Ossinovski: More political balance needed in Tallinn municipal companies

Jevgeni Ossinovski.
Jevgeni Ossinovski. Source: Vladislava Snurnikova/ERR

Social Democratic Party (SDE) MP and former chairman Jevgeni Ossinovski says in an interview to ERR that Tallinn municipal companies would benefit from having more experts and political balance. However, Ossinovski does not urge complete depoliticization of companies.

How happy are you with the coalition agreement of the Center Party and SDE in Tallinn?

I think it is a solid agreement. Of course, as with any coalition accord, it is a compromise between the goals and desires of two parties. I believe it has created a good common feel for how the city should be run in the coming years.

What did the Social Democrats have to sacrifice to reach that compromise?

I would start with the positive. Topics that we prioritized, such as more human-friendly urban environment, bicycle paths, more greenery and environmental focus, are all represented. We will be contributing positively to city administration in that sense.

Naturally, there were topics regarding which final agreements were not made in this stage following technical reasons, such as major financing decisions. While we have agreed that Tallinn will get new tram lines, agreements regarding where to create these new public transport corridors will be made as we go, considering the complexity of the design process.

And it is also true that we were forced to settle for less in other areas. I'm glad that the kindergarten place fee has been frozen for four years. It is definitely an important achievement, while it is less than we wanted.

The opposition has been rather critical of the coalition agreement. For example, head of the Reform Party in Tallinn Kristen Michal counted various words in the text of the agreement. The word "continue" is used on 31 occasions, "support" on 13 occasions and "expand" in nine cases. Does the coalition agreement have a whiff of stagnation about it?

I find that the opposition was surprisingly gentle in its reaction, which is a testament to the work of negotiators. Naturally, there are topics where parties have ideological differences. The fact some parties dislike certain items in the coalition agreement is a natural part of democracy.

As concerns the ambition of the agreement, we need to keep in mind that it is not the end of a journey but only the beginning. We have pinned down some top priorities, some critical issues where a common vision needed to be established.

But we are still talking about city administration where practical decisions depend on a lot of different factors and will therefore be solved as they come up. This also concerns allocation of major funds for various projects. Local government fiscal constraints play a role here.

Therefore, I believe the coalition agreement is a good starting point for a common vision. But it should not be construed that only the things listed and nothing else will be done. That is not the case.

Regulating Tallinn nightlife was one important topic for SDE leading up to the elections. The goal was to do it in a way to keep nightlife from deteriorating, keep it cultural and relevant as a tourist attraction. Your proposals included creating the post of night mayor, while it was ultimately left out of the coalition agreement. The agreement does promise to develop a holistic approach to nightlife that considers the interests of all Tallinners. At the same time, the recent rulers of Tallinn have curtailed night-time alcohol sales that has been described by many establishments as squeezing the life out of the night. How will you move forward?

The question holds a large part of the answer. In addition to matters of culture and enterprise, the field also covers law enforcement and maintenance topics. We have agreed to develop a corresponding strategy. This requires cooperation from city agencies, companies and other organizations.

We agreed to talk about the problem as opposed to a particular office. The important thing is that we have agreed to shape such a common strategic vision, and SDE will be making efforts to see it realized.

Will you return to the question of night-time alcohol sales restrictions?

All of these topics will have to be reviewed when putting together the strategy. Matters of the capacity of local governments are also bound to come up. Some things will need to be discussed with the central government, in terms of expanding the possibilities of local counterparts. We hope to arrive at a good practice for developing the field in the future.

Is it clear by today who will take up SDE's deputy mayor and Nõmme city district elder positions?

It is not. We are working to get there. We hope to reach relevant agreements inside the party next week. The SDE Tallinn branch will have to approve these candidates before we can disclose who they are.

Why is it taking so long? Are there tensions or conflicts inside the party regarding this matter?

No. It is an important matter and one we could not tackle before it was clear which positions would be coming our way. Our goal is to put together a professional and competent team capable of working together in Tallinn. It takes time to assemble.

Could you be looking at the post of city council chairman?

Unfortunately, I can disclose no further information until we have put together our team and the Tallinn office has approved it.

To what extent is the fact that SDE MPs going to work for the city government would in many cases see Centrists take their place in the Riigikogu a hindrance?

Matters of fact will be taken into account when putting together the team, and what you suggested is just that.

When former SDE member Rainer Vakra took the job as head of [municipal heating provider] Tallinna Soojus, [SDE mayoral candidate in Tallinn] Raimond Kaljulaid suggested that Tallinn companies should be depoliticized. Did it come up during coalition talks and how heated did the debate get? Where does SDE stand today?

The topic was discussed quite thoroughly. We were given an overview by the city's audit service on the progress of the anti-corruption strategy one items of which is management of municipal companies and foundations. We have agreed to review this matter.

It concerns possible consolidation of what are perhaps less than vital institutions, as well as the political balance of management organs and the importance of involving experts. We have agreed to take a step forward.

Would SDE appoint members working for the city to the supervisory boards of municipal companies?

We have not discussed it as such, nor have we made any decisions. However, it is clear that having a single political party's functionaries make up the entire supervisory board, which is still the situation in several city companies and foundations, is not how SDE feels these organizations should be run. We want to see more experts and more political balance.

Could that balance be achieved by adding people from SDE?

As I said, we have no agreement to that effect as of yet, which is why I would provide an overview and answers once it has been made and change starts happening.

Parties refrained from commenting on stages of negotiations during coalition talks. You agreed to only talk about the agreement once it is signed. The public could be left feeling the talks were classified. What kind of a message does this send in terms of how the city will be run?

Negotiations happen behind the negotiating table. I would not say it is secretive as much as the way negotiations work. The talks followed what has been outlined in our election program that is completely public, and looking at the finished agreement, you can see it reflects the positions of the partners or a compromise of those positions. In that sense, it is a completely public process both in terms of input and output.

As concerns giving running totals at different stages, it is a technical matter. It was decided that because we have no certainty in terms of whether the coalition will be formed before negotiations are concluded, it makes no sense to announce interim results. The aim was not to keep things from the public but to give delegations time to thoroughly discuss all aspects, which is what we did.

Will this coalition allow SDE to boost its visibility and put in a better result at Riigikogu elections?

It definitely matters to us that this is the first time SDE has been involved in running the city on this level, and we want to effect change in Tallinn that is in line with our vision and worldview. We hope the voter will appreciate the work we will put in and for it to reflect in support for SDE.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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