Rss_eng http://www.ngo.ee en Sat, 26 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200 37299 <![CDATA[Election Observers: Polling Stations Were Underprepared]]> 2011-03-26 2011-03-26 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 4783 ballots were declared null and void. Most of those ballots were mismarked deliberately, as declarations of contempt towards the electoral system or due to a lack of appealing candidates; others were simply accidentally mismarked. For instance, in some polling stations national candidate lists were placed at the entrance to the voting booths, leaving an impression that the voter could vote for any candidate running for parliament. In reality, of course, voters could only vote for candidates in their constituency.

Transparency International Estonia hopes that lessons learnt from these elections will mean more voter education and better qualified polling committees in the run up to local elections, held in 2013.]]> Sat, 26 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200 37320 <![CDATA[Analysts Reflect on Coalition Agreement; Little Consensus Found]]> 2011-03-29 2011-03-29 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 Rammo named lowering the cap on tax-deductible donations as something that will clearly negatively impact civil society, adding to years of regress in the field of tax-deductible third sector donations. A clear positive signal was the emphasis on participation in the language of the text.

Annika Uudelepp, of Praxis noted that the chapter on civil society was far more substantial than four years ago, when it could be described as “a pot-pourri of everything that did not fit under other headings”. Uudelepp praised the agreement’s emphasis on reform, a verb that appeared under numerous headings in the text. The Praxis analyst pointed out the emphasis on developing e-services and funding the Estonian Civil Society Foundation as clear positives, while remaining sceptical about proposed new initiatives to establish organizations providing “world-view based citizen educations” which could be interpreted as leading to the creation of institutions dealing in “ideological brainwashing”.

Meanwhile, sociologist Juhan Kivirähk noted that many issues critical from the standpoint of civil society and social cohesion have been completely left out from the agreement. “The coalition agreement should be less of a laundry list of things to accomplish in the next four years and more of a framework indicating how to solve the problems of Estonian society with the active participation of civil society”.]]> Tue, 29 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0300 37288 <![CDATA[Civil Society Manifesto Reflected in Coalition Agreement]]> 2011-03-24 2011-03-24 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 @font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }]]>
Specifically, the coalition agreement includes NENO’s proposals for a comprehensive database for NGOs, income tax deductions and the improving public sector participation. Though proposals pertaining to NGO financing and citizen education have been left out of the agreement, they may nevertheless become a part of the incoming government’s agenda since they are included in the government’s Civil Society Development Plan.

Below, NENO has published the paragraphs from the coalition agreement pertaining to the development of civil society.

TAXATION
2. Preserving a simple and proportional tax system:

c. /.../ starting January 1st 2012, we will lower the upper limit of the income tax deduction to 1920 euros; (includes tax deductions for charitable donations, - ed.)

JOB MARKET

5. Creating a social environment conducive to foreign investment and international business:

c. We will improve the overall tolerance and openness of Estonian society

EDUCATED ESTONIA

3. Incentivizing best university graduates to become teachers:

c. We will promote the teaching profession actively starting at the secondary school level, following the best practices of projects such as “Teach for Estonia”.

ACTIVE EMPLOYMENT POLICIES AND SOCIAL SECURITY

3. Improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities:

a. We recognize the value of civil society and we recognize the need to further involve organizations representing the interests of persons with disabilities in public decisionmaking.

d. We will ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

FROM E-ESTONIA TO I-ESTONIA

2. Creating a friendly, unified, simple and citizen-oriented face for the public sector on the Internet and other e-services.

a. We will turn e-services into simple and user-friendly i-services, by redesigning the eesti.ee web portal into a handy and attractive public service gateway, in order to promote smart and efficient dialogue between the public sector and the general population.

4. A more secure, efficent, faster, more transparent and regionally available public service:

a. Through new technologies of information dispersal we will reform public administration and make the state even more efficient for entrepreneurs and citizens alike.

7. Developing eDemocracy for greater citizen participaton and transparency:


a. The e-Citizen will be an efficient and active partner of the e-Official and the e-Politician.

8. Turning the state’s e-assets over to entrepreneurs and citizens:

a. We will make the state’s geographic survey data available online – creating the possibility for entrepreneurs and citizens to create new services based on the state’s data. 

b. We will unify the state’s main registries (land registry and real estate registry) and make the principal data available online to the public.

c. We will make more public data machine-readable to increase transparency and participation and to incentivize new private sector developments.

d. We will prioritize making public databases through public-private partnerships.

SECURE ESTONIA

3. Deepening civil society and public sector cooperation to ensure security:

a. We will develop voluntary cooperation between the state and communities.

b. We will develop a neighborhood watch.
e. We will support the operations of voluntary rescue teams.

7. Fighting violence at school and in personal relationships:

a. We will continue the fight against personal violence, including violence at schools.

b. As far as the state budget allows, we will increase funding for civil organizations working to protect the vulnerable, including womens’ shelters.

INTEGRATION
2. Improving intercommunity dialogue:

a. We will value and support initiatives leading to greater cooperation between members of different ethnic communities. As far as the state budget allows, we will increase funding for the Our People Foundation and Civil Society Development Fund to support such projects.

b. We will continue offering multilingual information, including in Public Broadcasting and social media.

BEAUTIFUL AND CLEAN ESTONIA

3. Responsible development of Estonian natural resources as a source of national wealth:

d. We will only open new mines in cooperation with local communities.

IMPROVING COUNTRY LIFE

The purpose of the coalition’s agricultural and regional policy is to achieve a high quality of life in the countryside and to increase the number of well-paying jobs outside the metropole. To that end, the coalition will develop local infrastructure, improve the business environment and provide additional training opportunities. The coalition values cooperation with local governments, local civil organizations, community movements and organizations and entrepreneurs.

3. Improving cooperation and local activism:

a. We will support leaders who wish to improve their local communities and we will explain the virtues of joint activism.

b. We will increasingly support economic cooperation in both manufacturing, processing and marketing.

c. We will continue our support for village movements and the development of the farm as a traditional productive unit. We will strengthen the institution of the village elder as partners of parish councils and parish governments. We will support the cooperation of Leader-program participants, NGOs and entrepreneurs.

FOREIGN POLICY

7. Improving human rights and good governance at an international level:

a. Estonia sees development cooperation and humanitarian aid as important tool of foreign policy and we will contribute to the best of our ability to reduce poverty in the world and improve democracy, the rule of law and good governance in countries receiving development aid.

A STATE OF CITIZENS

The goal of the coalition is a form of governance supporting the natural wish of Estonian citizens to live a free and fulfilling life. We want the state to spend every taxpayer cent efficiently, with the goal of providing the best public infrastructure and service for the largest number of people. We want Estonia to have a strong network of local communities and identities, as well as an administration that is logical, simple, and reasonable.

To that end, Estonian public and local governments must take into consideration the effects of urbanization and the general aging of the population. Modernizing local administration must be incremental, flexible and not disruptive to local networks and identities. The coalition believes that a strong local identity is the best guarantor of democracy.

3. Wider and simpler participation of civil organizations:

a. In order to increase the participation of citizens and civil society organizations, we will create an online, easily accessible repository of government information, including national strategies, development plans, legislative and regulatory proposals, and other initiatives. This site will prominently note opportunities and deadlines for public comment on government proposals.

b. We will put into action the Estonian Civil Society Development Plan and the principles outlined in the “Good Practice of Participation”. We will publicize the information regarding NGOs submitted to the Business Registry, so that organizations in need of more volunteers, more donations or more participation would be easier to find.

4. Better funding for civil organizations:

a. We will provide free, public access to all state-collected data regarding NGOs, including constitutions and annual reports; create a legal distinction between civil society organizations and state-founded or state-controlled non-profits (so-called GONGOs).

b. We will review the conditions for entry into the government’s list of tax-deductible NGO-s.
c. We will continue our support for civil organizations and initiatives through the Civil Society Development Fund, through the gambling tax council and other similar funding organizations. We will continue supporting the Civil Society Development Fund from the state budget.

5. More rights for the young: We will start a national debate on how to involve children and teenagers in the electoral process. We will start a discussion on the possibility of lowering the voting age to 16 years.

6. Continued cooperation with churches and parishes:
We will work in every capacity with local churches and parishes, with an emphasis on traditional confessions. We view the church and parishes as active partners in providing services for the citizens of Estonia.

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

7. Easier and faster communication with the state: We will make communication with the state easier, principally by improving the e-state and e-services. Irrespective of location, everyone must have easy access to state and local government services.

10. Increased participation of local governments, civil organizations and the private sector in public administration: We will give civil organizations and the private sector the opportunity to play a greater role in providing social, cultural, athletic, environmental, educational, health, and security services. Where possible we will turn over public administration to local governments, civil organizaitions and the private sector through public administration contracts.

LOCAL ADMINISTRATION

13. We will help develop and fund a local government think tank, bringing together scientists, public officials, politicians from the state and local level and civil society.
 

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Thu, 24 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37271 <![CDATA[NENO Introduces Participatory Budgeting at Spring School]]> 2011-03-23 2011-03-23 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 Last Friday, NENO conducted its annual Spring School, this time on the topic of Participatory Budgeting.


]]> Participants from NGOs and local municipalities were introduced to the history and practices of participatory budgeting by the head of the Your Local Budget program at Big Society Network in the UK, Oliver Henman. Afterwards, NENO conducted a role playing exercise in participatory budgeting, in which participants got to take on the role of ordinary citizens in a town-hall style budget meeting.

Participatory budgeting is an umbrella term which covers a variety of mechanisms that delegate power or influence over local budgets, investment priorities and economic spending to citizens. The scale of citizen participation has ranged from single neighbourhoods to an entire state (with populations of millions). Discussions are often limited to new investment rather than discussing spending as a whole. It can be run as a one off process, but long-term benefits tend such as social capital and ownership, require a reoccurring, cyclical process.

Participatory budgeting is often undertaken to increase efficiency in the budget and thus save money. The process of citizen involvement in budgets in itself is however costly.

Oli Henman, the keynote speaker, has been involved in participatory budgeting for years, completing his master's thesis on participatory budgeting in Brazil. He is currently an expert at the Big Society Network in the UK, introducing participatory budgeting to local communities via the Your Local Budget program.

Henman introduced the concept of participatory budgeting and outlined different practices across the globe, from Sao Paulo to Chicago and Newcastle, UK.

The Spring School also included a practical component, in which participants took on the roles of local citizens in the (fictional) parish of Ratta, deciding on the allocation of their discretionary funds. After heated debate, shedding the image of stoic, unemotional Estonians, the citizens decided to fund two youth projects, a road reconstruction and a streetlight project. The process was then commented on by local experts from the Estonian e-Academy and the think tank Praxis.

Participants at the Spring School included representatives of various NGOs such as YMCA Estonia, Tallinn City`s Board of Disabled People, Estonian Women's Studies and Resource Centre. Representatives from the Ministry of Finance and 12 different municipalities also attended.


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Wed, 23 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37257 <![CDATA[Switzerland Provides 2 Million Euros for Estonian Civil Society]]> 2011-03-22 2011-03-22 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 ]]>
The project is a part of the Estonian-Swiss development program, which provides the country with 34 million euros over five years (2007-2012). The program is coordinated by the Ministry of Finance.
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Tue, 22 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37237 <![CDATA[Antiracism report declares: NGO-s good, government bad.]]> 2011-03-21 2011-03-21 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 ]]>
In addition, the government abolished the position of Minister of Ethnic Affairs in 2009 following the departure of the Social Democrats from the ruling coalition, citing budgetary concerns and the low effectiveness of the position as reason. The mandate of the Minister was picked up by officials in the Ministries of Culture, Education and Science Affairs, and the Ministry of the Interior.

On the other hand, the report praised the work of NGOs in filling the gap left by the government in raising awareness about discrimination and providing legal counsel. The report said that "despite the fact that civil society organisations working with racism are extremely small in number, lack funding and are under a permanent threat of sanctions or harassment from the state, their activities can not underestimated. Indeed it is possible to argue that they lack influence on state policies and do not have effective lobbying strategies, however, they have managed to find their own way of bring their concerns to the eyes of those involved in policy making. There are also certain positive practices that are in place for several years. Additionally NGOs in the Estonian context serve as one of the main sources of information regarding discrimination cases and work actively in order to develop strategic litigation cases. Most of the awareness raising activities for various target groups is also carried out by the civil society."

Most of the work in the third sector in the past year has been done by the EU-funded project "Diversity Enriches" which funded a public awareness campaign against homophobia and racism, and by the Estonian Human Rights Centre which provides legal counsel on issues pertaining to human rights and discrimination.
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Mon, 21 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37223 <![CDATA[OECD Report Criticizes Estonia for Condescending Attitude Toward Civic Activism]]> 2011-03-19 2011-03-19 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 The current system of governance is fragmented and inefficient, according to the report. The lack of coordination between ministries and the failure to enact civil service reform which has stalled for over a decade, has created a situation where the work of ministries is not transparent enough and there is a lot of redundancy.

The report also includes a section on cooperation with civil society. The document notes that "while the public administration already undertakes a number of citizen participation activities, the vast majority of consultation occurs in the final stages of policy development, after a bill has already been drafted. Thus, consultation occurs too late in the policy development and implementation process to effectively influence decision making. To be effective, consultation should begin at the concept stage. However, this requires a civil society that has the capacity and capability to engage with government and the public administration in a productive manner, which is currently lacking in Estonia. Estonia should look to fully integrate citizen engagement practices as part of an RIA framework."]]> Sat, 19 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200 37217 <![CDATA[Seasoned Film Activists Involve Thousands in Community Film Project]]> 2011-03-17 2011-03-17 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 The film is conceived, scripted, produced and shot collectively in 15 different counties across Estonia. So far, most of the collective action has taken place online, via an online forum where people could post script ideas which were later developed into synopses and finally a full-length script. Now, a nation-wide casting process will begin followed by set construction and finally shooting, with the finished product scheduled to hit cinemas by the end of year, just in time for the 100th anniversary of Estonian film.

The plot of the film takes place the night before the end of the world. The protagonist, Mihkel seeks to fulfill his last wish – to spend a night of passion with his favorite superstar, who happens to be on tour on the other side of the country. On his journey to find the famous singer, Mihkel falls in love with Brenda, a girl looking to make amends with everyone she’s ever fought with.

The project is co-funded by the Capital of Culture 2011 program and run by the activists of Kinobuss, a non-profit organization bringing Estonian films to cinemaless communities in a traveling cinema-van for almost a decade.]]> Thu, 17 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200 37175 <![CDATA[Pärnu NGO Develops Website for School Choice]]> 2011-03-14 2011-03-14 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 The Pärnu Youth Council and the Estonian School Student Councils' Union have opened a website that allows students to compare Pärnu public schools on different criteria – from the number of foreign languages taught to the size of parking lots. The idea – which the developers hope to expand to a nation-wide scale – is to help students in selecting secondary schools and shift emphasis away from measuring exam results.


]]> Currently, the only public criteria for ranking secondary schools in Estonia is state exam results. The statistics are published by the National Examinations and Qualifications Centre and in major Estonian newspapers and journals. The discussion over whether more complex criteria should be used in evaluating schools has long been subject to intense debate, however little progress has been made in actually developing and publishing such criteria. According to ESSCU representative Robert Aps, the Pärnu initiative represents a first step towards developing such criteria.

The website compares six Pärnu public schools on the basis of languages taught, opportunities for swimming lessons, career counseling, the existence of a library and lockers, number of parking spaces for cars and bicycles, distance to the nearest bus stop, meal prices and many other criteria.

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Mon, 14 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37173 <![CDATA[IT-enthusiasts Turn Fiction into Fact in 48 Hours]]> 2011-03-14 2011-03-14 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 In an attempt to improve public e-services a group of enthusiasts, professional programmers and part-time hackers gathered at Tallinn University in late February, prepared to spend an entire weekend coding new applications for the public sector.

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Led by the non-profit initiative Garage48, 16 teams turned 16 ideas into functioning products in 48 hours, including an application allowing for easy visualization of the Estonian state budget, something the government figured would cost at least €300,000.

The idea behind Garage48 is to create a competitive environment for the production of new e-services, by organizing „brain-storming week-ends“ during which teams of programmers struggle to turn ideas into products in 48 hours or less. Certainly, those products can be a bit rough-around-the-edges, but for many entrepreneurs, this 48-hour brainstorming session is exactly the push needed to get a product underway and into real development. Once they get over the hump of preliminary programming, fine-tuning becomes easy.

The Public Service brainstorming session birthed products ranging from the obvious (a visual aid for understanding the Estonian state budget) to the bizarre (a custom-made plushy toy designer), with plenty of variation inbetween. Other highlights include EmergencyChat – a emergency call system for people who cannot speak; an online babysitting exchange; Ajapaik, an entertaining little portal where users can learn about their home town's history by matching old photographs with spots on Google Maps; and a website for helping owners find their lost pets.

Garage48 continues their brainstorming sessions in Latvia, with another session scheduled in Riga for March 25-27.

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Mon, 14 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37143 <![CDATA[Monitors Declare Elections 'Boring']]> 2011-03-10 2011-03-10 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Foreign observes noted that opaque funding for campaigns remains an issue in Estonia as well as in their home country. In addition, foreign observers noted many minute details that are perhaps less noticeable for officials here, such as various procedural rules or double-checking documents. These cases were generally very rare and certainly not malicious.

Estonian monitors unanimously agreed that local elections usually have a higher danger of possible electoral fraud than parliamentary elections, which also explains the relatively low number of Estonian monitors.

Meanwhile, e-voting has fallen under criticism as Estonian Television’s flagship investigative journalism program Pealtnägija (Eyewitness) ran a story last Wednesday demonstrating how a simple computer virus can block votes for certain parties from being relayed to polling stations. The virus was written by a history student at the University of Tartu who has filed an official complaint to the Electoral Committee, demanding that all online votes be declared null and void.

IT-experts from both the Electoral Committee and from independent companies agreed that in practice, the probability of such an attack being committed on a non-trivial scale are very low.


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Thu, 10 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37152 <![CDATA[Tallinn Partakes in Discussion over the Future of Volunteering]]> 2011-03-11 2011-03-11 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 As part of the European Year of Volunteering, Tallinn Sokos Hotel Viru will host a three-day symposium (held in English) titled "The future of volunteering: concepts, trends, visions". The event will focus on the shape of volunteering today and tomorrow.

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The original invitation reads:

The European Year of Volunteering 2011 is the latest peak in the growing public awareness that our societies are better off with active citizens. [---] This seems like a perfect moment for us to hold our breath and to ask ourselves: Quo vadis volunteering? Where are we and where should the journey go? What are the current trends in our sector and what is our vision for the future?

Many new features and new developments characterise the voluntary sector with new information technologies playing an ever increasing role in our daily lives; an increasing commercialisation of international voluntary service placements; the appearance of business players in the nonprofit world of volunteering; with changing patterns of engagement by volunteers; and with our societies facing an economic and financial crises that may lead to unprecedented transformations to our societies and to the way the state perceives the unpaid contribution of citizens to economy and society. [---]

The conference will strive to achieve the following objectives:

To provide an overview of the current trends in volunteering;

To facilitate a space for debate on controversies that have developed over time;

To identify the core concepts and inviolable values of volunteering we adhere to and that we want to safeguard;

To develop a vision for the decades to come of how volunteering will continue to serve as a central cornerstone in all European countries.

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Fri, 11 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37144 <![CDATA[Shadow Elections Largely Mirror Real Results]]> 2011-03-10 2011-03-10 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 Thu, 10 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200 37136 <![CDATA[Guardians of Good Conduct Summarize: Campaigns Had More Substance, Still Too Much Bite]]> 2011-03-10 2011-03-10 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 Now that the Elections to the Estonian Parliament have concluded, the time has come to review the campaign period. During the six weeks of active campaigning, NENO ran a program of Good Election Practices, monitoring the campaigns of all political parties running for office.

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Good Election Practices called for parties to finance their campaign transparently, for candidates to refrain from abusing public positions and for everyone to focus on substantive debates instead of fearmongering, personal attacks and simplistic interpretations.

NENOs Guardians of Good Conduct – experts from academia, journalism and NGO activism – monitored the campaigns and drew up „Halls of Shame“ every week listing the worst offenders. Here are some examples from those lists.

With six weeks to go until Election Day, the Hall of Shame listed the following issues: Hiring campaign activists into public positions to cut costs; using party-affiliated public officials on posters for obvious campaign purposes in Tallinn; circulating invitations to a municipal family day in Tallinn kindergartens, signed by a candidate; spending €75,000 on Christmas Cards for Tallinn's citizens by the municipal government; the Centre Party's use of the Reform Party's symbolics on denigrating ads; twiddling over whether candidates would actually leave their jobs to serve in the parliament, if elected.

Five weeks before Election Day, the Hall of Shame listed the following issues: Featuring a Tallinn city official running for parliament on 7 pages of a municipal newspaper; handing out discount coupons for a skating rink carrying the image of a candidate in Tallinn; continued editorials by the Editor-in-Chief of the cultural weekly Sirp (the editorials ceased the following week); displaying the Minister for Economic Affairs and Communications on a brochure on funding opportunities for apartment houses; desperate cries for attention by high public officials volunteering to intermediate trivial information; not indicating party affiliation on flyers by a candidate.

Three weeks before E-Day: Municipal campaign „Tallinn Helps“ with images of the mayor (also the head of the Centre Party); packing municipal papers with party candidates; running free ads for campaign-related products in municipal papers; publishing candidates' portraits on flyers for municipal events, lack of a coherent party program for many unaffiliated candidates.

Two weeks before E-day, the absolute worst offender of the entire campaign period turned out to be a Centre Party official, who used a tragic accident in Haapsalu which resulted in the deaths of 10 disabled children for campaign purposes. Also admonished were the Reform Party for a TV ad demonizing the Centre Party, the Centre Party for posting ads in municipal buildings; Nõmme City District leader (Centre Party) for organizing free theatre visits for the elderly; and an MP sending campaign materials printed on the Parliament's official stationery.

The last Hall of Shame noted a Social Democratic candidate posing as his namesake, a mayor at a county centre, obscuring his party affiliation; Tallinn city officials distributing campaign ads at municipal events; using clips of prominent public personae praising candidates out of context; putting signs declaring „Not at home, went to vote for Savisaar“ (Centre Party leader) on people's doors; Centre Party TV ad scaring Russian-speaking voters; and Independence Day speeches by the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament, which descended into campaigning.

On the whole, the campaign suffered from the usual problems of opaque funding, unequal opportunities, avoiding substantial debate, blurring the lines between serving in public office and campaigning, threatening voters and demonizing opponents, obscuring party membership and neglecting to publish information on the cost of campaign promises.

On the positive side, compared to 2007, campaigns were more substantial and less hostile this time around. According to sociologists, this can be attributed to the reduced financial means caused by the economic crisis and greater activism on the part of civil society institutions.

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Thu, 10 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
36962 <![CDATA[President Ilves Praises Civil Society in Independence Day Address]]> 2011-02-26 2011-02-26 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 President Ilves also recognized the work of civil society in advancing freedom. “Above all, liberty and living in a free country means being able to live our own lives without asking anyone higher up for permission to do so.”.

President Ilves noted the work of the New World community organization, the NO99 theatre’s Unified Estonia production, Let’s Do It community action day, Estonian Food Bank, university organizations and fraternities and sororities, the Red Cross and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the Defence League and its junior organizations the Kodutütred and Noorkotkad, Caritas, the Supilinn society, the Estonian Fund for Nature, and countless others.

"These organizations attest to how we can make our lives better every day, influence society, help our fellow citizens, and conserve the environment," President said. "Collectively they are Estonia, and they strengthen life in our country, being the connective tissue of our land. Each one of them makes us more independent and free, and by doing so, they make life in Estonia better. They are the source of our power for countering apathy and stagnation, cynicism and petty bloody-mindedness, for saying no to an indifference that could otherwise prove dispiriting. These worthy associations also show how far we have come in twenty years. It shows that without "dear leaders", parties and slogans, we can make our lives and our surroundings in the image of our hearts."

You can read the full text of President's Address by clicking here.

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Sat, 26 Feb 2011 00:00:00 +0200
36973 <![CDATA[NGOs Set Expectations for New Government in Form of General Manifestos]]> 2011-02-27 2011-02-27 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 The Association of Student Governments’ main demand for the incoming government is a greater focus on career services and the reinstitutions of free school meals for high school students. Meals are currently free for all students enrolled in Estonian public schools up to and including 9th grade. Additional meal plans may be provided by local municipalities.

The Association of Estonian University Students is asking for a socially responsible system of financial aid that would allow Estonian university students to commit fully to their studies. Currently, high performing students are eligible for state aid of up to €49, with an additional €25 for students living away from home. In addition, only 46% of all university students are studying on state funded student places, meaning that their tuition is fully paid for by the state. Everyone else has to pay tuition, which averages €1800 per year.

Energy policy is at the center of the Estonian House of Environmental Organizations’ manifest. The manifesto calls for swift action in formulating a coherent national energy policy and raises concerns about the state of environmental conservation in the country.

Criticism of the new Employment Contracts Act constitutes the substance of the Estonian Trade Union Confederation’s manifesto. The new ECA, which mandated lower severance packages, facilitated hiring and firing and increased unemployment taxes was responsible for the rift between the Social Democratic Party and the present-day coalition of Pro Patria and Res Publica Union and the Reform Party, causing the Social Democrats to leave the government in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Estonian Employers’ Confederation encourages the incoming government to restructure and consolidate the public sector. “We are in a situation where most investments in the public sector are made with foreign money, and tax rates have risen substantially. We need reform,” wrote the EEC in the January issue of Hea Kodanik, NENO’s monthly magazine.

The Chamber for the Protection of Children’s Interests underscores the importance of creating a national Development Plan for Children and Families, as well as updating the Child Protection Act, last amended in 2007. The amendments, however have largely been cosmetic, according to Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder, and most of the content is still in its original 1992 form.

Most of the manifestos were created with significant public participation. For instance, both the EASG and AEUS solicited input for their manifestos at public forums; the Trade Union Confederation and the CPCI circulated initial drafts of their manifestos among members and almost all organizations consulted with experts, interest groups and representatives of political parties.

Whether these manifestos will actually have an impact on the policies of the new government remains to be seen. Anvar Samost, from the Baltic News Service, has noted that many fine manifestos have flown under the radar of mainstream media. Although this may partially be caused by the media’s unwillingness to discuss more abstract topics, Samost suggested that another cause may be insufficient communication on part of the NGOs following the publication of the initial manifestos.

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Sun, 27 Feb 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37046 <![CDATA[Politicians and Activists Switch Places, Find Life Not That Different on Other Side]]> 2011-03-01 2011-03-01 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00
The purpose of the shadowing day was to dispel stereotypes and avoid future misunderstandings in public sector-third sector partnerships by familiarizing officials from both fields with each-others work environments and everyday practices.

Based on feedback from both parties, the event can undoubtedly be called a success. One civic activist found that the work done in the same field, but in the public sector, was remarkably similar to his own work. Another activist was surprised at how often public officials criticized the system they worked in, while remaining powerless to change it. Public officials, on the other hand, were surprised by the young age of civic activists and the more relaxed atmosphere at local NGOs.

The results? All 18 people who gave us feedback said that they benefited from Shadowing Day. 16 respondents said the experience helped them improve their everyday work and 15 said it provided them with ideas for more inclusive work. With one exception, everyone said they would participate again next year.]]>
Tue, 01 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37032 <![CDATA[NENOs Manifesto Proposes Civil Society Improvements for Next Government]]> 2011-03-02 2011-03-02 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 In addition, NENO has outlined seven key proposals that the new government should include in the coalition agreement:

1. Provide free, public access to all state-collected data regarding NGOs, including constitutions and annual reports; create a legal distinction between civil society organizations and state-founded or state-controlled non-profits (so-called GONGOs).

2. Review the gambling-tax-funded support system for NGOs by separating annual, operational funding requests from requests for special, one-off projects; by giving local government the power to evaluate smaller projects; and by including NGO representatives in the decision-making process.

3. Make it easier for NGOs to be added to the government’s list of tax deductible organizations, by removing the “charitable giving” clause from the eligibility list, keeping only the “working in the public interest” clause, and adding the “civil initiative” clause.

4. Develop and implement a system in every Government Ministry for providing operational support to NGOs working in the public interest.

5. In order to increase the participation of citizens and civil society organizations, create an online, easily accessible repository of government information, including national strategies, development plans, legislative and regulatory proposals, and other initiatives. This site should prominently note opportunities and deadlines for public comment.

6. Implement a community service program in public schools, providing an opportunity for students to intern at local non-profits.

7. Give taxpayers the option of choosing whether tax credits acquired through charitable giving should be returned to them or donated to the NGO as an additional gift.

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Wed, 02 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37047 <![CDATA[Online Voting More Popular Than Ever]]> 2011-03-03 2011-03-03 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00
This year, citizens could vote either using their state-issued identity cards and a smart-card reader, or using mobile identification, the same way you would log in to your bank account. Votes could be changed at any time during early voting and can still be changed by going to the polls on Election Day.]]>
Thu, 03 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200
37033 <![CDATA[Goverment Approves Civil Society Development Plan]]> 2011-03-02 2011-03-02 00:00:00 0000-00-00 00:00:00 The Development Plan is divided into five chapters: Civic Education, Organizational Capacity and Sustainability, Public Services, Inclusion and Participation, and Charitable Giving and Philanthropy.

The Development Plan recommends three measures for improving civic education: The creation of a civic education agency to improve communication between different partners; increasing awareness of democratic participation by improving civic education in both formal and continued education; and consciously increasing the participation of underrepresented social groups, such as disadvantaged communities and ethnic minorities.

To improve the organizational capacity and sustainability of NGOs, the Development Plan recommends analyzing the legal system and improving legislation to promote the growth of civil society. For instance, Estonia still lacks a legal definition of volunteer service, which would help to reimburse expenses for volunteers without tax penalties. In addition, the state should improve the quality, efficiency and availability of civil society related support services – training days, mentorship programs and so on, which today tend to be rather chaotic and disorganized. Finally (this may be a naive hope) funding for NGOs on both state and local level should be made more transparent, more accessible and more effective.

The cooperation between local governments and civil organizations should be improved, the provision of certain public services should be delegated to NGOs, minimal standards and basic instructions should be developed and, of course, efficiency and accessibility should be improved.

By Inclusion and Participation, the Development Plan means greater participation and inclusion of citizens and interest groups in public sector decisionmaking. This means developing an understanding of best practices and instituting them in various public institutions, as well as monitoring current practices.

Though there is a substantial amount of charitable giving in Estonia, much of it is disorganized and often ineffective. The public sector should educate and promote charitable giving by, for instance, recognizing prominent philanthropists.

In line with the spirit of civil society, the Development Plan was assembled in a truly inclusive manner. Far from being a bureaucratic document that never left the walls of the Ministry of the Interior, the Development Plan was assembled by experts and interest groups (such as NENO), with suggestions solicited from NGOs and interested citizens across the country by way of seminars and online discussion forums. The whole process was coordinated and finalized by NENO, the European College at the University of Tartu and the Ministry of the Interior.]]> Wed, 02 Mar 2011 00:00:00 +0200