Should the new role of government representative to Ida-Viru County prove successful, then the model could be applied to other regions, Minister for Regional and Rural Affairs Madis Kallas (SDE) suggests, even as Northeastern Estonia faces greater challenges than other parts of the country.
Southeastern Estonia and the larger islands off the West coast were the examples Kallas gave.
Speaking to ERR Friday, Kallas said: "The challenges faced in Ida-Viru County are considerably larger than elsewhere in Estonia, and the numbers don't lie. If we look at various statistics, different indicators, be it health indicators or work indicators, Ida-Viru County is in a situation in Estonia where, in my opinion, more attention is required."
"In addition to this, there are also significantly greater challenges in connection with the so-called shift of the oil shale sector, and the exiting from that sector and the transfer of funds from the EU Just Transition Fund to that region. This is one clear reason why the need to focus on Ida-Viru County in particular," Kallas continued.
As for a special representative for other areas of the country, Kallas said: "We have not discussed this at the government level, and we have not discussed it during the coalition talks either, when we stated that we want additional support for the [national] government in Ida-Viru County."
Kallas added that he saw no reason why some other regions, such as that wehre he was speaking from to ERR, Põlva County, in Southeastern Estonia, and also islands like Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, too, face significant, albeit different, challenges.
This may be more the case if the new Ida-Viru County role proves itself, for these other regions, in the case of various transition tools.
"I do not rule it out, but we have not discussed it at the government level," Kallas told ERR.
As to the risk of the newly-appointed Ida-Viru County representative having all the tasks previously undertaken by central government being placed on his shoulders, Kallas said this would not happen.
"I think that a regional representative will never replace a minister. They are two different things," he said.
"For Ida-Viru County, the challenges are greater than elsewhere in Estonia. I think that the representative of any other position cannot replace a minister, but he can be an extension of that minister, to keep some topics in sight, or to resolve some issues."
Kallas said that the role could change over time, also.
"In the first instance, we have now agreed that we certainly want [Purga] to be the representative of the government in Ida-Viru County, and that being precisely based on the Just Transition Fund and other EU subsidies.However, this role may change at some point, if we see that the need is also very great in another direction" Kallas added.
Kallas noted also that while Purga's strong points, including having worked in the private sector and having been a long-term resident of Ida-Viru County, were contributory factors to his being appointed, yet he was no shoo-in, and the nine shortlisted candidates from the original 34 applicants were all strong, hence it taking time to reach an agreement on whom to give the post to.
Purga starts work next week in the so-called former county government building in Jõhvi, dating back to the time when Estonia had county governors.
He will work a four-month probationary period from taking on the role next week; he will be supported by the Ministry of Rural Affairs and the Regions, since scope for having his own staff was diminished by the need for the austerity cuts which have come as part of the 2024 state budget, Kallas said.
Editor: Rene Kundla, Leevi Lillemäe, Andrew Whyte