Fundamental Questions of Administrative Territorial Reform of Rural Municipalities in Estonia
The article aims to remind or inform the reader of the fact that there is no abstract ideal size of a local government unit and that even dwarf-size rural municipalities need not be ineffective. The central idea in determining the ideal size is rather the principle of suitability.
The article shows, on the basis of relevant literature (mainly in German), that equating a larger unit with increased efficiency is abstract and is not in conformity with available knowledge and experience, both in general terms and speaking about the local government in particular.
The above argument is founded first by pointing out six fundamental factors relating to the relationship between efficiency and size: problems connected with the management of larger units; lack of economy in merging units; relativity of ideal size of a unit; connection between the tax base and discharge of functions; effect of scale and cooperation between units.
The following part, dealing with the state and democracy, discusses the definition of “efficiency”. It is a relative notion and is definitely not synonymous with “cheap”, and in the context of the state it depends rather on suitability. It is stressed that local government is a pillar of democracy and orientation to the citizen, and it is exactly for this reason that it is usually very quickly eliminated in totalitarian systems.
In the third part, the situation in Estonia is assessed. None of the previous or current reform proposals seem to have taken into account the above-mentioned vitally important issues. Ill-considered, large-scale and forceful merging of local government units would be especially harmful for Estonia as there is no effective (intermediary) institution between local interests and the central government. It may become a particularly serious problem considering Estonia’s future accession to the European Union, which is based to a large extent on a well-functioning local government. Finally, the author advises to consider very seriously whether the current reform plans would not result in more harm than benefit.
Wolfgang Drechsler, born 1963, Bridgewater College 1985 (BA), University of Virginia 1986 (MA), University of Marburg 1988 (Dr.Phil.), German Higher Educational Establishment for Post-graduate studies in Public Administration, Speyr 1989 (Diploma). Work: Professor at the University of Tartu 1993-, Chair of Public Administration 1996-, legislative analyst at the Congress of the United States 1989-90, managing secretary at the German Wissenschftsrat 1990-92, adviser to the President of the Republic of Estonia 1994. Affiliation: European Association for Research in Federalism, member of the editorial board of the European Jouranl of Law and Economics, member of the council of the Centre for Political Research PRAXIS.