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President of the Republic Opening Address at the Baltic-Nordic Conference Local Government in Our Changing Time at Laulasmaa on 12 June 2006

Dear guests!
Ladies and Gentlemen!

It is my pleasure to address such a representative conference, which has brought together our good neighbours from Baltic states and reliable cooperation partners from Nordic countries in order to discuss the development of local government in our rapidly changing time.

The role of the local government in organising community life has been increasing and continues to do so. With new opportunities as well as needs facilitated by the development, lasting values for the citizen are safe and high-quality human environment, well-organised pre-school and basic education and accessible social assistance. However, we should admit that solving all the above issues within the responsibility of the local government is the principal underlying source of sustained pace of development for the entire society.

In organising the community life, the local government has another significant role as well. As a link between the state and civic society, the local government is one of the main supporting pillars of democratic governance and the basic guarantee of the stable development of the society.

Allow me to revisit for a moment our recent past. This year we are going to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the completion of the restoration of independence in the Baltic states. It is essential to recall that the restoration of our independent statehood started with the restoration of local governments. We launched this process immediately when as a result of our enhanced Baltic cooperation very first cracks appeared in the foundation of the Soviet empire.

With the restoration of local governments, the state got a firm underlying support for extensive reforms and society – a democratic foundation. The historic experience gains value seen against the setting of our fifteen years of development. It is a considerable lesson also for other countries setting out to build a democratic society. We followed the example of the Nordic countries and received their diversified assistance in implementing the experience.

The reality of changing times, which we were unable to foresee fifteen years ago, has led us to the European Union and together we share the responsibility for the future of our continent. Local government-related issues may seem secondary now when we are weighing development possibilities for the European Union and global issues influencing them. However, we have tried to discard such short-sightedness in thinking.

In 2002, Presidential Roundtable on Local Government and Regional Development was established. This format has brought issues related to the development of the local government into the focus of the state power and redirected them to the Riigikogu, to the government as well as to relevant agencies. At the Roundtable representatives of the local government have had a possibility to meet various ministers and scientists but also to learn about the development of local governments in other countries.

In the development of the renewed Europe expansion of such ways of cooperation, which consider regional interests as well as involvement of the local government in this cooperation will be pivotal. In order to achieve balanced regional development, enhanced cross-border cooperation and network of supporting organisations are on the agenda under new circumstances.

A good example is Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio. Promoting regional development, the mission of the Euregio is to enhance balanced cross-border integration and facilitate the creation of Harjumaa-Uusimaa twin-region. The significance of the Euregio lies in establishing contacts and networks between universities, local governments and businesses, facilitating, in its turn, the creation of a knowledge-based region.

With its activity the Euregio has become for its members but also for other partners and networking organisations in the region a significant venue were regional opinion leaders exchange information and share experience.

Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio is actively involved in the activities of Baltic Sea States’ euroregions but also acts as a promoter of innovation and knowledge transfer, fulfilling a gap other regional development entities overlook.

I am confident that our conference will significantly contribute to the development of new and diversified cooperation networks. The topics under discussion focus on the organisation of local government and key issues in the cooperation of local government units. This is becoming a centre of gravity in local development in our rapidly changing time.

Comparison and critical evaluation of experience from different countries should offer ample opportunities for cooperation of researchers. As a result, the development model for local government and regional cooperation could lie on a structured theoretical base and take into consideration specificities and needs of each country.
I am confident that our conference is going to establish a new and sustainable tradition in developing local government, enriching the treasure trove of European local government’s common values.

I am also confident that this conference is a step forward in strengthening the Europe of regions. In brief, the conference serves general interest of all our citizens and delivers common good.

I wish you a fruitful conference and success in your daily work!

© 2006 Office of the President l tel: + 372 631 6202 l fax: + 372 631 6250 l