The Ministry of Culture has defended a decision it made to open up for applications a €150,000 grant for the creation of an English-language website which has seldom been updated since it launched in 2022. The money primarily came via a European Union integration fund.
The site, eesti.life, was intended to provide information for foreign nationals living in Estonia.
However, the site has essentially not been active since it was launched at the end of 2022.
ERR reports that one of the factors behind the page being still-born is likely to be conditions set during the funding allocation process, principally a prohibition on the website monetizing in order to earn additional revenue, while at the same time leaving no scope for subsequent state funding either."
Nonetheless, head of the ministry's cultural diversity department Olga Sõtnik, denied that the task had been a fruitless one and, therefore, an unreasonable use of state funds.
In a written comment provided to ERR, Sõtnik stated that: "It is not our view that the aims of the application round and the resources allocated as a result are essentially unattainable; not only is that our belief, but the four applicants to the round do not hold that belief either.
"No one is required to apply for support via the application round," she added.
The funding application round itself was organized by the Ministry of the Interior, but since integration falls under the Ministry of Culture's remit, it was the latter who announced the results.
The tender winners, Ore Meedia OÜ, won the interior ministry-organized funding round, as announced by the culture ministry.
The Ministry of the Interior was involved in the project as the organizer of the domestic usage of EU money from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).
The initial round, named "Offering English-language content creation service to citizens of third countries in Estonia," garnered no applications.
A second round, announced August 12, 2021, received four applications, with Ore Meedia OÜ picked as the tender winner as noted.
Ore Meedia's project was adjudged to offer the best solution in raising the awareness of third-country (ie. non-EU) nationals residing in Estonia of events gong on inside Estonia.
The target audience was those who speak English, either as a second language or as their native language.
While the funding was awarded as a result of that second application round, the site did not go live until around a year later, in November 2022.
The project's duration had also been set as the period November 1, 2021, to year-end 2022, while the site was not permitted to generate revenue of its own during that period, or thereafter.
Of the total €150,000 provided to Ore Meedia OÜ, €112,500 derived from the AMIF and the remaining €37,500 was made up by the domestic Estonian co-financing component.
Ministry of the Interior spokesperson Kristina Ots said that the ministry cannot, and does not plan to, further support the project outside of the aforementioned application round, while none of the funding applicants would have been given reasonably cause to believe that their activity would be supported by the ministry-provided funding beyond December 31, 2022.
The application documentation did, however, require that applicants address in theory how the site might continue beyond the project period.
Ots said: "Contained within the same instructions, it is stated that the applicant must submit possible solution(s) and proposals for continuing the activities of the online publication at the end of the project."
"At this point, the applicant needed take into account the fact that this is a non-profit project, one which cannot be used to earn income either during the project, or after it concludes," Ots went on.
Olga Sõtnik conceded in her written comment to ERR that the project had not gone perfectly, but still defended the state's efforts to share information with English-speaking people residing in Estonia.
"We are not making the claim that everything went well with this round of applications and the ensuing project that received support from that round, but it would be fundamentally wrong for the state not to make any effort whatsoever to convey the necessary information to its foreign language-speaking populace," Sõtnik wrote.
Reimbursement of funds may be requested
Kristina Ots said that contained within the application conditions is a scenario whereby if the winning project which received the funds did not then go on to fulfill the project's stated aims or to meet its conditions, a claim can be made to retrieve that funding.
No decision on this has been met yet, she said.
"An assessment cannot be given yet, since the project's final report has not yet been approved," Ots went on. "In order for that final report to be approved, it must be thoroughly checked, meaning the circumstances relating to the use of the support funding and the extent to which the expected results were achieved, needs to be ascertained."
"A [funded] project whose stated goals are not fulfilled may be declared partly or wholly ineligible for assistance, and the recipient of the grant fund would then be obliged to reimburse the funds allocated to that project," Ots said.
ERR reports that Ore Meedia OÜ was incorporated on September 13, 2021, with a seed captial of €2,500. Its sole reported revenue in 2022 was €100,000 in AMIF support, while the company reported a 2022 loss of €8,499.
A cursory glance at the eesti.life front page reveals news items from the tail-end of 2022, along with interviews and lifestyle features, some of the latter originally having appeared in Life in Estonia, a print magazine which is part of the "...in Estonia" brand range (Invest in Estonia, Settle in Estonia etc.).
The eesti.life site also features a unilaterally-initiated "Latest from ERR News" sidebar widget.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots