Administrative reform bill passes first reading (1)
The government’s administrative reform bill passed its first reading in the Riigikogu on Wednesday. The bill demands the merging of small parishes and a minimum population of a parish of 5,000. The opposition is worried that the bill might marginalize remote areas of the country.
In detail, the bill covers the bases and procedures of the coming administrative reform, sets a minimum parish size, deals with the required procedural details, and defines the rights and duties of newly merged larger parishes.
The bill specifies that beyond the minimum population of 5,000, the aim of the reform should be to get to at least 11,000 residents in each of the post-merger parishes. It also provides for the allocation of €80m to support the mergers.
Minister of Rural Affairs Arto Aas (Reform) spent several hours explaining the bill in the Riigikogu. Negotiations about mergers should come to a close next year, Aas said, as the next round of local elections was coming up in autumn 2017.
Opposition announces intent to change bill
The Free Party took issue with the fact that the bill doesn’t include the city of Tallinn. The party proposed to adapt the Nordic model for the capital, where the different city districts have more political authority and cooperate with the city’s neighboring parishes.
“The current law that specifies the tasks of local governments and its income base favors Tallinn, which is why it would be reasonable if every city district had the status of a local government,” MP Külliki Kübarsepp (VE) said. Stockholm, Helsinki, and Copenhagen used this model, she added.
The Free Party was also worried about marginalization, as mergers would move remote places in rural areas even farther away from the center of attention.
The party wants a section to be added to the bill that would make the creation of smaller administrative units within a newly merged parish obligatory. Minister of Rural Affairs Aas is against the idea. He pointed out that the authority to choose its own administrative model was one of the cornerstones of the parishes’ autonomy.
The Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) said they couldn’t imagine how the forced merging of parishes could work in reality. They introduced a proposal to repeal the bill, but it was voted down.
President of the Riigikogu Eiki Nestor (SDE) set the deadline for proposed amendments to Apr. 20.