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The Roundtable of Local Governments and Regional Development summarised the topics of three years

Today, at Kadriorg, the President's Roundtable of Local Governments and Regional Development, under the chairmanship of President Arnold Rüütel, assembled for its session. Following the statements of participants and a discussion, the Head of State made an address encouraging all voters to take part in current elections of local councils.

As the elections that will be held this week, mean also the end of one period of work for the Roundtable, the progress achieved in the matters, which had been on the agenda over the last three years, and the problems to be solved in the future were discussed. In the course of discussion, it was concluded that the revenue base of local authorities had considerably improved and therefore the local governments had become much stronger, but certainly a consistent further development of that process was necessary. It was also said that the state's attitude towards local governments has improved and the relations between the state and local governments were now more than before conducted in the spirit of partnership.

Several speakers pointed out positive cooperation experience on the level of local governments, but also in cooperation between county Governors and local municipal authorities in utilisation of the EU structural funds. However, it was also noted that in the future the local governments would not have enough own funds for co-financing of big joint projects and therefore, for example, having in mind a new National Development Plan for 2007-2013, co-financing of environmental investments, but also investments to other fields, can become problematic for local governments.

Among still pending processes, the issue of the Riigikogu members being simultaneously members of local government councils, also the regional administrative reform and appointment of Governor of Harju County were mentioned. The speakers also pointed out that the matters of local life were often over-politicized which does not allow constructive discussions. As a new, but very topical issue, the speakers brought out the problem connected with the increase in oil shale price, which in its turn would cause a sharp increase in local government expenditures, for example, it would have an impact on the maintenance cost of local educational establishments.

It was considered to be important that from now on the associations of local authorities would be able to give more attention to training, applied scientific research projects and economic analysis of local governments' activities. It was also mentioned that in the practice of municipalization of land more consideration should be given to the advancement of local life.

It was commonly agreed that the President of the Republic's Roundtable of Local Governments and Regional Development, as a gratifying forum for brainstorming, should certainly continue its existence. Several speakers, while talking about the Freedom Monument, stated that the best place for the Monument would be somewhere near the Song Festival Theatre in Tallinn; the same opinion has been expressed also at previous meetings of the Roundtable. It was considered important that such a decision, which is important for all the people should have a broad based public support.

Minister of Regional Affairs Jaan Õunapuu highlighted that in previous years there were never as many joining municipalities than in current year of elections - soon, instead of 241, there would be 227 municipalities. The Minister gave also a brief overview of the Government's further plans concerning regional development and improvement of regional development related legislation.

The President of the Republic distributed to the participants of the Roundtable session a recently published book by Heinrich Schneider "The State and Legal Theory Problems in Newly Independent Estonia".

The participants of the Roundtable expressed their concern over the possibility of low participation in the elections and alienation of people from decision makers. Therefore, the President of the Republic made a proposal to call upon all voters to participate in the elections to local councils this year. The Roundtable approved the proposal.

President Rüütel said that the amendments to the Constitution that extend the local government's mandate from three to four years will add stability to local life, but at the same time the responsibility of voters will increase. "Municipal governments were used as foundation when the Republic of Estonia was born and the Republic of Estonia was restored on the same foundation. The future strength of Estonian state will depend first of all on the strength of its local governments," the Head of State stressed.

"I call upon all voters to overcome their disappointment with politics and politicians and their desire to give up. Not taking part in the elections is never a solution; it would only cause the problems to pile up and become even bigger. In the situation where there is a danger that participation in the elections would decline, all political forces should do their best in order to enhance the readiness of people to fulfil their civic duty to take part in the elections. I shall certainly participate in the elections and advice the other voters to do the same," President Rüütel said.

Public Relations Unit of the Office of the President
Kadriorg, October 10, 2005

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