New tool reveals hundreds of Estonian state agency lobbyist meetings

State officials met more with private sector lobbyists than those from any other sector, over the past year, according to data whose collection the justice ministry made mandatory from last March.

Meetings involving the third sector (NGOs) accounted for around 20 percent of the total.

A total of 23 state authorities published data covering more than 700 meetings.

Minister for health and labor Tanel Kiik (Center) was involved in the largest number of such meetings, at a total of 52, while the economic affairs ministry (137 meetings), the social affairs ministry and the culture ministry led the way for ministries.

Of legal entities, the Estonian Employers' Confederation (Eesti Tööandjate Keskliit) held the most lobbying meetings last year, followed by the Confederation of Trade Unions (Ametiühingute Keskliit) and then state-owned energy generator Eesti Energia.

The information has been gathered with the help of a tool which the Ministry of Justice rolled out in 2021 and which provides an overview of meetings with lobbyists in the past year. The tool is aimed at helping to enforce rules on making public lobbyist meetings on the part of state agencies.

The procedure has been put in place in the interests of transparency, and concerns meetings planned in advance which aim to influence policy decisions – these must be made public.

The economic affairs ministry, properly known as the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, which hosts two ministers – economics minister Taavi Aas (Center) and IT and foreign trade minister Andres Sutt (Reform) – as noted was involved in 137 meetings.

The association of construction entrepreneurs (Eesti Ehitusettevõtjate Liit), with 11 meetings, topped the table in terms of appointments, closely followed by the association of information technology and telecommunications (Eesti Infotehnoloogia ja Telekommunikatsiooni Liit, 10 meetings) and the association of civil engineers and the association of architects (Ehitusinseneride ning Eesti Arhitektide liit, nine meetings).

The Ministry of Social Affairs, which also incorporates two ministers – social protection minister Signe Riisalo (Reform) in addition to minister Kiik – met most with the employers' association, the trade unions confederation (Ametiühingute Keskliit) and the association of SMEs (Eesti Väike ja Keskmiste Ettevõtjate Assotsiatsioon).

Meetings with employers mostly concerned Covid and vaccination issues, while meetings with trade unions did the same, as well as looking at pensions matters and issues affecting workers in the energy sectors.

Meetings involving Eesti Energia mostly concerned company's action plans, climate neutrality and the development of wind farms.

The government improved a best practice for communication with lobbyists in March 2021. The authorities involved are required to publish, as a minimum, quarterly meetings of their senior officials with lobbyists and interest groups, on their websites.

The IT tool is here (link in Estonian) and was prepared in cooperation between the Ministry of Justice and an NGO, MTÜ Korrupsioonivaba Eesti (Corruption-free Estonia).

Read more at ERR.