Legal status of international organisations in Estonian legal system
Contributor(s)Helsingin yliopisto, oikeustieteellinen tiedekunta
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Law
Helsingfors universitet, juridiska fakulteten
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AbstractWith their number and reach steadily expanding, international organisations as subjects of international law are increasingly intersecting with domestic legal systems. As entities with no territory or population of their own, they are highly dependent on states that can provide them with both: headquarters and staff. States, on the other hand, are interested in the cooperation opportunities that international organisations provide, and hosting an organisation can be in the interests of state’s economic and political agenda. Despite this co-dependence, it might seem surprising that there are generally not many legislative instruments regulating the legal relationships of international organisations and their host states, not to mention the legal relationships with other (non-member) states. This may be due to actual practice which shows that despite not being explicitly regulated, the problems are rare to rise. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the matter should be disregarded altogether. Estonia, while being evidently very favourable towards international organisations and seeking to actively participate in their activities, has not had much opportunities to host international organisations. For different reasons, its attractiveness as a host state has remained relatively weak. As a consequence, Estonian legislators and legal scholars have not put much effort into analysing and regulating the legal status of international organisations under Estonian law. In recent years, especially with and after the establishment of NATO Cyber Defence Centre in Tallinn, Estonia is taking steps to clear the situation with regards to establishment and functioning of such institutions in Estonian territory. However, the progress has been taking place just recently and despite the current, fragmented system of legislative acts, no significant action has been taken towards establishing a coherent regime for regulation the relations with international organisations on domestic level. This indicates that in the upcoming years the matter will become more urgent, especially if international organisations start participating more actively in legal relations on Estonian territory. The present paper seeks to analyse the legal acts available and put them into the context of theory on the domestic legal personality of international organisations, which has developed over time. In order to do that, first a comprehensive overview of that theory needs to be presented and then, the realisation of that theory is put to the test in the context Estonian legal system. The outcomes show that international organisations obtain domestic legal personality under Estonian legal system as a result of treaties concluded between the organisation and Estonia and customary law, where applicable (e.g. where Estonia is a member of the organisation or hosts its headquarters). As a result, such organisations that have been conferred domestic legal personality have the capacity to contract, to acquire and dispose of immovable and movable property and institute legal proceedings. Such can be done only as legal persons recognised under Estonian law. Non-legal persons cannot institute legal proceedings and thus, they would not have the all the capacities listed in legal theory under “model description”. With different legislative acts of different legal force regulating the aspects of potential activities of international organisations, the current system is fragmented and does not produce a clear outcome. Without doubt, it could benefit from a clearer, updated and more unified regime. If the goal is to expand the number of international institutions residing in Estonia, then some core aspects, such as their legal status and capacities, should be resolved in an unambiguous manner. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that Estonian legal system is relatively young and needs time to develop and turn its focus on such novel area as international institutional law. Especially since there has not been much practical urgency to focus on the matter. The idea that international organisations could possess domestic legal personality when acting in Estonian territory is obviously not completely outrageous, since many organisations have already been conferred such personality with bilateral or multilateral treaties to which Estonia is a party. For the time being, the legislator has reserved itself the position to decide and legislate who can and will be considered a legal person in Estonian legal system, but the generally favourable attitude towards international organisations and existing practice gives no reason to doubt that no significant restrictions will generally be set for the functioning of international organisations in Estonian territory. However, the prominent position of the legislator to make relevant determinations shall probably not be lost, as it is visible from current regime of establishing legal persons under Estonian law.