An offshore wind-farm in the Gulf of Riga, Rail Baltica and the expansion of the local airport could all bring benefits to the southwestern Estonian town of Pärnu, while at the same time conservation and environmental questions, and restarting tourism, were all on the table on Tuesday night's 'Valimisstuudio' debate, broadcast by ETV.
The live TV debate was one of a series to be broadcast by ETV and Vikerraadio, and in Russian, by ETV+ and Raadio 4, ahead of polling day in less than three weeks' time.
This time the debate focused on issues facing Pärnu, Estonia's fourth-largest town, with candidates from the six largest national parties, along with one from a Pärnu-specific electoral alliance, taking part.
Local election debates will focus on municipality-specific topics, rather than national or international issues, and ERR has pledged to monitor attempts by politicians to steer the conversation on to inappropriate topics in the interests of pursuing votes.
In Pärnu, the main issues discussed on Tuesday night revolved around the environment, including the town's noted beaches and the situation with wind farms, as well as infrastructure, including Rail Baltica. The city is getting a new bridge in the city center. Tourism and the nearby Pärnu Airport were also in focus.
Tourism and airport
Pärnu as a tourist destination has been hit hard by the pandemic and its travel and other restrictions. At the same time, the city's small airport, operated by Tallinn Airport, is being expanded, at a cost of close to €20 million.
Sulev Alajõe running in Pärnu for Eesti 200, said that one suitable route which could be opened would be between Estonia and Sweden, where: "Health tourism could give a boost to tourism. Internationally known hotel chains would be needed."
Toomas Kivimägi (Reform) said that the town should: "Not be driven crazy with regular flights. Pärnakad have nothing to do with it," using a slang term for Pärnu-dwellers (Estonian: Pärnakas, in the singular -ed.).
Andres Metsoja (Isamaa) said that nonetheless the issue of flights still needed dealing with.
He said: "It is our responsibility to deal with flights, as we did at the airport before. If they are paid, airlines will fly."
Andrei Korobeinik (Center) said: "The hope is that we will have regular flights. There is great interest in Pärnu for entrepreneurs to bring charter flights to Pärnu."
Alar Laneman (EKRE) said that his party is opposed to the high-speed rail-link, at least insofar as it runs between Pärnu and Tallinn, on environmental grounds.
Romek Kosenkranius (Pärnu Ühendab electoral alliance) called Rail Baltica a unique project which only brings benefits to the city.
He said: "If Pärnu gets a 39-minute connection with Tallinn, it will start the economy as well as give those who have relocated to Tallinn for work the opportunity to live in Pärnu instead."
Metsaoja said that the rail link in and of itself was not a unique project, adding that looking beyond the design of passenger terminals is necessary.
Alajõe said the economic structure needs to be better diversified to enable the development of Pärnu. "Bring in the IT sector. Also everything related to the green turn."
Kivimägi said Rail Baltica will transform Pärnu for the btter; Korobeinik said that it is up to the city to choose whether and how it benefits, while Kalev Kaljuste (SDE) said that a unified logistics node should be developed.
Bridge and infrastructure
Kaljuste said that he thought projects such as the Baltic Sea art harbor (Läänemere kunstisadam) could bring the town international renown, and with it, the tourists might come back.
He said: "You have to look at Pärnu as more than just a beach. You have to value the natural environment, including that outside Pärnu."
Korobeinik noted the lack of a conference hall in the town, adding that developing a full-scale university there including IT teaching is needed.
Kosenkranius said he thought that the university in Pärnu should focus on IT and specialties that do not exist elsewhere in Estonia.
The new bridge was also hotly discussed, with Kivimägi saying it must not become an obstacle to the implementation of other projects.
Kaljuste, said the state should fund 50 percent of the construction costs, while Metsoja said that no bridge should be built using propaganda, adding that funding was needed in education.
Kosenkranius said that a situation where the bridge took all the support funds at the expense of other projects was not tolerable.
Kaljuste supported the construction of a proposed off-shore wind farm in the region, as did Kosenkrankius.
Kaljuste said, however, that conservation should always be borne in mind, while Laneman stressed that in order for Pärnu to remain the pearl of the Baltic Sea, the coastal area should not be blighted by wind farms.
Korobeinik said the wind farm was a good idea, adding that the wind turbines will not end up on the beach itself.
Metsoja said the issue of the wind farm could not be decided politically, but energy was needed at the same time. "What are our local benefits? Are Eurocents in the local budget or is direct energy, without network charges?" Metsoja asked.
Kivimägi said the wind farm should also bring down the price of electricity. "At the same time, we need to look critically at the environmental impact."
Kivimägi and Metsoja also consider the expansion of the coastal area important.
Speaking in more detail about the future of Pärnu beach, Andrei Korobeinik confirmed that the women's beach would definitely remain. At the same time, Pärnu beach could be bigger than it is now, Korobeinik thought
In general, Pärnu beach could be expanded, Korobeinik thought, while the women's beach would definitely remain in place. Kivimägi and Metsoja said expansion was also important, while Laneman said bureaucracy should be reduced in Pärnu, and Kaljuste said he would involve entrepreneurs and community representatives in the city's governance.
Taking part (see gallery) were (in alphabetical order):
- Sulev Alajõe (Eesti 200)
- Kalev Kaljuste (SDE)
- Toomas Kivimägi (Reform)
- Andrei Korobeinik (Center)
- Romek Kosenkranius (Pärnu Ühendab)
- Alar Laneman (EKRE)
- Andres Metsoja (Isamaa)
The parties sent the number one candidate on their Pärnu electoral list to the debate.
Polling day is October 17.
Jury gives debate victory to Toomas Kivimägi
A jury panel watching the debate and judging the performances of the candidates gave the highest overall score to Toomas Kivimägi.
The panel consisted of Catlyn Kirna (Tallinn University), Siim Ruul (Estonian debating society - Eesti Väitlusselts) and ERR's opinions editor Kaupo Meiel.
The three scored each candidate out of five, with Kivimägi scoring highest on average at 4.3, followed by Romek Kosenkranius on 4.0.
The diagram below shows the scores out of five for each of the seven candidates, from each of the three judges.
This article was updated to include information on the debate jury scores.
Editor: Andrew Whyte