The Constitution of Estonia came into force in 1992 and is, in a number of ways, a compilation of aspects of Estonia's previous constitutions. It has continued the democratic spirit of the 1920 Constitution, with some added mechanisms to maintain the balance of power of the state.
The executive power of the state - the Government is responsible to the Parliament.
Appointment to the office of the Prime Minister and withdrawal of the Government lies within the competence of the Parliament. The Government also enjoys a stabilising guarantee - the right to dismiss the Parliament with the consent of the President and call new elections if the Parliament expresses no confidence in the Government. This has, on several occasions, proved a balancing factor in situations where the wish to dismiss the Government has not been well-founded.
The President has mainly representative functions, although he still retains a number of executive powers. The President may veto a parliamentary bill and have it sent back for revision, and his signature is required when appointing the Ministers of the Government. He is also empowered to present the Parliament with the names of several higher officials. The President is also the supreme commander of the armed forces.
The President is elected for a 5-year term by the Parliament. If a sufficient majority of votes is not forthcoming, he is elected by an electoral college which consists of representatives of local governments and members of the Parliament.
The court system is divided into three levels: county courts and city courts, circuit courts of appeal and the Supreme Court which also functions as the constitutional court.
The Estonian judicial system is based primarily on the German model, especially within the field of civil law with which it has direct historical links. The courts are independent, judges are appointed for life and may not take up any other appointed public offices.
Estonian law and order is subject to international law, whose general principles are incorporated into Estonian law. According to its Constitution, Estonia is an independent sovereign state whose international agreements take precedence over national law.
The Constitution provides for a Bank of Estonia, independent of the government, which operates as the bank of issue. It also provides for the office of the Legal Chancellor whose task is also to be Ombudsman. The third office is that of the office of the Auditor General. These three offices are appointed by the Parliament at the proposal of the President, but in their functioning they are independent government officials and cannot be dismissed by the Parliament before serving a full term.
The Constitution provides for two further types of government with a large degree of autonomy - local governments and cultural self-governments of ethnic minorities. The significant fact is that all permanent residents, regardless of citizenship, are eligible to vote in the local elections.
The symbol of Estonian democracy is, of course, the Parliament itself. But as with every other state, Estonia too has its symbolic coat-of-arms, flag and national anthem.
The Estonian coat-of-arms has ancient roots and resembles both that of Denmark and of England. The three blue leopard-like creatures on a gold background were first used in 1219 as part of the coat-of-arms of the city of Tallinn and, later in history, of the Estonian province. In 1925, what is called the three lion coat-of-arms finally became the national coat-of-arms.
The origins of the Estonian flag lie within the national movement. In 1881, the Estonian Students' Union adopted blue, black and white as the colours of their student fraternity. At the end of that century, the colours became those of the nation. In 1920, Estonia conceived its flag in the same colours.
Blue - the sky, loyalty to one's homeland
Black - the soil, diligence
White - simplicity, purity, hope for the future.
The Estonian national anthem has a joint history with that of our northern neighbour, Finland. The tune for the two national anthems is identical and was written by Frederick Pacius, himself of German origin. The words originate with a leading figure in the Estonian national movement of around the turn of the 19th century, J.W. Jannsen. It is worth noting that during the Soviet occupation, the Estonian coat-of-arms, flag and national anthem were forbidden, and those using them were sentenced to long prison terms.
The Estonian national flower is the cornflower, national bird is the swallow and national stone is limestone.
Translation by Jenny Wahl
Editing by Richard C. Waterhouse
1. My native land, my joy - delight,
How fair thou art - how bright!
For nowhere in the world around
Can ever such a place be found
So well belov'd, from sense profound,
My native country dear!
2. My tiny crib stood on thy soil,
Whose blessings eased my every toil.
With my last breath my thanks to thee,
For true to death I'll ever be,
O worthy, most belov'd and fine,
My dearest country mine!
3. May God in Heaven thee defend,
My own, my dearest land!
May He be guard, may He be shield,
For ever bless and guardian wield
Protection for all deeds of thine,
My own, my dearest land!
Written for the MFA by Mart Nutt, Member of Parliament, historian