ESTONIA: Consultative process for civil society welcomed but process remains ambiguous

(European Civic Forum on the CIVICUS Monitor) According to CIVICUS Monitor research partners, the Estonian government has started a consultation process on the new civil society strategy expected to be in place by 2020. Between April and May 2018, experts and stakeholders from the civil society sector, academia, and policymakers gathered to discuss what kind of civil society they envision for the future.

While the government attempted to make the process as inclusive as possible and while it was widely-welcomed, participants reportedly found it confusing, unclear and lacking in some aspects. Some important stakeholders did not take part in the meetings because invitations were sent with short notice. Also, participants who were new to the process felt that instructions ahead of and during the meetings were too limited, leaving them unsure of next steps, procedures, expected outcomes, and their role in the process.

It is still unclear what resources will be available for the implementation of this strategy. An assessment of the results of the current civil society strategy has been missing from the discussions, impeding the development of an evidence-based strategy. In addition, because the Minister of Interior, who is responsible for the civil society strategy, is also responsible for the new strategy on national security, the consultations for the two were combined.

In a separate development, on 26th April the Cabinet approved proposals regarding the gambling tax fund, something which civil society had called for. According to the NGO platform Hea Kodanik, if the parliament votes in favour of the amendments, the money will be directly managed by each ministry and funds will be distributed to relevant civil society organisations that fall under that particular ministry’s purview. Additionally, the Estonian Red Cross will no longer automatically receive 3.9 percent of tax revenues (approximately one million EUR) but will instead compete with others on an equal basis. It is hoped that the changes will allow for more sustainable funding sources for the sector and the establishment of strategic partnerships between CSOs and relevant ministries.