of the ministries and local governments, and the activities of the county governments have been ceased.  

All issues concerning local life are decided and managed by local governments that act independently in compliance with laws. Local government as a democratically elected authority has the right, competence and duty deriving from the Constitution, to independently organise and manage local issues pursuant to law and based on the legitimate needs and interests of the residents of the rural municipality or city, and considering the specificities of development of the rural municipality or city. The representative body of a local government is the council, the members of which are elected on free elections for three years.

The functions of a local government include the organisation in the rural municipality or city of social assistance and services, welfare services for the elderly, youth work, housing and utilities, the supply of water and sewerage, the provision of public services and amenities, physical planning, public transportation within the rural municipality or city, and the maintenance of rural municipality roads and city streets unless such functions are assigned by law to other persons. The functions of a local government include the organisation, in the rural municipality or city, of the maintenance of pre-primary institutions, basic, upper secondary schools, hobby schools, libraries, community centres, museums, sports facilities, shelters, care homes, health care institutions and other local agencies if such agencies are in the ownership of the local government. Law may prescribe payment of specified expenses of such agencies from the state budget or other sources.