The Cabinet has given the go-ahead to a bill that would allow each party to set up separate state-funded arms for promoting world views and democracy.
Approved at the sitting on January 12, it provides for a new category of NGO under private law that can only be established by a political party – one to a customer – but which is distinct from a party.
It defines the functions of such an entity, known as a DASA, the Estonian acronym for democracy development foundation, as promoting civic education, advancing democracy and policy research and historical research.
A sum of 900,000 euros is allocated in this year's budget for establishing foundations, operating grants and projects. Party and DASA budgets will be kept separate, and the party NGOs are not allowed to run campaigns or participate directly in government.
The bill, drafted by the Parliamentary constitutional affairs committee, has been criticized by much of the non-partisan NGO sector.
Former Prime Minister and MEP Andres Tarand, a veteran Social Democrat, has also spoken out, calling it a patent attempt by the ruling Reform Party to increase influence.
"If the desire is to promote democracy in an in-depth manner in Estonia, then allot the money to independent researchers (they already exist as non-profits and more can be established)," he wrote in the Social Democrats' magazine.