The state's legal ombudsman Indrek Teder has found the Ministry of Social Affairs guilty of discrimination against a candidate for an EU position. The candidate's application was rejected based on his party affiliation. Maarja Mändmaa, a member of NENO's advisory board admitted in a statement that the Minister of Social Affairs Hanno Pevkur based his decision on recommendations made by the Ministry's partners, including NENO.
In 2010, Peep Mardiste, a member of the Green Party with 20 years of experience in citizen initiatives, applied for one of seven positions that Estonia holds in the EU Economic and Social Committee, which advises EU lawmakers, but was turned down at the suggestion of the sponsors of competiting candidates. The reasoning was that Mardiste was a member of a political party and was deemed an active politician by the ministry, reported ERR News.
But in an audit, Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder noted a serious conflict of interest. The ministry had empowered incumbents for the posts to draw up the criteria for applying. Not only that, some of those incumbents were reapplying for the position. Even more concerning – the objections against Mardiste and the proposal to elbow him in the selection process also came from these organizations.
The ministry's criteria for political neutrality in this case, Teder concluded, are in conflict with the Constitution. "That was not in compliance with the principle of equal treatment, and the ministry has discriminated the individual for his political convictions," he said.
Mardiste's application was supported by the Estonian Council of Environmental NGOs, however he was not given a chance to present his views to the ministry. Mardiste himself told ERR News, that it was clear that the rejection of his candicacy was due to his "wrong party affiliation".
NENO's Maarja Mändmaa noted in a statement that the Minister of Social Affairs' decision was based on recommendations by partner groups, including NENO. "We continue to believe that candidates for public office should be politically independent, however this criterion was poorly set and poorly implemented. We should have demanded greater transparency and a public job search from the ministry, but by the time we realized our mistake, the winning candidate had already been confirmed by the cabinet, and all we could do was to admit to our mistake and apologize, as we did in the letter sent to the ministry and to the Estonian Fund for Nature.