Interior minister: Highway building may use private sector, Estonian labor

Mart Helme in the ETV studios a few days ago.
Mart Helme in the ETV studios a few days ago. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

The Estonian government is pressing ahead with Public-Private partnership (PPP) plans for developing Estonia's highways, with the ultimate goal that they would all be four-lane. The issue of the Tallinn to Tartu highway in particular going four-lane has been on the table for successive Estonian governments, with work underway on some stretches already.

ERR's online news in Estonian obtained comment from interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE), who was also quizzed about budget, timeframe and labor shortages, as well as economic affairs minister Taavi Aas (Centre).

Helme said that the cabinet was generally supportive of full, four-lane highways in Estonia, pending legislation and other preparations, adding that work being done by the finance ministry and others would be put to the cabinet in December, with PPP funding options presented.

These would include not only highways, but also other infrastructural objects including buildings, railways, hospitals and educational institutions. 

It would be up to the economic affairs ministry to itemize the stretches of the Pärnu, Tartu and Narva highways, the three major routes in Estonia, which PPP might suit.

As to future funding, more money will need to come from other sources and needs to be allocated in the budge, as the current €3 million is not sufficient for road overhauls, Helme conceded.

Helme also said that PPP was attractive in terms of balancing budgets, as the debt burden can be shouldered by the private sector.

As to when the day will come when it is possible to travel between Tallinn and the next three largest towns on four lane highways all the way, Helme said it would be a matter of years, with over 400 km of road needing to be built.

Returning Estonians, not incoming Ukrainians, should build roads, says Helme

As to the question of labor, since Helme had voiced concerns about Ukrainian labor entering Estonia, he said that attracting Estonian labor back home from Finland and other countries would be key.

"In particular, we mean that we do not want foreign labor from third countries; first and foremost we are talking about Ukraine, of course, but that labor force is also being drawn into Europe today from Turkey and China. There is a clear political choice to avoid it," Helme said, though questions of financial inducements for Estonian workers to leave Finland, particularly attractive due to its higher wages, was not mentioned.

A finance ministry spokesperson confirmed to ERR that the cabinet had received the PPP overview, with the overall guidelines due for December.

Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications Taavi Aas (Centre) also told ERR his ministry has begun work on selecting those sections from Tallinn to Narva, Tartu and Pärnu which by the beginning of next month that could be considered for co-operation between the public and private sectors.

"How and in what timeframe the process will proceed and what the final choices will be will also depend largely on what the PPP Guidelines-Operational Framework will offer in early December," Aas said.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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