Estonia is a democratic parliamentary country. Under Article 59 of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, the legislative power in Estonia is in the hands of the Parliament (Riigikogu). Riigikogu is the representative assembly of the Estonian people. In addition to passing legislation, the Constitution imposes other functions on the Riigikogu: adopting the state budget and enforcing budgetary compliance, exercising a review of the activities of the government, appointing senior state officials and representing Estonia in international organisations.
Among other tasks, Riigikogu –
- decides the allocation of budget resources for the cultural sector;
- regulates sectors with specific laws (Performing Arts Institutions Act, Museums Act, Heritage Conservation Act etc,);
- regulates the state, but through legislation also the non-governmental sector, which includes also state-owned foundations;
- as to the General Principles of Estonian Cultural Policy, the Parliament reviews the report of the Minister of Culture once a year;
- decides about other Acts having an impact on cultural life.
Riigikogu has the Parliament Cultural Committee, which has members from all political parties represented in the parliament. The committee is debating over laws and the state budget, it also nominates the candidates to the boards of public law cultural organisations, such as the Estonian National Opera, the National Library of Estonia and Estonian Public Broadcasting.
Executive power is vested in the Government of the Republic. Executive power is divided over two functions – governance and administration. The Government of the Republic coordinates the agencies in the executive branch and performs oversight of the agencies.
The Ministry of Culture is responsible for national culture, sport and heritage conservation. It promotes arts, and coordinates the state’s media policy, audiovisual policy, and the implementation of the integration strategy. It is coordinating policies for cultural diversity and for the integration of ethnic and immigrant minorities.
The only governmental authority under the Ministry of Culture is the Estonian National Heritage Board. The objective of the National Heritage Board is to value cultural heritage and culturally valuable environments and ensure their preservation. For this purpose, the organisation is carrying out surveillance, counselling the owners of monuments, provides support for renovation, and maintains the national registry cultural monuments (see chapter 3.1.).
Outside of the Ministry of Culture, the main institution distributing state money for cultural purposes is the Cultural Endowment of Estonia. It was originally established in 1925 and re-established by the Parliament on 1994.
The General Principles of Cultural Policy up to 2020 state: “In addition to the other state budget funds, culture is supported under public law through the Cultural Endowment of Estonia. The basic operating principles of the Cultural Endowment — the organisation of the budget in a manner specified in legislation as well as independent foundation capital and expert groups formed from specialists of different fields — are not changed. The Cultural Endowment of Estonia mainly supports creative individuals and project-based initiatives, while the budget of the Ministry of Culture is used for funding the main activities of state-supported institutions and long-term activities that are important from the aspect of national culture.”
The Cultural Endowment receives monthly a fixed share of alcohol and tobacco excise duty (3,5%) and gambling tax (7,8%) (whereof 60,6% is allocated to finance cultural buildings of national importance, 35,6% is allocated to award grants and support, for administrative expenses and 3.8% through the public universities for arts and culture teaching staff to develop and promote arts’ creative work).
The supervisory board of the Cultural Endowment is chaired by the Minister of Culture, but it lacks any other form of official subordination to the Ministry or to other political bodies, which makes it arm’s-length-principle body. Through the Minister, information flows directly to the government, but funding decisions are free from any political influence.
Other members of the supervisory board are: a representative designated by the Minister of Culture, a representative designated by the Minister of Finance, 8 representatives designated by each sub-endowment panel. The term of authority of the supervisory board is two years. The membership of the supervisory board shall be approved by the Government of Estonia. The supervisory board also has a quarterly budget to support interdisciplinary or crossover cultural projects.
The activity of the Cultural Endowment is managed and represented by the director, who is appointed by the supervisory board for up to four years.
The structure of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia includes eight sub-endowments and fifteen county expert groups. The sub-endowments are: literature, dramatic art, music, audio-visual art, visual and applied arts, folk culture, architecture and sport.
A sub-endowment is a structural unit of the Cultural Endowment, the function of which is to distribute the money appropriated to a specific field of culture by the supervisory board of the Cultural Endowment on the basis of submitted applications and on its own initiative. The activity of a sub-endowment is organised by a sub-endowment panel consisting of seven persons active in the corresponding area of culture and who are nominated by organisations of this field of culture.
A county expert group is a structural unit of the Cultural Endowment, which acts in every county and distributes funds in similar manner as the sub-endowments. An expert group consists of five members that are persons active in the cultural fields or sport of that county.