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Estonia and the European Union: European Integration in Estonia

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the agreements concluded between Estonia and the European Union (EU) and the organisational structure of European integration in Estonia with particular emphasis on the legal aspects of European integration.

Agreements between Estonia and the EU

At present, the nature of relations between Estonia and the EU is determined by the following three agreements:

Agreement between the European Economic Community and the Republic of Estonia on trade and commercial and economic co-operation, signed on 11 May 1992 in Brussels, entered into force on 1 March 1993; *1

Agreement on free trade and trade-related matters between the European Community, the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Coal and Steel Community, of the one part, and the Republic of Estonia, of the other part, signed on 18 July 1994 in Brussels, entered into force on 1 January 1995 (hereinafter Free Trade Agreement); *2 and

Europe Agreement establishing an association between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Estonia, of the other part, signed on 12 June 1995 in Luxembourg (hereinafter Association Agreement). The Riigikogu, the parliament of Estonia, ratified the Association Agreement on 1 August 1995. *3

The Association Agreement will enter into force after its ratification by all the EU Member States. As of July 1996, the Association Agreement had been ratified by the European Parliament, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Ireland and Germany.

Both the Free Trade Agreement and the Association Agreement are aimed at the approximation of Estonian legislation to European Community (EC) legislation. Article 68 of the Association Agreement provides that the parties recognise that an important condition for Estonia’s economic integration into the Community is the approximation of Estonia’s existing and future legislation to that of the Community (similarly, Article 36 of the Free Trade Agreement concerning trade and trade-related matters). Pursuant to the agreements, Estonia will endeavour to ensure that its legislation will be gradually made compatible with that of the Community.

Article 69 of the Association Agreement sets out more than 20 areas to which approximation of laws must extend. Areas of priority are the internal market, competition, protection of workers, environmental protection, consumer protection, financial services, and technical rules and standards.

The ultimate political goal of all the above-mentioned agreements is Estonia’s membership of the EU. The decision to join the EU was explicitly formulated in the official declaration of 24 November 1995 of the Government of the Republic of Estonia to the European Council which was deposited with Spain, the President of the Council, on 28 November 1995.

Any political decision is formulated in a certain legal form and brings about particular legal consequences. The main legal consequence for Estonia in joining the EU is that Estonia must recognise, in principle, the precedence of the acquis communautaire over the Estonian legal system and that Estonia must apply its whole state regulatory mechanism to the approximation of the legal system to the acquis communautaire.

In 1995, the European Commission published the White Paper: Preparation of the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe for Integration into the Internal Market of the Union. *4 The White Paper constitutes a strategy developed by the EU for associated countries for approximation of legislation and includes recommendations as to the priorities in 23 areas relating to the internal market (fundamental measures and I and II stage measures for approximation of legislation to EU regulations and directives).

Preparation of theoretical foundations for formation of the legal policy for accession to the European Union

Systematic EU related activities in Estonia began in December 1993 when a working group was set up by a Government Order to review issues concerning Estonia’s possible accession to the EU and to prepare corresponding documents. *5 The Governmental working group which was headed by Ivar Raig, a member of parliament, comprised representatives of ministries, academic and research circles, and members of parliament. In addition, the working group also included representatives of the Ministry of Justice and of the Faculty of Law of the University of Tartu. During the two years of its activities before winding up at the end of 1995, the working group laid a theoretical foundation for the formulation of Estonia’s functions with respect to policies and areas relating to the EU, including legal issues. In November 1994 and in October 1995, the working group organised international conferences. The main principles for Estonia’s potential accession to the EU were presented at both these conferences and later published in several languages as a summary of the activities of the working group. *6

In comparison with 1994, the legal issues relating to Estonia’s accession to the EU have undergone extensive evolution. The materials prepared for the above-mentioned 1995 conference included a separate part concerning the legal policy for joining the EU which was prepared by the Ministry of Justice. This part was also published in the journal Välismajanduse Teataja.*7

The Government Activity Plan for Joining the European Union or the so-called Estonian White Paper which was approved by the Government of the Republic on 6 June 1996 contains the following formulation of the legal policy for joining the EU: “The legal policy for joining the EU forms part of the legal policy of the Estonian state”. This is a complex task and has the ultimate goal of conformity of the Estonian legal system with the acquis communautaire in all its areas. The Estonian legal policy is based on the assumption that the whole legal system must be harmonised with the requirements of EC law.

Estonia’s legal policy for EU membership and its specific elements were formulated by the EC Law Division at the Ministry of Justice which also co-ordinates the implementation of this policy.

European Integration System in Estonia

In December 1994, the Estonian Government adopted a resolution to establish a system for organisation of interministerial work relating to Estonia’s possible accession to the EU. *8 The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to play the key role in the drafting of the strategy and the corresponding Government Order. In 1994, several versions of the plan for organisation of interministerial work in the field of European integration were prepared and attempts were made to implement these into practice. Thus, in 1995, two sittings of the Council of Senior Civil Servants were held. Unfortunately, attempts to establish a system for European integration were not successful in 1995. One of the reasons was that several different concepts and organisational structures were concurrently proposed.

On 30 January 1996, the Government of the Republic issued Order No. 79-k on Implementation of Primary Measures Necessary for Integration of the Republic of Estonia into the European Union *9 which established a system for co-ordinating the work related to European integration and for organising interministerial co-operation in Estonia.

The system established for European integration by the Government Order of 30 January 1996 comprises the following elements:

  • The Government of the Republic;
  • Ministers Committee (European Integration Committee);
  • Council of Higher Civil Servants (CHCS);
  • State Chancellery–Office of European Integration (OEI); and
  • Ministries.

    Ministers Committee (European Integration Committee)

    The membership of the Ministers Committee is as follows:

    Chairman: Prime Minister Tiit Vähi

    Members: Minister of Foreign Affairs Siim Kallas

    Minister of European Affairs Riivo Sinijärv

    Minister of Justice Paul Varul

    Minister of Economic Affairs Andres Lipstok

    Minister of Agriculture Ilmar Mändmets

    Minister of Finance Mart Opman

    State Secretary Uno Veering

    The purpose of the Ministers Committee is to prepare the main principles of Government policy in issues concerning enforcement of agreements concluded with the EU and the general strategy for accession to the EU.

    Council of Higher Civil Servants (CHCS)

    The CHCS is the main body co-ordinating co-operation between the ministries in Estonia in all issues of European integration. The CHCS operates in the capacity of an expert committee (§ 25 of the Government of the Republic Act) and comprises members appointed from each ministry (excluding the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Defence and a representative of the Regional Minister) and a representative of the Bank of Estonia. A member of the CHCS can be replaced by an alternate member appointed in person. As a rule, a ministry is represented by the deputy secretary general or a head of department. The work of the CHCS is directed by the Chairman, Ambassador Riivo Sinijärv, and the responsible minister pursuant to § 25 of the Government of the Republic Act is the Minister of European Affairs. The activities of CHCS are conducted on the basis of rules which prescribe among other things that CHCS meetings are, as a rule, held every second Wednesday from 10 a.m. until 12 noon.

    Two working groups have been set up within the CHCS: the information technology working group and the working group for training and further training of state officials. Although these working groups have been founded, they have not yet commenced operation. These working groups will be involved in laying the foundation for the use of CELEX, a database of EC legislation, and Estonia’s corresponding databases in the ministries and for the establishment of a training system for state servants, including legal training.

    The CHCS also includes the Foreign Assistance Programmes Co-ordination Committee which was formed in March of 1996. This Committee is dealing with the PHARE Programme for Approximation of Legislation (1995-1997, the foreign partners being the law firms McKenna & Co from Great Britain and Berning, Schlüter, Hald from Denmark, co-ordinated by the Ministry of Justice on the part of Estonia) and with the Danish Legal Assistance Programme. In the future, the Committee is likely to co-ordinate other foreign assistance programmes.

    The CHCS has also established a revision committee for the purpose of preparing documents relating to European integration. The revision committee comprises representatives of the OEI, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Economic Affairs, and Finance. Where necessary, representatives of other ministries are involved in the work of the committee. The revision committee has done a lot of work in connection with two essential documents concerning European integration: the so-called White Paper of Estonia and answers to the avis-questionnaire.

    On 6 June 1996, the Government approved the Government Activity Plan for Joining the European Union, the so-called White Paper of Estonia. This is a concrete activity plan for the implementation in Estonia of the recommendations of the White Paper of the European Commission. The presentation of the English version *10 of the White Paper of Estonia was held in Tallinn on 17 June 1996. The Prime Minister officially deposited the White Paper of Estonia with the European Commission during the intergovernmental conference in Torino on 22 June 1996. Due to the colour of its cover, the Estonian government activity plan is also known as Estonia’s Blue Paper in governmental circles and EU executive bodies.

    The White Paper of Estonia consists of an introduction, eight chapters and annexes of which the so-called harmonograms form the most extensive part. The structure of the document is as follows:


    Chapter 1. Estonia and the European Union

    This chapter explains why Estonia wants to join the EU and dwells upon the development of relations with the EU.

    Chapter 2. Political Development of Estonia

    This chapter provides an overview of the Estonian legal system and legal institutions.

    Chapter 3. Economic Development of Estonia

    This chapter describes Estonia’s economic policy with respect to different sectors.

    Chapter 4. The Pre-Accession Strategy of the European Union

    This chapter discusses the main elements of the pre-accession strategy: structural dialogue, the European Commission’s White Paper, PHARE assistance programmes, organisation of European integration, determination of priorities and implementation of laws.

    Chapter 5. Preparation for Membership of the European Union

    This chapter is an overview of all sectors relating to the internal market with the aim of comparing Estonian legislation with that of the EC. Measures to be taken for integration into the EU internal market are also dealt with.

    Chapter 6. Technical Assistance for European Integration

    This chapter concerns the classification and co-ordination of different assistance programmes.

    Chapter 7. Estonia and the Common Foreign and Security Policy

    This chapter concerns issues of the second pillar of the EU.

    Chapter 8. Justice and Home Affairs

    This chapter concerns issues of the third pillar of the EU.


    The 75 pages of annexes consist of tables or harmonograms which contain information concerning the titles of directives for Stage I harmonisation, the corresponding Estonian legislation, the ministries responsible for harmonisation, harmonisation deadlines, necessary foreign assistance, etc.

    On 26 April 1996, the European Commission provided the nine states which had concluded association agreements and Slovenia with a questionnaire of more than 160 pages. The so-called avis-questionnaire which covers all issues of the three pillars of the EU was to be returned to the Commission by 26 July 1996. The ministries completed the questionnaire concerning issues within their area of government, and the revision committee which was established by CHCS and whose activities are co-ordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs edited and finalised the text. Based on the answers to the questionnaire, the European Commission will present an opinion on the readiness of associated countries for accession to the EU.

    Office of European Integration (OEI)

    The OEI operates under the State Chancellery. Pursuant to the Government Order of 30 January 1996, the functions of the OEI are preparation of sittings of the Ministers Committee and of the CHCS, preparation of materials and technical services, provision of ministries with information, exchange of information with the European Commission and other institutions, and co-ordination of technical assistance and training of state officials. In practice, the OEI also performs a variety of other functions. The OEI monitors all areas relating to European integration and is instrumental in the European integration process in Estonia. The OEI has created a database for harmonisation of legislation which will be regularly updated in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice. The OEI is directed by Ambassador R. Sinijärv.

    Estonian Translation and Legislative Support Centre (ETLSC)

    The ETLSC also forms part of the system implementing European integration. The ETLSC which was established with Canadian financial support, opened for business in September 1995. The first large-scale translation project relating to the EU was the translation of the White Paper of the European Commission into Estonian. The mandate of the ETLSC, is the translation of Estonian legislation into English and EC legislation into Estonian. The English translations of Estonian laws appear in the Centre’s publication Estonian Legislation in Translation/Legal Acts of Estonia. The first publications contain high quality translations of the Estonian Constitution, the Government of the Republic Act, the Public Service Act, the Commercial Code and the election Acts. The ETLSC is also involved in the standardisation of legal terminology and methodology of legal translation.


    Each ministry is responsible for the harmonisation of law in its own area of government. The areas of government of ministries are provided for in the Government of the Republic Act of 13 December 1995 *11 and the by-laws of the ministries. The Ministry of Justice and the OEI divided responsibility for all 23 chapters of the White Paper and the articles of the Association Agreement between the ministries. If an issue was within the areas of government of several ministries, a responsible ministry was designated. This distribution of work was approved by the CHCS.

    To date, the organisational structure of preparation for joining the EU has been created in all ministries. Some ministries have set up a special structural unit for European integration, while others have appointed officials who deal with general issues relating to the EU or harmonisation of legislation. For example, the EC Law Unit has been working for two years in the Ministry of Justice which has the co-ordinating role in the European integration process. In the Ministry of Agriculture, the European Division started operation at the beginning of this year. In the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Department of Law and European Integration which comprises the European Integration Unit and Law Unit was established in June of 1996. In the Ministry of Finance, the EC Law Unit is planned to be set up on the basis of the Department of International Relations and the Legal Department. The three last-mentioned ministries are involved with 80 per cent of the work necessary for the adoption into Estonian law of the principles of the EU regulations and directives specified in the Stage I list.

    The conceptual basis for the organisational structure of European integration in Estonia is the principle of strong ministries who are responsible for the harmonisation of law in their area of government during both the pre-accession and post-accession periods. Representatives of academic circles also participate in the law harmonisation activities of the ministries. Apart from participation in legislative drafting, the academic staff of the University of Tartu and other universities have an important role in the implementation of the legal policy for Estonia’s accession to the EU especially with respect to training, research into EC law and case law, and the dissemination of relevant information.

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