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President Kaljulaid at the Opening of the First Session of Riigikogu

11.09.2017

Dear Riigikogu, Honourable members of the Riigikogu,

First, I would like to express my respect for you. Respect for something seemingly simple and natural – your participation in a democratic process. However, the times are such that we obviously have to repeat it so that we do not forget it.

As members of the Riigikogu, you know that the public will not always support your positions. Despite this, you have expressed them. You are prepared to present and defend your positions, and give up the role of a peaceful observer for the sake of your ideas. You have suggested action and you have acted when supported by the voters.

You have not stepped into the convenient role of a critical bystander. You have also known that the solutions you have offered are not technically perfect, but you have acted with the understanding that they are the best compromise society has been prepared to accept.

You do not share your view of the world in anonymous comment sections, but with the public. Thoughtful and constructive criticism is not your only reward. "Feedback" based on your personal characteristics, appearance, marital status, number of children or lack thereof, sexual orientation or the guesses made about it, even the way you prefer to spend your free time, is also your reward.

Regardless whether I share your views, you have my respect. However, there have been and there are people in this hall who have deliberately, or out of stupidity or carelessness, contributed to the negative image of politicians in Estonia. We all remember violations of the law or racist remarks. Our political parties still carry out their campaigns by any means, or use public funds for them. People still do not understand the cash flows of parties – how do they get their money, and how do they spend it? This is not good.

We need the clever part of society to be ready to find itself in this hall one day. We need society, including young people, to trust politicians and to demonstrate this by taking an active part in elections. Acting in a manner that is transparent and truly within the law will certainly help.

Let us all demonstrate that the future of Estonia matters to us most of all and that we need the positive support of the entire nation to shape it. Let us make sure that Estonians have a reason to be proud of themselves and the people who represent them in this hall.

But do not forget that being proud of being an Estonian cannot be monopolised by anyone. No one can demand that we give up our freedoms in order to become more blue, black and white. No one can restrict our free self-determination, even to become more blue, black and white. No one should make anyone in the society feel guilty or consider them useless for not spending all of their reproductive years thinking about how there could be more pure-blood Estonians under the blue, black and white flag. Our fellow citizens who come from other linguistic and cultural backgrounds should not be considered less worthy of standing under the blue, black and white flag by anyone. Culture and customs can be learnt. This can be done at home, but also in schools and kindergartens. There is no blue, black and white gene pool. There is Estonian language, culture, customs, traditions and habits. We also have our laws that must be followed and an independent court system that has the right to expect to gain support for its independence here as well.

Honourable members of the Riigikogu,

You are the ones who can make sure that our country can use the opportunities given to us by history in the best possible manner. You have always been inventive and flexible. You have managed to make us use our curiosity about future developments for the benefit of our small country's future.

I recognise you for your readiness to support innovative businesses and to create a legal framework that allows them to operate. The readiness of the Riigikogu to cooperate with entrepreneurs and find solutions with the so-called Uber act for using new possibilities without ordinary workers losing out is commendable. It is good when the legislator is prepared to press ahead with new developments instead of trying to fight them with legal provisions. When it comes to supporting technological development, the Riigikogu of Estonia must be the world champion among parliaments. Do not lose this position!

Of course, being a politician in this innovative country is riskier than in other, more conservative democracies. The duty of a leader is to lead by trial and error. However, leaders have an advantage over their followers: no one else can dictate the pace; no one else has a clear view of the obstacles ahead, or of the opportunities that await us. Estonia would never have become the world's first digital society supported by the state with its democratic structure if politicians had not been such fearless leaders.

Of course, we sometimes suffer setbacks, the exact nature and impact of which are difficult to predict. After the cyber-attacks in 2007, we showed that they made us a stronger digital state than we were before. The Cyber Security Act will come this autumn, giving you the opportunity to update the legal framework required for tackling such threats. It is an opportunity for all of us now, when so many questions are again asked about our digital state, to continue with the next versions, not to step back.

Last week, we learned that a calculation error most of us do not understand which was found via several different international cooperation chains – this being what the global technological world is like – will once again force us to take brave steps in support of our digital society. The kind of steps no one and no other state has taken before.

There will be times when we take the wrong path and have to retrace our steps, but we will always keep looking. This is certainly economically beneficial to us. And this is how Estonia is known and needed in the world. Someone has to dare. We dare. As a society, not as a single technology company. This is what makes us special. It makes it possible for us to be a better living environment for our citizens, and a flexible haven for those of our citizens who have gone global or work in neighbouring countries.

Honourable members of the Riigikogu,

A new season of legislative drafting lies ahead. In order to protect the rule of law and democracy, the legislator has assumed the obligation of following good legislative drafting practices. The legislator must be able to see the bigger picture in order to maintain people's faith in the rule of law and the competence of the legislator. Legislative intentions and impact assessment must not be regarded as tedious formalities, which are avoided wherever possible. Case-based legislative drafting that has not been thought through, does not take account of the effective legal system and reacts to the daily news stories that receive the most clicks produces implementation problems, the need for amendments, extra costs, nervousness and legal uncertainty.

How is it possible that good intentions go so wrong? For example, when children with learning difficulties and disabilities were brought into ordinary schools, teachers were left alone with their concerns about making sure all of the children are guaranteed enough attention to help them progress. How do mistakes occur that release architects, by law, from the obligation to guarantee access for disabled people? How can it happen that some local governments interpret their freedom to provide social support to the weakest members of society as the freedom to do nothing at all? How can the expenses of social services in local governments with similar income levels and demographics differ from one another almost three-fold? Stricter punishments and controls obviously impress voters, but what is the point of them when we have no rehabilitation system for those who have lost their way? These are the questions that Estonian people ask me, and probably you too, every day.

In the case of many draft acts, the legislator makes sure that they are constitutional. This is not enough. You, the members of the Riigikogu, are the legislator. You are responsible for making sure that our legislation is right and fair, clear and dependable. Promising to protect rights on paper, such as cohabitation, in a situation where you do not have the will or the sense of responsibility to guarantee their implementation means you are failing to perform your duties. Incidentally, the constitution of the Soviet Union also promised to protect freedom of speech and thought on paper. Of course, we can hope the courts will help people and ensure that the rule of law is guaranteed. They will, but this does not hide the cracks in legal certainty.

Or take the planned Background Check Act, where I hope that the feedback received is given enough attention. It is in all of our interests that trust in public authorities is maintained, but we can always ask whether irreparable damage is caused by a misguided desire to regulate everything – even if over-regulation is not unconstitutional.

Honourable members of the Riigikogu,

I would like to urge you to respect your positions for the benefit of Estonia, not just for yourselves. It worries me that the Riigikogu seems to be too ready to pass the majority of its duties on to the executive government.

Yes, Riigikogu did remove the most problematic provisions from the draft state budget act, which would have considerably expanded the budget authorities of the government on the account of the Riigikogu, but this was only done in reaction to criticism from the Auditor General, the Chancellor of Justice and the Supreme Court. It should be added that the financial competence of the Riigikogu is not limited to approving the state budget and distributing covering funds: it extends to long-term infrastructure projects of national importance, such as Rail Baltic. Your duty is to create and establish the control mechanisms that allow you to exercise this responsibility. The distribution of covering funds, however, could be ended for good, or it should at least be made clear who can ask for such a Christmas present from the Riigikogu, and how.

I am here today to confirm my determination to work with you and to do my best to ensure that the rule of law and fundamental rights are not forgotten as we try to solve the issues of legislative drafting – as without them the freedom we regained 26 years ago would not have the same worth.

In conclusion, many of you will probably take even more responsibility upon yourselves in autumn by confirming that you can work just as well, if not better, in a situation where you represent the interests of people at the local and national levels at the same time. That is constitutional. The Supreme Court has confirmed that combining the mandates of local government and Riigikogu members is constitutional. I hope you also have the necessary confidence to give up one of these two chairs if you feel that you cannot represent different interests without having to compromise on your conscience.

I wish you good luck in your work and the wisdom to make the right decisions.