Administrative reform bill passes first reading in Estonian Parliament
The Estonian government’s administrative reform bill, which proposes radical changes to the country’s local government structures, has passed its first reading in Parliament (Riigikogu).
The bill proposes that any local authority should cover a population of at least 5,000 and says any authority which does not meet this criteria should merge with neighbouring councils to form new ‘local government units’ by the end of the year.
Currently, 80% of Estonia’s 226 cities and rural municipalities cover fewer than 5,000 citizens, according to the government’s own estimates.
Arto Aas, minister of public administration, who presented the bill in the constitutional committee, said that eventually the government wants the new units to cover “a population of at least 11,000.”
The government has set aside €80m to help local governments with the process of merging with neighbouring councils.
The government is asking local councils to voluntarily merge by the end of this year, and says that any authorities which haven’t merged in 2017 will be asked again to carry out “voluntary mergers” then “and if this does not work either, the government will step in and merge the local governments itself,” a government spokesperson said.
The government says the reforms will help local councils offer people better public services and ensure better competitiveness for regions.
However, the opposition is concerned the bill might marginalise remote areas of the country and intends to put forward amendments.
Kalle Laanet, chairman of the Constitutional Committee, said the reforms proposed in the bill “must be carried out” because “the Estonian people and the state need local governments to be more capable and to offer better public services.”
But he also called on the government to better explain the rationale behind the bill and how the reforms will strengthen local government.
“Every politician and local government leader must familiarise themselves with the principles of the administrative reform and be prepared to explain these to the people, when needed,” he said.
President of the Riigikogu Eiki Nestor set the deadline for proposed amendments to 20 April.
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