Judge, European Court of Human Rights
Professor of European Law, University of Tartu
European Human Rights
Law and Estonia:
One- or Two-way Street?
1. Historical background: Ratiﬁ cation of
the convention and its protocols by Estonia
After re-gaining its independence in 1991, Estonia was eager to conﬁ rm the country’s historical belonging to
Europe and opened itself up to a democratisation process. All efforts were taken in order to return Estonia
to the family of democratic states governed by the rule of law and again join the international community,
including the Council of Europe (on 14 May 1993) and later on the EU (on 1 May 2004). European human
rights law as understood for the purpose of this article is above all the European Convention on Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the Convention) and the case law of the European Court of Human
Rights (the Court, the Strasbourg Court) in applying and interpreting it.
Lennart Meri, President of Estonia in 1992–2001, in the ﬁ rst years of the re-established Republic of
Estonia (in the 1990s) pointedly warned that if we do not build a state governed by the rule of law, Estonia
will be as lonely as the Moon rotating around the Earth.*1
Estonia ratiﬁ ed the Convention on 13 March 1996 and it became binding for Estonia as of 16 April 1996.
A reservation to the Convention was made by the Government of Estonia regarding Article 1 of Protocol No.
1 of the Convention as far as Estonian laws on property reform are concerned. The reservation turned out
to be a pragmatic choice, because in Estonia some property-reform-related issues are many years later still
not solved. In its decision in the case Shestjorkin v. Estonia,*2 which concerned the restitution of nation-
alised property, the Court examined Estonia’s reservation and found that it satisﬁ ed the requirements of
the Convention. The European Commission of Human Rights had already held the reservation applicable
and the application inadmissible in another Estonian property reform case.*3 Despite this reservation, the
case law of the national judiciary, especially of the Supreme Court and its Administrative Law Chamber, has
followed the principles of rule of law and found them to be applicable also in often both factually and legally
very complicated cases of privatisation. On the other hand, the Court has even without going necessarily
into the substance of the Estonian reservation accepted that the national authorities enjoyed a wide margin
of appreciation in regulating ownership relations that involved large-scale economic and legal reforms and
that the national authorities succeeded in striking a fair balance between the proprietary interests of the
1 Available online at: http://www.tsitaat.com/tsitaadid/teemad/%C3%B5igusriik.
2 Shestjorkin v. Estonia, [dec.] No. 49450/99, 15 June 2000.
3 Vesterby v. Estonia, No. 34476/97, 1 July 1998.
4 See Poder and Others v. Estonia, [dec.] No. 67723/01, 26 April 2005.
4JURIDICA INTERNATIONAL 23/2015