Estonia Unitary state

History and trends

Estonia is a parliamentary republic. Its constitution was adopted on 28 June 1992.

Estonia was invaded by Soviet troops on 17 June 1940 and annexed by the USSR, under the name “Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic”, on 6 August that same year.

Opposition to the Soviets was crushed via a series of mass deportations in May-June 1941. The Germans (led by Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb) invaded Estonia and Tallinn fell on 28 August 1941. Tallinn was recaptured by the Soviets in 1944 and liberated on 22 September, when Estonia was reinstated as the 15th republic of the USSR. The German and Swedish minorities were deported back to their homelands.

The Popular Front of Estonia, initially founded to support perestroika, became the country’s leading self-government and, later, independence movement. On 16 November 1988, it secured a declaration from the Estonian Supreme Soviet asserting the country’s sovereignty. Then, in January 1989, Estonian was recognised as the country’s official language. Lastly, on 25 March 1990, the Communist Party of Estonia officially separated from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and put the country on the gradual path towards independence.

The transition to independence officially began on 30 March 1990 with a declaration from the newly elected Supreme Soviet. Moscow retaliated with economic sanctions, lasting for several months. The process nevertheless continued and, on 3 March 1991, 77.8% of Estonian residents (of all nationalities) voted in favour of independence in a referendum. Estonia declared independence on 19 August 1991. Estonia was officially recognised by Russia on 6 September 1991, and by the United Nations on 17 September 1991.

Successive governments introduced radical reforms and, in June 1992, the new constitution – approved in a referendum – established Estonia as a parliamentary democracy.

Local level :

Estonia’s system of local government is enshrined in article 2 of the 1992 constitution, and in chapter XIV, entitled “Local Government”.

Article 2 para. 2 of the constitution states that: “Estonia is politically a unitary state wherein the division of territory into administrative units shall be provided by law”.

On the question of local government, article 155 of the constitution states that: “The units of local government are rural municipalities and towns. Other units of local government may be formed on the bases of and pursuant to procedure provided by law.

On the question of funding, the economic and financial crisis has severely restricted the budgets available to Estonia’s rural municipalities and towns. Inter-municipal cooperation arrangements exist, but only on a narrow scale.

The country’s rural municipalities have undergone a series of changes in recent years – primarily budget cuts and greater intervention by mayors on education affairs – that have restricted their autonomy.

A draft bill has also been introduced that seeks to limit local independence on waste collection. Despite this, Estonian law is relatively well aligned with the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

Regional level (administrative region only):

The county group is a European subdivision of Estonia used by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical information provider, under its Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS). The group corresponds to NUTS level 1 for Estonia. It is an administrative region.

Counties (maakonnad) are administrative regions. There are 15 counties in Estonia. Each county is led by a governor (maavanem) who represents the national government at the regional level.

The counties’ powers encompass environmental management, economic development, land-use planning, oversight of local governement decisions and action, and emergency coordination.