On December 19 last year, the chairmen of eight political parties together with the leaders in Estonian science signed an Estonian research agreement. The agreement was signed by the majority of party chairmen and researchers and entrepreneurs.
The main point agreed was to increase research funding to 1% of GDP and to keep it at least at the same level. According to the agreement, the 2019 state budget strategy was to provide for reaching the target level within three years.
Five months later, the governing parties announced that the agreed funding would not come.
Is the research agreement a contract?
A contract is a transaction between two or more persons with whom the parties undertake to do or not to do something. The contract is binding on the parties to the contract. The content of the research agreement was an agreement for making certain financing decisions during the preparation and voting of the draft of the State Budget Act in the Riigikogu.
According to the Constitution, state budgets are decided by the Riigikogu. The Constitution also stipulates that a member of the Riigikogu is not bound by a mandate, which means that legally binding instructions cannot be given to a member of the Riigikogu.
Also, a member of the Riigikogu is not bound by promises made in the run-up to the elections. Hence the question, can political parties make agreements that can only be implemented by the Riigikogu?
Political parties cannot enter into civil law agreements according to which voting would take place in the Riigikogu in a certain way. This also means that political parties cannot enter into legally binding agreements regarding the state budget.
A research agreement is not an agreement in the legal sense, but rather a symbolic ritual that signals what political parties would like to do (or voters would like to hear). Similarly, promises to marry or bet on a grandmother’s farm in a poker game between friends, are not binding.
Which kind of agreements can political parties conclude?
Political parties are legal entities (non-profit associations) and can take on responsibilities regarding the rights and obligations of the party. For example, political parties undertake to pay advertising bills, rent, and salaries.
Thus, political parties could conclude agreements to dispose of their wallets, e.g. parties could agree to set up a shelter for disabled and partisan politicians (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uT8MT70HzdQ) and pay a monthly membership fee.
At the same time, political parties cannot agree in a civil law agreement that supports such asylum will be provided from the state budget. Even if political parties made such an agreement, it could only be implemented by voting in the Riigikogu or as an operating grant on the budget line of a ministry.
Therefore, it would not be a contract, but fulfilling a political agreement.