Government

The 1922 constitution stipulates that executive power in Estonia belongs to the Government of the Republic. The government, however, is no more than the pinnacle of executive power - the tip of the iceberg. The structure of executive power in its entirety is diverse and has a wide range of tasks, which makes it impossible to talk about a single and uniform executive power.

The government carries out the country’s domestic and foreign policy, shaped by parliament; it directs and co-ordinates the work of government institutions and bears full responsibility for everything occurring within the authority of executive power. The government, headed by the Prime Minister, thus represents the political leadership of the country and makes decisions in the name of the whole executive power.

The activity of the government is directed by the Prime Minister, who is the actual political head of state. He does not head any specific ministry, but is, in accordance with the constitution, the supervisor of the work of the government. The Prime Minister is appointed by the Riigikogu on the recommendation of the President, and is usually the leader of the biggest party among those forming the government. The Prime Minister’s significance and role in the government and his relations with other ministries often depends upon the position of the party led by the prime minister in vis-à-vis the coalition partners, and on how much influence the prime minister possesses within his own party. If the prime minister has a strong position within his party, and the government is made up solely of representatives of that party, he can enjoy considerable authority. In all crucial national questions, however, the final word rests with Riigikogu as the legislative power.

The members of the government or ministries are ‘professional politicians’ who usually belong to the coalition parties who have the majority in the Riigikogu. A minority government once briefly held power in Estonia, but that was merely the result of political compromise — the government was also supported by a party not belonging to the coalition. In addition to party politicians, the government sometimes includes minister-specialists, whose number has steadily decreased.

Ministers have a double role — on the one hand they represent the interests of a ministry in the government, on the other they head the ministries, following in their work the political decisions adopted by the government. More often than not, ministers have indeed tended to protect the interests of their ministries in the government and in the Riigikogu, and have proved rather more reluctant to implement policies that are of no direct advantage to their own ministry. The government that came to power in 1999 includes, besides the 12 ministers, also two ministers without portfolio, who do not head any ministry but are responsible for population and regional issues respectively. The work within the administrative area of the ministers without portfolio is arranged by special offices at the State Chancellery.

The government is served by the State Chancellery, led by the State Secretary. The task of the former is the technical administration of the government, and the checking of its decisions from the legal point of view. The State Chancellery is simultaneously at the service of the prime minister’s office, which consists of the prime minister’s personal aides.

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