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Administrative reform: This is the new map of Estonia

Estonia's subdivisions after the 2016/2017 administrative reform.
Estonia's subdivisions after the 2016/2017 administrative reform. Source: (Tagne Orav/ERR)

The implementation of the Administrative Reform Act is changing the political map of Estonia. With one last rural municipality, Setumaa, still to be assigned to a county, all the new local-level administrative territories are in place.

Use the slider in the image below to see a before/after map of Estonia’s consolidated municipalities. Move the slider to the right to see the old local borders, and to the left to see the new ones.

Impending political change: Lower number of elected public officials

The ongoing administration reform will reduce the number of elected local council members from 2026 to 1019 by the time of the upcoming elections this year. Politicians of Estonia’s smaller parties fear that for less well-known politicians, it will get harder and harder to reach public office.

Preliminary data of the Ministry of Finance shows that the biggest drop in elected representatives will occur wherever a particularly large number of municipalities is about to merge. The most glaring example is Saaremaa, where the whole island will be merged into a single municipality. There, the number of council members will drop from currently 127 to just 31.

Other examples are Järva, where the number of council members will drop from 68 to 21, and Põlva, where there will be just 23 instead of 63 elected representatives running the area of the new municipality in the future. There are many more.

Opinions diverge whether or not this development is positive. While political scientist Tõnis Saarts of the University of Tallinn thinks that the lower number of locally elected officials is a good thing, as there will now be more competition for a smaller number of seats, the country’s smaller parties and independents fear that the dominance of the large parties, like the Reform and the Center Party, will increase locally as well.

County governments to be abolished

The government has decided to abolish all county governments effective Jan. 1, 2018. Their tasks will be distributed among local councils as well as different existing authorities.

The amount of tasks assigned to the county governments is already small, and with the ongoing administrative reform would shrink even more. The larger and stronger municipalities produced by the implementation of the Administrative Reform Act will take over all the county governments’ local tasks, except for state-level matters, which will be dealt with by existing offices in the jurisdiction of the different ministries.

Currently, the most important duties of county governments are the organization of public transport, supervision over educational establishments, issuance of activity permits in the domain of social services, land reform and procedures related to land, population/related procedures as well as supervision over legislative acts issued by municipalities.

What will remain up to the ministries to deal with is supervision in different sectors, coordination, matters relating to land ownership and the cadaster, setting up local development plans, and all planning related to state-level projects.

Thousands of place names to change

For thousands of Estonians, the Administrative Reform Act means new addresses, as the names of municipalities as well as in some places also the names of villages will change.

The names of Estonian villages are often references to the local geographic context, which means that in a lot of different municipalities and counties there are similar or even exactly the same names. With more and more municipalities now merging as a consequence of the Administrative Reform Act, this problem needed addressing.

A provision of the act states that there can be no two villages with the same name within a single rural municipality, which means that the names of dozens will have to change.

An example is Saaremaa, which is merging into a single municipality. The most common village names on the island are Liiva and Rannaküla, of which there are five. Other instances where more than one of Saaremaa’s villages have the same name are Kõnnu, Lahe, Metsa, and Mustla.

All of these names refer to their immediate environment, e.g. with Liiva meaning “sand”, and “Lahe” meaning “bay”, hence there are a lot of similar addresses that this far could be told apart because they were in different municipalities.

The rule will be that of the affected villages, only those with the largest populations can keep their original name. All the others will have to come up with new names.

Mayor of the island’s capital of Kuressaare and chairman of its union of municipalities, Madis Kallas, said that the most likely solution would be to add another word to the existing names, so that those villages didn’t lose their historic context.

All name changes have to be settled by the end of 2017.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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