Constitution of Estonia

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The Constitution of Estonia is the fundamental law of the Republic of Estonia and establishes the state order as that of a democratic republic where the supreme power is vested in its citizens. It was adopted in a freely elected Estonian Constituent Assembly on 15 June 1920 and came into force on 21 December 1920.[1] A second constitution was adopted on 24 January 1934 following a referendum in 1933, and was in force until a third constitution was enacted on 1 January 1938.[2] It remained in force, de facto, until 16 June 1940, when the Soviet Union occupied Estonia and, de jure, until 28 June 1992[3] when the fourth and current Constitution of the Republic of Estonia was adopted by referendum.[4]


First Constitution (1920–1933)[edit]

The first constitution was a reflection of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's idea of national sovereignty. Power was split between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature according to the principles of Montesquieu. The constitution provided for a high degree of public initiative and for referenda. Despite the constitution being modelled upon Montesquieu's ideas, there existed an imbalance with the single-chamber Riigikogu exercising undue power over the executive and the judiciary, leading to instability and frequent changes of government. The head of state and the head of government was the State Elder.

Second Constitution (1934–1938)[edit]

Due to the instability of the government, attempts were made to redraft the constitution, with a referendum held in 1932 to consider two draft versions. Both drafts were rejected, however a third draft proposed by the populist Estonian War of Independence Veterans' League or Vaps Movement was adopted in a 1933 referendum and came into force on 24 January 1934. This second constitution established a more authoritarian state order, with the introduction of an executive head of state and the Riigikogu reduced in size and power. A new powerful Presidential institution was established which could exercise supreme power via presidential decree that assumed the force of law. In order to prevent the Vaps Movement coming to power under this new constitution, Konstantin Päts (who had been elected head of State under the new constitution) seized power in a bloodless coup d’etat on 12 March 1934. Suspending the existing constitution Päts initiated preparation of a third constitution.

Third Constitution (de facto 1938–1940, de jure 1938–1992)[edit]

The third constitution was enacted on 1 January 1938. It saw the creation of a bicameral National Assembly consisting of a Chamber of Deputies being the first chamber and the National Council being the second chamber. The role of the National Council was to review and ratify legislation from the Chamber of Deputies, it consisted of elected representatives from local and vocational self-governments and high officials, while the Chamber of Deputies was directly elected by the people. Another change compared to the 1934 constitution was the President was no longer directly elected by the people but by an electoral college consisting of both chambers of the State Assembly and local self-government representatives.

A Soviet-style constitution was illegally introduced, not having been subjected to referendum as required by the third constitution, by a Soviet backed puppet government on August 25, 1940.

Fourth Constitution (1992–present)[edit]

The present constitution was enacted after a referendum on 28 June 1992 and incorporates elements of both the 1920 and 1938 constitutions. While retaining the Presidential office of the 1938 constitution, it returns to the parliamentary unicameral chamber model of the 1920 constitution. It asserts its continuity with the pre-1940 state and the restitutive basis of Estonia’s independence.


The constitution contains a preamble and several chapters. The Preamble to the current Constitution of Estonia reads:

"With unwavering faith and a steadfast will to strengthen and develop the state,
which is established on the inextinguishable right of the people of Estonia to national self-determination and which was proclaimed on 24 February 1918,
which is founded on liberty, justice and law,
which shall protect internal and external peace, and is a pledge to present and future generations for their social progress and welfare,
which shall guarantee the preservation of the Estonian nation, language and culture through the ages,
the people of Estonia, on the basis of § 1 of the Constitution which entered into force in 1938, and by a referendum held on 28 June 1992, adopted the following Constitution." [5]


The current constitution contains fifteen chapters, which contain the following:

  • The first chapter of the Constitution addresses the nation's general provisions. It contains seven articles.
  • The second chapter of the Constitution of Estonia discusses the people's rights, liberties, and duties.
  • Chapter 3 addresses the people of Estonia.
  • Chapter 4 deals with the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu).
  • Chapter 5 pertains to the President of Estonia and his or her duties, responsibilities, and rights.
  • Chapter 7 addresses the legislation of the Republic of Estonia.
  • Chapter 8 addresses financial issues and the budget of the Republic of Estonia.
  • Chapter 9 addresses international relations and treaties.
  • Chapter 10 addresses Estonia's national defense.
  • Chapter 11 pertains to the function and the role of National Audit Office, and the Auditor General.
  • Chapter 12 pertains to the rights, functions, and appointment of the Chancellor of Justice.
  • Chapter 13 pertains to the structure and operation of the judicial system and the courts.
  • Chapter 14 pertains to the jurisdictional, administrative and budgetary aspects of local governments in Estonia.
  • Chapter 15 pertains to mechanisms and procedures related to amending the Constitution.

Fifteenth anniversary of the fourth constitution[edit]

For the Constitution's fifteenth anniversary celebrations, A. Le Coq produced a new brand of beer, the Constitutional Pilsener (Estonian: Põhiseaduse Pilsner) in cooperation with Estonian Ministry of Justice.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mart Nutt (09.10.2009). "The first Constitution of the Republic of Estonia (1920–1933)". Estonica. Estonian Institute. Retrieved 31 October 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ Mart Nutt (09.10.2009). "The second Constitution of the Republic of Estonia (1934 -1937) and the coup d’etat of 1934.". Estonica. Estonian Institute. Retrieved 31 October 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ Mart Nutt (2010-05-27). "The third Constitution of the Republic of Estonia (de facto 1938–1940, de jure 1938–1992)". Estonica. Estonian Institute. Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  4. ^ Mart Nutt (09.10.2009). "Restoration of independence and the fourth Constitution (1992 -… )". Estonica. Estonian Institute. Retrieved 31 October 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ Tulemused – Tekstid
  6. ^ Postimees 9 August 2007: Lang: õlu paneb rahva põhiseadusest huvituma

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