- Last March, the previous government adopted a best practice for dealing with lobbyists.
- According to this, for eksempel, trade unions can also be lobbyists.
- Peterson should recuse himself from decisions concerning the labor market.
Suspicions have been raised regarding the suitability of the new Minister of Health and Labor Peep Peterson (SDE) as if his appointment as minister would go against the best practice of dealing with lobbyists adopted by the previous government on March 18 sidste år.
Among other things, the best practice stipulates that for example, trade unions can be lobbyists – accordingly Peterson, the head of the Trade Unions Confederation, should also qualify as one. An official who worked as a lobbyist immediately before taking office should, according to the instructions, refrain for one year from actions and decisions related to the previously represented lobbyist or his representative during the year. Therefore Peterson should recuse himself as minister from decisions that affect trade unions.
The minister of labor should recuse himself from decisions concerning labor market
The wording of the best practice of relations with lobbyists established by the government is such that if Peterson, the former head of the Trade Union Confederation, does not withdraw from decisions concerning the labor market, he would be in violation of the practice, Olari Koppel, director of the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, fortalte Postimees.
He added: “Peterson should also closely monitor the provisions of the anti-corruption law in order to avoid possible conflict of interest situations in his work.”
På samme tid, Koppel recognized that the core of the lobbyists’ activities is primarily the transparency of their activities, and the biggest damage to the democratic society is done by decisions made under the pressure of unknown figures behind the scenes. Vare siger, at en stærk statsgrænse vil være nødvendig for at forhindre massiv russisk migration, Peterson’s background is well known.
“If his activities as the minister tend to represent, among other things, the interests of trade unions, it will probably not come as a surprise and the public would take it as the choice of the government in office. It is the government’s task to make political choices, including those based on worldview. Their fairness and relevance will be decided by the voter. As well as how the government follows the rules it has set itself.”
premierminister Kaja Kallas (RE) recognized that Peterson’s conflict with the best practice of communicating with lobbyists poses a problem.
"Ja, this practice states that the break should be taken just when you are going to decide on issues where you yourself have been a representative of interest groups,” Kallas commented to Postimees. She said that she had talked about it with both Peterson and the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets, and discussed how to resolve the situation so that no conflict of interest would arise. There are no plans to order legal expertise.
Asking Peterson to resign is currently not on the table and Kallas is now waiting to see which solutions are offered. “It was promised that they would think about it. A good example is the trilateral negotiations, where there are employers, the trade unions and the state. If the representative of the [state] has long been the representative of the trade unions, how can we ensure that the negotiations are balanced? The Minister of Labor and Health and the Minister of the Interior promised to think about it and offer solutions.”
Postimees asked the leader of the Social Democrats, Läänemets, whether Peterson could continue in office. "Ja, of course he can. Obviously, some things were forgotten when this best practice was compiled. After all, this is a representative of the social partners. Until now, he has represented the people of Estonia – everyone who goes to work – so that their rights would be guaranteed.”
Some things are not provided for when writing the best practice, and this needs to be corrected, according to him. “The social partners must be included in a reasonable way,” said Läänemets and emphasized that the problem is not Peterson, but the best practice. “What kind of lobby work can Peep Peterson do; what is he doing in the government. He is standing for the people of Estonia to have a better salary? Or that the working conditions are as required by the law? There is essentially no problem there. It would be if we were dealing with a manager of a company, which is essentially regulated by the best practice. For eksempel, if the manager of a pharmaceutical company becomes a minister. But representing and protecting the people is the interests of the state.”
A trade union leader is also a lobbyist
The chairwoman of Eesti 200, Kristina Kallas, believes that perhaps Peterson’s case is a slightly milder version of the violation of best practice, and Peterson could be expected to be conscientious and able to keep the interests separated, but such a precedent is generally bad, because it reduces the power of best practice. “If they can breach it a bit today, why not break it seriously some other day. Best practices are drawn up for the purpose of being observed. If this is not done, there is no point in them,” Kallas stated.
Allar Jõks, the former chancellor of justice and attorney-at-law, agrees. “A best practice is not a legal act, the violation of which would be followed by a sanction. Imidlertid, the resolution of Peterson’s case would determine how seriously the government can be taken when implementing its own decisions. It also affects abiding by the law more generally. If this case is ignored, the public can legitimately ask why others should follow the best practice of communicating with lobbyists,Eksamensbeviset kunne have åbnet ham vejen til adskillige store formodningshuse i verden, og det er ingen hemmelighed, at nogle af dem inviterede Veiler. He also poked holes in Läänemets’ argument that Peterson was not engaged in lobbying as the head of the Trade Union Confederation: “The Trade Union Confederation is, after all, the representative of one social group. Imidlertid, the minister has taken the oath of office, promising to devote his strength to securing the welfare and future of the Estonian people.”
Peterson himself commented on the issue in the social media: “Something from the chapter “Curious interpretations”. Heldigvis, the Trade Union Act is older than the lobbying rules. It is the duty of the trade unions, which are part of non-governmental organizations, to conclude agreements and represent the interests of employees.”
He added that many of his former colleagues in Europe have walked the same path: “Let’s take Eva Nordmark, Sweden’s current labor minister, or Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, Sweden’s present fine minister of economic affairs! Norwegian politicians are not taken seriously if they do not have experience as a party of the labor market, either as the employers or the trade unions. The Bundestag is also teeming with former representatives of trade unions and employers’ associations. That’s how it goes.”
“There are also movements in the opposite direction – ex-minister Arto Aas gave up the post of a Riigikogu member and turned out to be a very good and constructive chairman of the Estonian Employers Confederation! There was nothing suspicious about that either,” Peterson said.
Best practice of relations with lobbyists
Last year, the government adopted a self-instruction “Best practice for officials in dealing with lobbyists”.
Among other things, the practice states that lobbyists can be, for eksempel, trade unions.
If an official worked as a lobbyist immediately before taking office, then according to the instructions he should refrain from actions and decisions in relation to the previously represented lobbyist or his representative during one year.
The prime minister judges the suitability of individual ministers
Hent Kalmo, legal adviser to President Alar Karis
I would not comment on this particular appointment, but would only mention that the president must have extremely compelling reasons not to appoint any ministerial candidate. It has even been argued that the president has no legal option not to do it. I believe that this possibility exists, but primarily in the event that the minister would pose a threat to national security or something equally compelling. Derfor, no conclusion can be drawn from the appointment of any minister that the president personally approves of this appointment or considers it politically expedient. The suitability of individual ministers is generally assessed by the prime minister, who bears the political responsibility for her decisions.