Helme: Local governments with populations up to 3,000 just fine
Debate over the administrative reform bill continues in the Riigikogu. Actively stalling, the opposition finds that local governments should be ceded more power and money, while the ruling coalition maintains that local governments must be optimized first. The second reading continues during today's session, which is likely to become another all-nighter.
According to Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) Parliamentary Group Chairman Martin Helme, who has been leading stalling tactics including taking recesses, the administrative reform will not solve problems involving marginalization, as it will not provide local governments with more money or reconfigure local and central government tasks. Helme referred to Nordic countries, where nearly half of all taxes collected by the state is directed to local governments, reported ETV’s nightly news broadcast “Aktuaalne kaamera.”
Helme noted that approximately 11 percent of collected income tax was currently allocated to local governments, and that one proposed amendment to the bill involved raising this to 15 percent, although the ultimate goal was to reach 25 percent or even more.
Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) Parliamentary Group member Siim Kiisler, however, pointed out that in Denmark, administrative reform came first, requiring a minimum population of 20,000 per local government, thus eliminating smaller local governments altogether, after which local governments were assigned more tasks and more money with which to fulfill them.
According to the bill currently being debated in the Riigikogu, the required minimum population for local governments would be raised to 5,000; 80 percent of Estonia’s currently existing local governments would not meet this requirement. The opposition finds that the creation of larger local governments would threaten the vitality of democracy on a local level.
Martin Helme found that claims that the country’s local governments could not keep up with its duties was clearly exaggerated, noting that local governments of just 1,500 were getting along just fine and that local governments with populations of 2,000-3,000 would be perfectly natural.
Kiisler still found, however, that active and capable parishes should still include more residents, particularly if the goal was for parishes and cities to be able to make independent decisions on important local matters including road repairs, public transportation and education. Expert suggestions, he cited, were a minimum of 5,000 residents per local government, with an ideal population size of at least 11,000.
The second reading of the administrative reform bill continues during today’s session. Should it be successfully concluded tonight, an additional 16 items on the agenda are to follow, which means that today’s session is likely to become another marathon all-nighter.