Estonia's new health, labor minister at risk of contradicting good practice

  • 2022-07-21
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - Based on the wording of good practice for interacting with lobbyists, established by the Estonian government, newly appointed Minister of Health and Labor and former chairman of the Trade Union Confederation Peep Peterson will go against good practice if he does not remove himself from decisions concerning the labor market, director of the Office of the Chancellor of Justice Olari Koppel told Postimees.

According to the current wording of good practice and the accompanying list of lobbyists, Peterson's actions as minister of health and labor would go against good practice if he does not remove himself from shaping and making political decisions regarding labor law and the labor market for a year after taking office, Koppel noted.

Koppel added that Peterson should also carefully follow provisions in the Anti-corruption Act to prevent possible conflicts of interests in his work.

At the same time, Koppel recognized that the publicity of lobbyists' actions is at the core of their activities, and the biggest damage to a democratic society is done by decisions made under the pressure of unknown figures behind closed doors. Peterson's background is well known, however.

"If his activities as minister tend to represent the interests of trade unions, among others, it will probably not be a great surprise and the public would see it as a political choice of the government that is currently in office. It is the government's task to make political choices, including those based on their world view. Their fairness and appropriateness will be assessed by voters. Voters will also assess how well the government complies with rules that it has itself established."

"The document established by the government 'Good practice in communicating with lobbyists for officials' seems to be a guideline shaping political culture to reduce the direct influence of a narrow interest group on decisions affecting the entire public. Similar guidelines are, for example, 'Good law-making practice' and 'Good practice of inclusion'. Complying with these instructions is good, necessary and right," Koppel said.

Koppel underscored that legally binding restrictions linked to office and other restrictions on activities for members of the government and other officials have been included in the law, together with circumstances preventing a person's appointment as minister.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' first government approved the "Good practice in communicating with lobbyists for officials" on March 18, 2021.

The guideline says that trade unions may be lobbyists as well, which would categorize Peterson as a lobbyist. If an official has worked as a lobbyist or in the interests of persons represented by a lobbyist

immediately before assuming office, they must refrain from actions or decisions regarding the lobbyist or the persons represented by the lobbyist for a year. This is called the revolving door effect with regard to which a cool-down of at least one year should apply against the former employer. Thus, as minister, Peterson should remove himself from decisions concerning trade unions.