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Prime Minister Jüri Ratas gave an overview of the situation in research and development activities and the Government’s policy in this sphere.

Ratas noted that political parties, researchers and entrepreneurs had signed a research agreement on 19 December, immediately before Christmas, last year. The public sector funding of research and development and innovation will have to increase to one per cent of gross domestic product. “To achieve such a target, a contribution from all participants in society is required,” Ratas said. In his words, more important than the amount of money is the fact that politicians, the research community and entrepreneurs have affirmed their readiness for changes. “It is clear that, in order to improve the cooperation between entrepreneurs and researchers, simply granting additional money is not enough. Researchers promised to give priority to the development of sectors oriented to the development of Estonian economy and society, and representatives of entrepreneurs promised to cooperate more with researchers and research institutions,” the Prime Minister explained.

The Prime Minister noted that the proportion of research spending in gross domestic product depended on both statistics details and economic growth as a whole. For example, if the economy grows faster than has been forecast, the proportion of research funding in GDP also falls, and there is much dissatisfaction. Should GDP fall, however, the proportion of research funding grows without researchers actually having more funds. In addition, the statistics, including GDP growth, is corrected in the course of methodical specifications for several years retrospectively. “All this renders the achievement of one per cent disagreeably dependent upon numerous factors. However, this is no excuse for me. I definitely consider it important that research funding should continue to grow, as we have agreed with all political parties, researchers and entrepreneurs,” Ratas confirmed.

The funding plan for the State Budget Strategy for 2019–2022 provides for additional funds for higher education and research and development in the area of administration of the Ministry of Education and Research in a total amount of 60.4 million euro. 220.2 million euro have been planned for research and development in the state budget for 2019. The relevant amount was 175 million in 2016 and 2017, and 206.2 million in 2018. ”Yes, we have not been able to keep pace with rapid economic growth, but a significant leap has been made which demonstrates our choice to invest in the future,” the Prime Minister stated.

In his report, Ratas pointed out various aspects of the current research and development funding. In his opinion, Estonian economy and the country as a whole have undoubtedly been doing well since the restoration of independence. “Nevertheless, it is important to continue on the course of increasing research and knowledge intensiveness. We cannot settle for slow productivity growth in businesses, or for Estonia’s position on the European Innovation Union Scoreboard dropping. We have fallen from the thirteenth place in 2015 to the fifteenth place in 2017,” Ratas said. He underlined that the target for 2020 was to achieve the tenth place.

During the debate, Jevgeni Ossinovski (Social Democratic Party), Anne Sulling (Reform Party), Krista Aru (Estonian Free Party), Marko Pomerants (Isamaa) and Aadu Must (Centre Party) took the floor.

The Riigikogu passed two Acts

The Act on Amendments to the Police and Border Guard Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (673 SE), initiated by the Government, organises and amends the provisions concerning the transfer and processing of passenger name record data. The Acts are brought into conformity with the relevant EU Directive on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime. The deadline for the transposition of the directive was 25 May 2018.

The Act specifies the provisions concerning the processing of data in databases and the transfer of information to other authorities. The data retention periods are brought into conformity with the requirements arising from the directive.

The aim of collecting passenger name record (PNR) data is prevention and detection of terrorist offences and serious crime. In the countries where the processing of PNR data is used already, it has helped catch several criminals operating internationally. All 28 Member States adopt the PNR data system in the European Union. The system is also used for example in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. The adoption of the PNR data system involves no changes for passengers.

75 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the passage of the Act, seven voted against, and there was one abstention.

The Act on Amendments to the Vital Statistics Registration Act and Other Acts (723 SE), initiated by the Government, provides that, in the future, duplicate certificates of vital statistics events (e.g. birth certificate) will be issued in multilingual standard forms if the persons so wish. Thereby the need to additionally translate or legalise documents, or the need for other similar formalities, will be precluded and the administration will become simpler for people. The amendment is necessary to implement a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council. It promotes the free movement of citizens by simplifying the requirements for presenting certain public documents in the European Union. The amendment enters into force on 16 February 2019.

In addition, the Act provides for the additional possibility to apply for changes to the data of birth registrations. Before 30 June 2010 it was possible for the mother, upon the registration of the birth of a child, to apply for entering the name of the father into the birth registration also in the case when the mother was not married to the father of the child and no one had acknowledged paternity. In such a case, the name of the father was entered into the birth registration on the basis of the statement of the mother, although no paternity was created thereby. If the name of the father was included in such a way, that brought about no obligations towards the child for any man. The Act provides for the possibility to delete the data of the father entered into the birth registration of a child on the basis of the statement of the mother if the legal representative of the minor child or the adult child submits a relevant application.

74 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the passage of the Act and 6 voted against.

The Riigikogu concluded the first reading of four Bills

The Bill on Amendments to the Tobacco Act and the Alcohol, Tobacco, Fuel and Electricity Excise Duty Act (775 SE), initiated by the Government, will transpose two articles of the EU Tobacco Directive, on the basis of which a European-wide tracking and tracing system for tobacco products will be implemented as of 20 May 2019. It aims to restrict the spread of illicit cigarettes.

According to the Bill, a tracing system for the tobacco product sales packages will be established, which means that all economic operators involved in the trade of tobacco products, from the manufacturer to the last economic operator before the first retail outlet, record the entry of all unit packets into their possession, as well as all intermediate movements. Recording allows to track, with the help of a unique identifier, the actual shipment route of each sales package of a tobacco product, and information on all transactions with tobacco products concluded.

In order to obtain data from the traceability system, manufacturers and importers of tobacco products conclude data storage contracts, for the purpose of hosting all relevant data. Access to the data is important and must be ensured for example to the authority interested in the data (the Tax and Customs Board in Estonia) and the European Commission.

As part of the tracking and tracing system, a security feature simplifying the verification of whether or not a tobacco product is authentic will also be introduced for the sales package of tobacco products. The tax stamp used in Estonia complies with the requirements of the EU legislation, and therefore it has been decided to introduce a tax stamp as the security feature which is at the same time the most convenient solution for manufacturers and importers of tobacco products. In the cases where no tax stamp is installed on a product (in duty-free shops), the security feature of the manufacturer will have to be installed on the product. The manufacturer or importer of the tobacco product will develop it, taking into account the requirements of the law and the EU legislation.

According to the Bill, the provisions concerning the traceability system, the recording obligation and the safety feature will apply to cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco from 20 May 2019 and to tobacco products other than cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco from 20 May 2024. Cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco manufactured in the Union or imported into the Union before 20 May 2019 which have not been marked with a unique identifier at the unit packet level may remain in free circulation until 20 May 2020.

Tarmo Kruusimäe (Isamaa) took the floor during the debate.

The Bill on Amendments to the Police and Border Guard Act and the Rescue Service Act (768 SE), initiated by the Government, provides for a more flexible organisation of the employment in service of the Deputy Director General of the Police and Border Guard Board, and the promotion in the service rank of a police officer. It is also intended to give the Director General of the Police and Border Guard Board the right to authorise the specification of the persons being protected and the manners of performance of the protection, to designate the authority responsible for the calculation and payment of police pension, and to ensure application of on-call time to rescue service workers. In the interests of legal clarity, the implementing provision on increasing the pension of rescue service workers will be amended.

In the Rescue Service Act, the rules for granting the state old-age pension of rescue service workers which are in force until 1 March 2023 will be specified. Under the current procedure, old-age pension is granted to rescue service workers on the basis of the State Pension Insurance Act. In addition, the Rescue Service Act provides for an increase of 10-15 per cent in old-age pension, depending on the length of service of rescue service worker (starting from the tenth year). In practice the question has arisen as to whether a person who has the required length of rescue service but who attains pension age after 1 March 2023 would not benefit from an increase in their pension. According to the Bill, the person would retain the entitlement to the increase in old-age pension.

The Bill also provides for the entitlement to an increase in the old-age pension of rescue service worker also for persons who were in rescue service at the time of entry into force of the Act (on 1 March 2008) but who have left the service after that and are not retiring from rescue service. Under the current procedure, the state old-age pension of rescue service worker is granted and paid after termination of employment in the position of rescue service worker. Until the end of 2017, the Act was interpreted to mean that only rescue service workers retiring immediately from rescue service benefited from an increase in the old-age pension of rescue service worker. Under the Bill, rescue service workers who do not retire immediately from rescue service will also benefit from an increase in the old-age pension of rescue service worker if the conditions for receiving the pension are met. This concerns the persons who were in rescue service at the time of entry into force of the Act and who have the length of rescue service required for an increase in old-age pension. The increase will be paid retroactively also to the persons for whom no increase in old-age pension was calculated earlier.

The Bill on Amendments to the Trade Marks Act, the Industrial Design Protection Act and Other Acts (765 SE), initiated by the Government of the Republic, will confer the exclusive competence to resolve disputes relating to intellectual property rights upon Harju County Court. In the current legislation, all Estonian county courts have the competence to adjudicate civil matters relating to intellectual property. In practice, however, the majority of intellectual property disputes end up in Harju County Court. Harju County Court is also the only court that has judges specialised in intellectual property.

Under another amendment, the Estonian Patent Office will have the possibility to use electronic proceedings in the case of trade marks and designs, which will facilitate electronic communication between the Estonian Patent Office and persons. For that, possibilities to submit and release information electronically will be provided for. In the future, the Estonian Patent Office is planning to transfer to electronic proceedings and maintenance of a digital registry file also in the case of inventions (patents, utility models), layout-designs of integrated circuits, and geographical indications.

The amendments will also simplify acquisition of the profession of patent attorney for sworn advocates. Under the current Act, a person may be awarded the profession of a patent attorney if the person has worked for a patent attorney or for a company of patent attorneys at least for the last four years. In the future, the time spent providing legal services in the field of industrial property in a law office will also be included in the length of service required to acquire the profession. However, the requirement to take the professional examination for patent attorneys will be maintained for sworn advocates.

 The Bill on Amendments to the Estonian Defence Forces Organisation Act (783 SE), initiated by the Security Authorities Surveillance Select Committee, will extend the rights of the Defence Forces in the conduct of a background check of persons, in order to verify their suitability to be employed in the Defence Forces or to cooperate with the Defence Forces. According to the Bill, the Defence Forces will be able to perform acts to a wider extent than the current verification against registers, and to use covert measures to ensure that the collection of information is covert, upon obtaining information needed for background check. The function of collecting and processing information to protect the restricted military area of the Defence Forces is provided for for the Defence Forces as a new function upon the conduct of military intelligence.

The Bill will give the Defence Forces the right to collect and process data in order to ensure the protection of their restricted military area and to prevent potential threat. The above-mentioned amendments are necessary in order that, in the event of incidents directly affecting security, the Defence Forces were able to identify a threat and to respond to it itself in a timely manner.

Hanno Pevkur (Reform Party) took the floor during the debate.

The sitting ended at 5.49 p.m.

Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian):

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