The report gives an overview of the Estonian administrative system today and discusses the current administrative-territorial reform. Estonia is one of the smallest countries in the EU with a surface of approximately 45,000 km2 and population of 1.3 million. Furthermore, the structure of Estonian administrative system is also different from the ‘usual’ one, as Estonia has no regions. Local self-government is exercised only at the municipal level. However, there are fifteen maakond which can be translated as counties. Maakond are just administrative units of the central government. Legally, they are departments of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, as their budgets are also part of the state budget.
Historically, from the 13th to 16th century, Estonia was divided into 14 sections (provincia) based mainly on its cultural differences. After the administrative reform in 1780, Estonia was divided into counties which had also an administrative importance. Until the local government elections of 17 October 1993, a two-tier local government system was in operation in Estonia. The new Constitution adopted in 1992 introduced a single-tier local self-government: the county administration became a part of the central government and the county governor became the representative of the central government.
In addition to the formal governance of the county by the county government, the development of the county is also (but informally) governed by unions of local governments. Municipalities in Estonia may establish voluntary associations with the aim of mutual cooperation in the delivery of services and in the representation of the interests of local government at the county and state level. As there is no regional level, the cooperation between local authorities within a county is of great importance. However, there is an interesting dilemma between the county government and the union of municipalities. To make a political decision that limits the constitutional rights of people, the decision maker must have a mandate from the people. Local governments have that mandate, officially, unlike the county governor, who doesn’t. It leads to a situation where unions of local governments have more decision making power than county governors.
In 2015, Estonian government started with ’a new wave’ of administrative-territorial reform which is forecasted to conclude by 1 March 2018. This new wave foresees the county level as well as the local government level to be widely reformed. The reason for it is mainly that many of the existing counties are too small and are not e ective from a national point of view. Today the central government is facing a situation where the administrative system, based on county governments, has exhausted itself. With the reform the central government is trying to solve this problem. Even though the responsibilities of county governments have decreased tremendously for today and the deadline for reform is just around the corner, there is not clear view on how the counties should be governed and moreover, if there is a real need for a county government.
Today there are three scenarios offered for reforming the county government level. Firstly, the county governments could be abolished as their responsibilities have decreased and county governments are doubling the work of other central administrative o ces. Instead a regional o ce with four units will be established – North-, South-, West- and East-Estonia. What is interesting about this scenario is that the administrative borders of counties will not be deleted and will exist together with the ’new’ administrative borders of the four units.
Secondly, the two-tier administrative system could be re-established, which would allow county governments to have real governments that would govern the counties. This presumes that people would also start electing county councils, whose tasks are, among other things, to take decisions in uencing the whole county.
And finally, the amount of counties could decrease– from 15 to 6 – and the county governments could turn into the regional offices of the Ministry of Internal A airs. This solution is not much different from the situation Estonia has now. Furthermore, this solution helps to maintain the current situation where central parties have county governments as a beneficial place to train political after-growth.
For the full report on Estonia, click here.
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.