Merger is a strategic decision from the standpoint of local development
The topic for the conservation circle in this issue of Riigikogu Toimetised is Estonian local governments and problems related to their legal basis, financing, small size and future development.
The participants in the conversation circle were the following: two members of the Riigikogu, Jaak Aab (Estonian Centre Party) and Rein Aidma (Estonian Reform Party); Minister for Regional Affairs Siim-Valmar Kiisler (Pro Patria and Res Publica Union); managing director of the Association of Estonian Cities Jüri Võigemast; managing director of the Association of Municipalities of Estonia Ott Kasuri; and Tallinn University public policy professor Georg Sootla. RiTo editor-in-chief Helle Ruusing asked questions and made a selection from the responses. It was found that the legal basis that currently governs the actions of local governments is, in principle, in conformity with all of today’s requirements. Thus the legal space does not hinder the furtherance of the local sphere; the questions are raised more by the practical side. Estonians want everything to be very fair and clear and laid out according to common principles – both obligations and financing. But it is very hard to construct universal models for local governments, which differ in population by a factor of 4000. This proportion is also reflected in local government budgets and financial opportunities. With such great disparities, it is extremely complicated to come up with common models that would be fair for both small and large local governments. Local communities work better in place where there are sufficient numbers of educated and informed people. Many non-profit organizations, volunteer fire departments, neighbourhood watch organizations, assistant police officers have been established in municipalities, showing indisputably that many citizens are prepared to put their free time and energy, even their money, in the service of the common cause. Unfortunately many local governments are still so small that there is not much financial leeway in their budgets, a large part of which goes to education. If there are a few hundred inhabitants in a rural municipality, it will not have much of a financial buffer and it just proceeds according to the functions and the money that the state gives it. Big cities are in this sense, more sovereign; as they have the corresponding monetary buffer, they can to some extent have their own law enforcement policy, their own business policy, create enterprise incubators etc. In talking about local government policy it was found that even though all Estonian political parties have sections in their programmes that deal with the local government, the section in the current government coalition agreement on local government is unfortunately a little thin. At the same time, local government associations have clearly said that one of the principles behind their activity is to increase the significance of local governments in organizing social life. They want Estonia to move in the direction of the Nordic model, where the share of local governments of the total volume of the public sector is larger and continually increasing.