Estonia

22

Overview

Although immigration remains low and little changed, Estonia retains a significant non-EU national population. The stateless population has reduced over time as naturalisations increased with
reforms over the past 2 decades.

Since MIPEX II, all residents now have basic protections against discrimination which slightly improved conditions for integration in Estonia (+2 on MIPEX). Still, progress was kept to the minimum and lags behind the European average. Its score would have increased more, were it not for the so-called ‘Bronze Soldier Package’. Making long term residents more insecure in their status may make society more secure – but it may not. It may even make society less integrated. Meanwhile, Estonia lost its place in MIPEX rankings to GR, which addressed its underlying weaknesses on citizenship and political participation. Nearly 20 years after independence, newcomers and their children have limited political liberties and Estonian citizenship. Estonia has been leading in Central Europe with its Integration Strategy to increase participation in employment, education and social life. Its major challenge now is to create the inclusive conditions for all residents to participate as equals in democratic life.

Timeline - What's Changed

0 December 2007
Estonia's entry into Schengen
Gives non-citizens free movement rights in EU
0 2008
Estonian integration strategy
New 2008-2013 strategy adopted on language, statelessness, employment, mutual contacts and trust.
0 September 2008
Access to nationality
New citizenship test, aims to make the test more 'meaningful'.
+14 January 2009
Anti-discrimination
Law on Equal Treatment: Estonia one of last to implement EC Directives on antidiscrimination.
-1 January 2009
Long-term residence
Amendment to the Aliens Act - intentional crime against State new ground for withdrawing status.
0 April 2009
Adaptation programme
New immigrants adaptation programme
0 June 2009
Access to nationality
President vetoes using 'intentional crime' ground for withdrawing citizenship.
0 June 2009
No longer a Minister for Population and Ethnic Affairs
+1 November 2009
Access to nationality - conditions
Public support for free citizenship courses.

Key Findings

  • Estonian integration strategy one of best in Europe at targeting specific education and employment needs. 
  • Intercultural education needs better implementation. 
  • Basic civil rights still lacking. 
  • ‘Bronze Soldier Package’ creates new withdrawal grounds for long-term residence: for citizenship, it would have been non-constitutional. 
  • Language requirements well supported, but much higher than most in Europe. 
  • No improvement on citizenship for generations born after independence. 
  • Significant progress on anti-discrimination to meet basic EU standards. 
  • Equality bodies and policies still weak. 

Score Changes

Areas of Integration

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    Estonian integration strategy

    Most European countries, especially in Central Europe (e.g. LV), have yet to develop effective targeted support. Estonia stands out, along with the Nordics, FR, PT, DE and NL. The 2000–2007 Estonian Integration strategy has been extended to 2008–2013. Its programmes help all Estonian residents, especially youth, find jobs or training, get their qualifications recognised, improve their language skills for their profession and meet other professionals in their field. The strategy’s target is to reduce any differences in employment and income for Estonia’s residents, whatever their nationality. www.kogu.ee/indexphpid11145/.

     

    Non-EU workers benefit in Estonia from much better support than in most of Central Europe, but they still face major barriers to access the labour market. They can use general education and training programmes, as well as targeted support through the Estonian integration strategy (see box). They will have largely the same workers’ rights as their Estonian co-workers. However, to access a job, they face several obstacles that may discourage them from even looking for one. A non-EU national with the right to work in EE cannot access the public sector and must fulfil additional conditions to open a business or work in the private sector.

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    Promoting family life

    The conditions that families must comply with to benefit from family reunion in Estonia are generally accessible, particularly when compared with restrictive countries of immigration, such as AT, DK, FR, DE. This relatively positive finding is mirrored in many countries in Central Europe (HU, LT, LV) and in leading new countries of immigration such as ES and PT. However, the slightly limited definition of the family in Estonia remains the major stumbling block for eligibility.

    Non-nationals who want to be reunited with their families can make use of policies that are slightly favourable for their integration. The area of weakness is their eligibility. Estonia keeps them apart from their families for two years, and then only lets them apply for their nuclear family. If they have the basic income to support their family, the procedure is short and straightforward. The spouse’s permit can be refused or withdrawn if the relationship breaks up and they cannot get an autonomous permit even in particularly difficult circumstances. They have good access to legal guarantees and equal access to social benefits and employment as in most countries. 

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    Intercultural education for all

    Integration and Migration Foundation’s ‘Our People’ projects help schools organise social integration programmes. Its media work tries helping the public appreciate cultural diversity and ethnic minorities in Estonia. All pupils are supposed to learn this throughout the curriculum. Still, pupils may not see diversity in the textbooks they use, the school day they experience and the teachers they learn from. To better implement intercultural education, schools need systematic help to adapt and evaluate. More teachers can be recruited from different backgrounds (e.g. DK, FI, NL, NO, UK).

    The Estonian education system has a more developed integration strategy for newcomers than most Central European countries. All children have the right to an education, from pre-school to university. Some schools organise induction programmes for newcomers and their parents, but they are not required. Once in the system, newcomers benefit from slightly favourable targeted measures. All teachers must be able to solve problems in multicultural learning environments. Newcomers receive compulsory, continuous and highquality support to learn Estonian, while they can also learn their own language and culture. Greater work on intercultural education, the slight weakness in current policies, may help all pupils take advantage of the new opportunities that diversity brings to Estonian society (see box). 

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    Better informed integration policies? Future Round Table of Nationalities

    MIPEX may see Estonia’s integration policies improve if the Round Table on Nationalities begins to meet. The Estonian Co-operation Assembly (KOGU) is building on the work of the former Presidential Round Table. They were also inspired by practices across Europe as in DK, FI, NL (national), and NO. Every year, the appointed members of the round table will focus on one issue and report its proposals to the President and policymakers.

    Political participation is a major area of weakness for integration in Estonia, as in many Central European and Baltic countries. Noncitizens who are participating in all other areas of Estonian society are still largely excluded from democratic life. Long-term residents can vote in local elections. They cannot stand as candidates, unlike in 13 countries including LT and recently GR. They are also banned from political parties, unlike in 22 countries. For non-citizens to form, run or receive funding for their associations, they have to have at least half of the board members with the residence permit of Estonia, EU or Switzerland. Estonia has lacked consultative bodies on these issues since the President’s Round Table on Ethnic Minorities closed (see box). 

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    Linking foreigners and security?

    In response to the April 2007 ‘Bronze Soldier’ riots, Parliament approved a ‘Bronze Night Package’ (Bill N.416UE), which lowered Estonia’s MIPEX score by 1 point. Long-term residents may lose their status if they commit an ‘intentional crime against the State’ in the country. These might be neither actual nor serious threats. Such non-violent offences include the destruction of national symbols and flags, or those of foreign States or international organisations. The President refused to extend this ground for withdrawing citizenship, which would go against the constitution.

    Long-term residence is a slightly favourable status for promoting integration in Estonia like in most European countries. Standard from EU law, newcomers apply after 5 years and if accepted, obtain many secure and equal rights. While most conditions are basic, the slightly unfavourable language requirement is set so explicitly high (B1, only 2 others of 31 MIPEX) that it may be unrealistic for many willing newcomers, even with free available support. LT and LV opt for the more average ‘A2’. Halfway secure in their status, long-term residents born in Estonia or living there for over 20 years can still be deported. They become more insecure, a trend in very few countries, after the ‘Bronze Soldier Package’ (see box). 

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    New citizens in new countries of immigration

    GR, LU and PT recently introduced some form of birthright citizenship and full acceptance of dual nationality. The new second generation should not be socially and democratically excluded, according to the Greek law. The objective in LU, where 40% of residents are foreign nationals, was to reflect these changes in society and consolidate integration. Foreigners who apply for multiple nationality are attached to their new country and willing to integrate, while preserving the nationality and culture of their or their parents’ origins.

     

    Estonia and Latvia have the most serious problems of all 31 MIPEX countries with long-term democratic inclusion. The Estonian Integration Strategies have encouraged non-citizens to naturalise, but the legal framework is itself unfavourable for it, and many applicants see it that way. Despite several political debates and proposals about equal citizenship for children born a generation after independence, they are still treated as foreigners at birth. Whether they become Estonian citizens depends too much on their parents, part of the older generation. Estonia is also one of rare countries where new citizens still cannot be dual nationals, whatever their personal circumstances. The trends in reforming countries of immigration across Europe (recently PT, GR, LU) are to introduce some birthright citizenship (now 15) and tolerate dual nationality (now 18).

    To be eligible in Estonia today, most foreigners must have 8 years’ residence, without leaving the country for long periods at a time. If they use the EU free movement rights that non-citizens acquired in 2007, the clock starts all over again, according to a December 2008 Supreme Court decision.

    The conditions for passing are more difficult and numerous than in 20 MIPEX countries. If applicants are not exempt from the language and citizenship tests, they have free and good support to pass them, including new free citizenship courses since 2009. While many assessments are discretionary, only 6 countries set so high a language level as Estonia. Instead of written tests, some opt for less controversial methods, sometimes conducted by new citizens themselves: courses (e.g. LU and NO), interviews (US) and citizenship judges (CA).

    New citizens remain insecure in Estonia, as in several Central European countries. Authorities have many grounds to reject their application or later stripped of their citizenship at any time, even if Estonia would make them stateless. Applicants at least have good legal guarantees and avenues for appeal, as in 18 other countries.

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    Law on Equal Treatment

    With the new law, Estonia is one of the last EU Member States to transpose the EU anti-discrimination directives. While it brings real improvements and significantly raises Estonia’s score, its adoption met with strong resistance. As a result, only minimum standards apply (e.g. CZ) and protection remains weak by comparison with the rest of Europe. Nonetheless, now that standards are in place, they can hopefully improve. Indeed, when policies on antidiscrimination change, it is generally for the better. Central European countries such as EE are making the greatest progress.

    All residents in Estonia will significantly benefit from the new basic protections against discrimination, following years of debate on transposing EU law (see box). They can now expect equal treatment in both the private and public sectors, including from the police force. They can receive independent advice from the new Commissioner for Gender Equality and Equal Treatment. Despite this major progress, Estonia’s policies remain comparatively weak. Legal actions are limited, as are court sanctions. Religious and nationality discrimination are still tolerated in many areas of life. The Commissioner has limited powers, especially in court. The State has not committed to key equality policies, like awareness-raising campaigns about discrimination and victims’ rights.