Government introduces administrative reform bill to Riigikogu
The goal is ambitious: Reduce the number of municipalities in the country so none have fewer than 11,000 residents. Merged municipalities who meet the goal will receive €500,000 from the state. According to the government, 26 out of 213 are currently in merger negotiations.
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) introduced the administrative reform bill to the Riigikogu today. “The basic aim of this reform is to guarantee high-quality public services and strong local governments everywhere in Estonia,” Rõivas said. He added that the reform would give small local governments the means they needed to meet their responsibilities.
The administrative reform bill was his government’s most important thus far, Rõivas said, and that it marked the end of deliberations and also conflicts that had lasted over two decades.
“Finally experts and the leaders of local governments agree. The government has come to a decision. Creating the legal framework for successful reform is a great responsibility and a historic opportunity to make life better for the people in Estonia,” Rõivas said.
The Prime Minister went on to say that though increasing the size of municipalities didn’t automatically guarantee better services, a larger unit had the advantage of being able to provide better services. Estonian local governments needed the power to offer equally good services to all people, no matter where they lived, Rõivas said.
The renewal of the model of local government also would also to strengthen local representative democracy, the Prime Minister said. The proposed reform would turn the local governments into stronger partners of the state and make them able to balance government power if needed.
Even the coalition partners are critical
There are signs that the government might have a hard time getting the Riigikogu to pass its bill. As became clear last week, not even the coalition parties fully agree on it. Chairman of the Social Democratic Party Andres Anvelt pointed out that they would like to see further planned legislation before endorsing the bill, and IRL’s parliamentary party said they didn’t expect things to be particularly easy.
Several politicians criticized that though the government suddenly seemed to be in a hurry to pass its bill, there was no concrete plan how the reform should eventually be conducted. IRL’s Tõnis Palts said that while the government’s administrative reform built on the principle of much bigger municipalities, unfortunately a second principle had gone amiss, namely that of logic in terms of logistics.
“A lot will remain undone in the context of an effective and functioning Estonia,” Palts said. In his words, in the short term people in most places in the countryside wouldn't profit from the reform, but lose, and there were still people everywhere who would manage to get their hands on the money and waste it on pointless projects against all common sense.
The Social Democrat’s Jaak Allik pointed out that nobody had any idea what this reform would look like in practice, and that it had the potential to cause the exact opposite of what it was trying to achieve. “It will become clear in the course of these mergers and forced unifications that there are so many obstacles that we’ll eventually be looking at such a mess we won’t even be able to have local elections,” Allik said.