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European Citizens´ Initiative Forum

The Five Factors of Success Behind Estonia’s Citizen Empowering Platform

Updated on: 28/06/2023

After regaining its freedom in 1991, Estonia has emerged as a pioneer in digital government and e-governance, with the small Baltic nation implementing innovative solutions to enhance the democratic process. One of the most remarkable achievements in this regard is the establishment of the “People’s initiative”,, a digital platform that empowers citizens to participate in shaping their country's policies and legislation. By focusing on five factors, we have seen how in just seven years, the platform has transformed from a niche site to a household name, with power to start public debates and change laws.

But first, it is necessary to understand the legislation. Like the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), the platform enables Estonian citizens to propose, discuss, and collaboratively shape new laws and policies by harnessing modern digital tools. Instead of the ECI’s one million signatures, in the Estonian case you need 1000 signatures to send your initiative to the Parliament, or the signatures of 1% of the citizens of a local municipality to send it to that municipality.

The platform just recently celebrated its 7th birthday. During that time, over 500 000 signatures have been given (over a third of Estonian population, the EU equivalent would be 200 million signatures), 119 initiatives have been sent to the Parliament, 60 to local municipalities (about half of all local municipalities have received an initiative through and its user base is still rapidly growing. The number of Rahvaalgatus users is comparable to the number of digital signatures cast at the European Parliament elections in Estonia in 2019.

Figure 1. How many digital votes were cast in the Estonian elections from 2005-2023: KOV-local municipality elections, RK- parliament elections, EP- European Parliament elections.

Figure 1. How many digital votes were cast in the Estonian elections from 2005-2023: KOV-local municipality elections, RK- parliament elections, EP- European Parliament elections.


If we look at the number of votes our 101 Parliament members got in the 2023 elections and compare it to the number of signatures for the 101 most popular initiatives in, we see that they are similar. Following the current trend, the next 500 000 signatures should come in the next two years, but we can already safely say that and the ecosystem around it has brought more regular citizens into participating in politics than anything else in Estonia (besides voting itself).

Figure 2. The number of signatures the top 101 initiatives got (orange) vs votes that 101 parliament members got (blue) in the last elections.

Figure 2. The number of signatures the top 101 initiatives got (orange) vs votes that 101 parliament members got (blue) in the last elections. 


In these years we have seen that a couple of initiatives have become laws. For example, the 2019 initiative on the Prohibition of fur farms in Estonia which resulted in Parliament banning fur farms as of July 2023, and the 2020 Petition to amend the Family Law which proposes to amend the family that discriminates against same-sex couples and ensures their constitutional right to equal treatment which resulted in the legalisation of same-sex marriage as of June 2023. Many local problems have received much needed discussions and a myriad of topics have risen into the public spotlight. One of these topics in 2022 was the issue of family benefits. We at the Estonian Cooperation Assembly interviewed the two women behind that initiative – Teele and Liina. Their initiative did not make it into a law, but in their own words, they were able to use the platform to open the whole public debate on this topic and break the silence surrounding it. Furthermore, they said that their initiative was motivated by the government rushing the law and not sticking to the rules of good legislative practice, acting in a way as a protest against the government steamrolling all other parties. A year on from that, the authors have started a popular new initiative to revert the law and the new government has in rhetoric supported the idea of rewriting big parts of the supposedly rushed family benefits law. This means that the platform has empowered citizens to not only take their opinion to the Parliament, but also have real measurable impact on the legislation process. 

Graphic of all Estonian Initiatives - 538 Discussions, 381 Initiatives, 544513 Signatures, 180+19 Sent

In our analysis this success of the platform can be attributed to five key factors, which have been in the forefront of our work:

  1. Accessibility: is designed to be user-friendly and easily accessible to all citizens, regardless of their technological expertise. This has significantly lowered the barriers to entry for civic participation and allowed for a wider range of voices to contribute to the democratic process.
  2. Transparency: The platform promotes transparency in governance by making it easy for citizens to track the progress of their proposals and monitor how they are being addressed by the government. As you can follow the proceedings of an initiative that you have supported, this has fostered a sense of trust between the government and its citizens, leading to increased civic engagement. 
    Timeline: Co-creation - Signing - In Riigikogu - Follow-up
  3. Collaboration: encourages collaboration by allowing users to comment on and discuss each other's proposals by having a mandatory co-creation phase (minimum 3 days). This feature has resulted in more comprehensive and well-rounded proposals, as users can build on each other's ideas and address potential shortcomings, while also finding each other and merging similar initiatives into one.
  4. Responsiveness: The Estonian Parliament has demonstrated a strong commitment to taking the proposals on seriously. By engaging with citizens' ideas and incorporating their feedback into the legislative process, the parliament has shown that it values the input of its constituents, further enhancing the democratic process in Estonia.
  5. Integration with e-governance: is seamlessly integrated with Estonia's existing e-governance infrastructure, such as the electronic ID card system, SIM card centred mobile-ID and its newer smartphone-centred counterpart: the Smart-ID. This integration has made it even more convenient for citizens to participate in the democratic process, further driving the platform's adoption.

In the last 1,5 years that I have been an ECI ambassador, it has been a joy to recognise that these fundamentals are present in the ECI as well and the overall logic is very similar to our own work. If Member States develop and popularise their national tools for empowering citizens to participate in state legislation, chances are that more and more people look towards the EU level as well, creating a widespread synergy of increased citizen participation in politics, which in turn legitimises our democratic system.


Karl-Hendrik Pallo

Karl-Hendrik Pallo works as a Democracy Expert at the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, empowering citizens to have a stronger say in decision-making and promoting participatory democracy on a local and national level. He is also an ECI Ambassador.

Founded by the President of Estonia in 2007, the Estonian Cooperation Assembly is a competence centre that supports the development of participatory democracy, promotes democracy among young people and publishes the Estonian Human Development Report that identifies and monitors issues affecting Estonia's long-term development.

One of Karl’s and his colleagues' core activities is running a citizen initiative platform that promotes (e-)democracy by enabling citizens to digitally draft and send signed collective proposals to local governments and the Estonian Parliament. The platform allows citizens to mobilise and request legislative changes and solutions to societal issues on a local and national level.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on the ECI Forum reflect solely the point of view of their authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the position of the European Commission or of the European Union.
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