Administrative reform: What will become of the county governments? ({{commentsTotal}})

Minister of Public Administration Mihhail Korb (Center). Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

The ongoing administrative reform will reduce the number of municipalities, and very likely redefine their role in Estonia’s administrative division. This brings up the question of what should happen with the 15 county governments. Minister of Public Administration Mihhail Korb will submit his proposals to the government in January 2017.

The coalition agreement of the new government includes the decision to see the administrative reform started under Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas through. One part of it is deciding the future of the current county governments.

Role of county governments has lost meaning over time

Estonia is divided into 15 counties, 183 municipalities, and 13 cities. With the ongoing implementation of the Administrative Reform Act, the number of municipalities will shrink drastically. As Estonia’s administrative structure is not of a federal nature, the county governments have played a comparably small role, and abolishing them altogether has been a topic of debate on and off for more than 20 years, including in the previous government.

Over the years, the role of the county governments had become smaller and smaller, Minister of Public Administration Mihhail Korb (Center) said on Monday. They had delegated more tasks to the municipalities, which especially with the ongoing reform brought up the question again of what should become of them, the minister added.

Korb said that there were several proposals, and among them those dominated that planned to give more of the counties’ tasks either to the municipalities, or to the state. A meeting of the minister with the county governors is scheduled for today Tuesday, where they will discuss potential changes.

His own proposals he would introduce in the government in January, Korb said.

Governors: Some tasks can’t be taken care of by municipalities and state

Among the county governors, the opinion dominates that the municipalities, the ministries, and other state authorities do not have the capacity to fulfill all of the county governments’ duties. Right now, the counties were left with all those tasks that had proven to be too complicated for other authorities.

“For example, the municipalities can’t supervise themselves. Also, the municipalities can’t do their own spatial planning, which goes beyond a municipality’s borders. The municipalities can’t arrange election procedures for the National Electoral Committee,” Põlva County governor Igor Taro argued.

“Following municipal reform, the municipalities will have a lot of tasks in their own territory, and will have a hard time dealing with matters related to the county during the first years. Breaking up and abolishing the county governments at the same time as there’s a lot of confusion in municipalities taking care of their tasks isn’t good timing, and could destabilize things for years,” Tartu County governor Reno Laidre said.

“In my opinion, the state needs be clear about what the Estonian state is supposed to look like 20 years from now before it starts reforming the county governments,” Pärnu County governor Kalev Kaljuste said.

Supreme Court decision still pending

The planned administrative reform as begun by Taavi Rõivas’ government will drastically change the administrative division of Estonia. Its goals are to either get municipalities to merge with their neighbors based on negotiations, or in case these should not produce results, to decide on mergers in committee.

The aim is increase a municipality’s number of residents to at least 5,000, ideally to 11,000. To this end, the government has promised financial support to all those who merge voluntarily before summer 2017.

The Administrative Reform Act has prompted several municipalities to take their objections to administrative change to the Supreme Court. The main complaints include the arguments that the time granted to merge is too short; that the measure is disproportionate; and that the financial incentive goes against the principle of equal treatment.

The Supreme Court’s decision has been announced for Dec. 20.

Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn

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