Estonia

Estonia ratified the Århus Convention on 6th June 2001. Unfortunately there is no overview of how these principles work in reality. An assessment in Estonia was carried out in the period December 2003 – May 2004. The conclusion was that in general it can be said that access to information in Estonia works better than public participation. Legislation of these principles is quite good, but there is a problem of implementation. One of the reasons is the lack of resources. But the other side of the problem is valuation. Very often officials consider dissemination of information and involvement of public as a troublesome extra work, which has no positive outcome. Therefore it is very important to build the capacity of government authorities. At the same time capacity building of the public is crucial as well. Informed public is more alert to problems and more capable of discussing issues.

The Estonian laws do not specify, which information and how should be disseminated by authorities. The main way of dissemination is by responding to information requests. According to the TAI project experience information requests are not always responded. Different pieces of environmental information are collected and stored by different authorities, which also complicates access to information. The most difficult environmental data to access in Estonia is facility-level pollution data. Officials do not disseminate information of a specific facility.

Public participation in Estonia mostly means a possibility to comment draft decisions before presenting for approval. Public participation is not guaranteed in sufficiently early stage of decision-making. At the same time the more recent policy documents have been more effective in involvement of the public than the older ones.

Regarding capacity building inside the government, the positive aspect is that quite much training on access principles is offered. Still, the awareness of these issues among officials is low.

The positive aspect is also that it is quite easy to find guide materials on access to information on websites of government institutions. At the same time, there are not so many guidelines on public participation and access to justice. These materials cannot be found in Russian. A very helpful measure in ensuring better access to information and public participation is legal assistance in environmental matters; this is done by one NGO in Estonia (financed from international funds).

In general it can be said that the attitude prevailing in Estonia does not see public as a valuable partner, who has a right to be informed and involved. Involving public in decision-making and information dissemination is more fulfilment of laws, not a values-based behaviour.