The government made yesterday the final decisions about Estonia's administrative division for at least the next few years – after the autumn elections there will be 15 cities and 64 municipalities in Estonia.
One decision remained waiting fro next week: whether the Setomaa municipality should belong to Põlva or Võru counties. A referendum will be held for that purpose in the municipalities of Värska, Mikitamäe and Meremäe on July 12-13. Considering that two thirds of the future Setomaa municipality is located in Põlva county, one can expect the majority to prefer that solution.
The Seto region has historically been a part of Petseri county; since the Soviet occupation most of the Seto living in Estonia have resided in Põlva county. Only Meremäe municipality has been in Võru county and its residents have also been the most contrary about the merged Setomaa municipality.
Igor Taro, the governor of Põlva county, has been struggling for the forming of the Seto municipality and is now backing its remaining with Põlva county.
Besides historic reasons Taro pointed out that by yielding the Seto municipality to Võru county, Põlva county with its two remaining municipalities of Põlva and Kanepi would lose the meaning of its existence. «The government has not called for a complete reform of the counties and it should not be done with a single decision concerning another reform,» Taro said.
The decision of forced merger of municipalities in the rest of Estonia was made by the government already before the Midsummer festivities. While the decisions made then granted continued independent existence to several municipalities where the number of residents fell several hundreds short of the required 5,000, the July 6 resolution also pardoned some municipalities with a population of slightly above 4,000. Thus the residents of Luunja and Nõo municipalities in Tartu county, Haljala and Vihula municipalities in West Viru county and the city of Keila in Harju county all had reason to celebrate. They all escaped from forced merger.
Ülle Madise, the Chancellor of Justice, considers the government's July 6 resolution constitutional. She admitted that the failure to merge Loksa and Kuusalu could serve as an argument for municipalities forcibly merged earlier to protest the decision.
The government decided before Midsummer Day at the recommendation of Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab not to merge the city of Loksa with 2,730 residents with Kuusalu municipality with 6,600 residents since the two would not fit together.
«Since the government has shot so many holes into the administrative reform act that it has become impossible to understand who is subject to the law and who is not, we shall appeal to the administrative court to protest the resolution of our forced merger,» said Andres Teppan, head of the Koeru municipality (2,111 residents) of Järva county.
No other alternative
Andrus Blok, head of the neighbor of Koeru, Rakke municipality in West Viru county, used much the same words to explain his decision to go to court. «We had no other alternative,» he said.
The municipalities of Koeru and Rakke (1,630 residents) have voluntarily decided to merge, but they failed to do so by the deadline of January 1. Both participated in numerous negotiations, but backed out just before the deadline expired due to unacceptable merge conditions.
Teppan commented that it is inevitable that seven negotiating parties cannot reach an agreement equally suited to all. “Especially if the terms are changed at the last moment”, he referred to the decision of the six municipalities merging to form Järva municipality to declare Järva-Jaani the center instead of the initially recommended Koeru. Teppan reminded that the plan of centers drafted by Siim-Valmar Kiisler, the last but one minister of administrative reform, foresaw Koeru as the center of the merged municipality.
Koeru and Rakke reached the decision to merge voluntarily in April.
The Lüganuse municipality in East Viru county with barely 3,000 residents will also appeal to court. The basic argument of the municipality head Viktor Rauam is that they had to endure one merger as recently as in 2013 (the Lüganuse and Maidla municipalities and the city of Püssi). The merger had been hard, he said, so that the new identity had only developed last year. According to Rauam they had learned that a municipality is not made more efficient by larger population but by hard work.
«Every merger initially means stagnation and we have just emerged from one,» Rauam said.
There are apparently several other municipalities, which will go to court. For example, some municipalities in Võru county object to forced merger.
The protestors hope to achieve temporary protection at court to stop the forced merger process.
The government has hastened the process of setting deadlines and making decisions due to the local elections scheduled for October. The court cases may begin to obstruct the election process. The borders of constituencies must be clear in less than two weeks. But if courts should suspend some forced mergers, election will take place within the previous borders of the municipality.
Unclear where you stand
«We completed the preparations for election by the deadline, June 15,» said the municipality head of Lüganuse and others with whom we discussed the possible court case. But the county governors must now hastily obey the government's resolution to merge the municipalities by force and carry out the election preparations according to the borders desired by the government. The preparations mean determining the constituencies, forming the commissions and allocating mandates.
How can the potential candidates in Lüganuse prepare if it is still unclear whether the election takes place in Lüganuse only or in a municipality merged with Kiviõli and Sonda. According to the head of the municipality, an electoral bloc is being formed, which will protect the interests of the Lüganuse residents and can participate in the election in a small municipality or in a merged one.