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Estonia is a parliamentary republic and its legislature consists of a unicameral parliament called the Riigikogu. The Riigikogu includes 101 members elected for four-year terms from party lists. The term for the current legislature will expire in March 2023. No legislative or internal procedural provision has been found that would allow to delegate the powers of the Riigikogu to an ad hoc body, such as an “emergency parliament”.
After this northeast European country of 1.2 million was struck by the COVID-19 epidemic and the government declared an emergency situation to deal with the more than 350 cases of infection reported by mid-March 2020, the Riigikogu decided to reorganize its work while remaining operational. All changes focused mainly on switching to telework activities and limiting opportunities for direct communications among the members and staff on the legislature’s premises. On March 13, 2020, the legislative schedule was changed, restricting plenary sittings and committee meetings to one day per week respectively and declaring that through May 1 “the Riigikogu would resolve only time critical issues.” All travel of members and staff was cancelled and members were asked not to have meetings with visitors inside the Riigikogu building.
Later, on March 16, the Constitutional Committee of the legislature concluded that it will not be a violation of the existing rules and procedures if all parliamentary committee meetings are conducted through videoconferencing with the remote presence of the committee members. During these meetings, all members will have an opportunity to make remarks, ask questions, and vote. This decision has not been extended to plenary meetings of the entire Riigikogu. As the Committee Chairman stated, after parliament returns to its normal work, the telework experience will be assessed and legislation will be formally changed if necessary.
Prepared by Peter Roudik
Director of Legal Research
Last Updated: 12/30/2020