Regional Affairs Minister Siim-Valmar Kiisler released a map today that illustrates his proposal to cut the number of local governments in Estonia from around 250 to 60 by 2017.
By merging many small rural towns, reformers hope to consolidate resources, while opponents to the plan have feared that the communities most directly affected could lose power.
"It is our interest that municipalities have more equal capabilities. Today the problem is that their capabilities are so unequal,” Kiisler said.
Estonia's population has seen a massive transfer from the countryside to urban centers in recent decades. Moreover, three-fourths of Estonia's rural inhabitants work outside of the municipalities they live in, Kiisler noted. "As you can see, we have not drawn any borders. Our goal is to erase borders so that peoples' work and movement are not hindered by administrative borders,” he said.
The minister's long-awaited proposal, which will next be reviewed by Parliament, was composed with the help of local governments.
In that process, officials in Lääne-Viru County submitted the proposal for the most population centers - seven. On the islands, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, a single center has been proposed for each. Meanwhile, municipalities in Võru and Järva counties were not able to come to agreements on the reform and the county governments made the decision for them. Up north, in the surroundings of Tallinn, Harju County is still conducting an analysis and has not yet made a decision, but it is also the least problematic county because its population growth is strong.
"I like these kinds of pictures. I think they are a very competitive solution,” Kiisler said.