The highest authority of national legislation in Estonia is the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia (Eesti Vabariigi põhiseadus). The constitution was adopted by a referendum and came into effect on 29 June 1992, after Estonia had regained its independence.
Any other legislative acts must be in conformity with the Constitution as well as with the generally recognized principles and rules of international law which are an inseparable part of the Estonian legal system.
According to the Constitution, Estonia is an independent and sovereign democratic republic wherein the supreme power of state is vested in the people. The people exercise their supreme power of state through the election of the Estonian parliament (Riigikogu).
Ordinary elections of the 101 members of the unicameral Parliament are held every four years. All citizens over 18 years of age have the right to vote.
The Parliament is Estonia’s highest legislative authority and it is vested with the right to adopt laws.
A distinction is made between ordinary laws which are passed by a simple majority of votes in the Parliament, and constitutional laws, the adoption and amendment of which requires a vote by the majority of all members of the Parliament.
In addition, the Parliament has the right to ratify and withdraw from international treaties and decide on government loans.
Pursuant to the Constitution the Republic of Estonia is not to enter into international treaties which are in conflict with the Constitution.
If laws or other legislation in Estonia are in conflict with international treaties ratified by the Parliament, the provisions of the international treaty shall apply.
The President of the Republic is elected for five years by the Parliament or, under specific circumstances, by an electoral body consisting of the members of the Parliament and representatives of local government. The President of the Republic of Estonia is the formal head of state and the commander-in-chief of the Estonian Defence Forces.
The laws passed by the Parliament are presented to the President of the Republic for proclamation. The President has a right to veto with respect to the laws passed by the Parliament pursuant to which he/she may return the act to the Parliament.
If the Parliament does not thereafter amend the law, the President of the Republic can proclaim the law or has the right to propose that the Supreme Court declare the law unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court finds that the law is in conformity with the Constitution, then the President of the Republic proclaims the law.
Under certain conditions other state organs may also exercise legislative power. The Government of the Republic (Vabariigi Valitsus) and the ministers carry out the legislative function by using the right to pass regulations on the basis of and for the implementation of laws (so called intra legem regulations).
If the Parliament is unable to convene in a situation of emergency, the President of the Republic may, in matters of urgent state need, issue decrees which have the force of law.
As a member of EU since 1 May 2004, Estonia is bound by EU law. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for the coordination of the harmonization of Estonian law and EU law, making suggestions about harmonizing Estonian legal acts with EU legal acts and giving the ministries and other institutions advice about the EU legal system and the principles of legislation.
Local Government Councils
Local Government Councils are regional representative and legislative bodies, elected by the residents of a rural municipality or city for the period of three years.
All permanent residents (including citizens and non-citizens) of at least 18 years of age are eligible to vote. Local executive power is vested in local governments that resolve local issues and have local budgets to fulfil their duties.
Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers - Guide to doing business and investing in Estonia