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Municipalities facing forced mergers turn to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Estonia in Tartu.
The Supreme Court of Estonia in Tartu. Source: Postimees/Scanpix

Four rural municipalities have turned to the Supreme Court to contest the territorial mergers imposed on them by the government. In two cases, municipalities refuse to merge pointing to an exception granted by the government to the town of Loksa in Harju County.

The municipalities of Illuka in Ida-Viru County as well as the Pala, Kambja, and Ülenurme municipalities in Tartu County turned to the Supreme Court on Thursday to fight against the forced mergers with neighboring municipalities imposed on them by the government.

As stipulated by the Administrative Reform Act, municipalities had until the end of 2016 to voluntarily merge with neighbors where needed to form administrative units with at least 5,000, ideally at least 11,000 residents. Some of them applied for exceptions, cases that were addressed by a counterproposal of the government of February this year.

The municipalities then had until mid-May to discuss the government’s proposal. After that deadline, the government then imposed mergers where municipalities hadn’t found a solution at the local level.

The court’s press spokeswoman, Merje Talvik, told ERR on Thursday that the constitutional review chamber now had four months to look into the case.

Municipalities point to exception granted to Loksa

The government decided in early July to merge Kambja and Ülenurme in Tartu County. With Kambja’s 2,500 and Ülenurme’s 7,500, the new municipality would come in at just under the 11,000 residents ideally required by the Administrative Reform Act.

But the two municipalities don’t agree with the plans. Ülenurme already meets the minimum requirement stated in the law, and Kambja wants an exception, pointing to the government’s decision to let the town of Loksa continue in its current territorial form.

Loksa was supposed to merge with the municipality of Kuusalu, both in Harju County. Despite criticism by Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, who argued that this step would create a precedent and give other municipalities grounds to contest their mergers, the government granted Loksa an exception.

Just like Loksa, Kambja has fewer than 3,000 residents—and now points to the case of Loksa, demanding equal treatment, and an exception.

Ülenurme’s main issue with the merger meanwhile was the fact that the product would then be called Kambja—even though Ülenurme was much bigger.

Illuka, to be merged with Alajõe, Iisaku, Mäetaguse, and Tudulinna into the newly created Alutaguse municipality, also points to the example of Loksa. “We have reason enough to turn to the court. In the context of the Administrative Reform Act we really don’t see how we’re so different from Loksa, for example,” the chairman of Iluka’s municipal council, Paul Kesküla, told ERR’s Aktuaalne kaamera newscast on Thursday.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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