Position of Local Self-government in Public Administration

The organisation and position of local self-government in the public administration of a country largely depends on the scope and extent of the rights local governments have in order to manage local affairs. Two different approaches to local self-government are historically known in different countries:

  • State managed local self-government
  • Communal local self-government

It has been discussed in Estonia since the Constitution was adopted in 1992 on which approach the regulation of local self-government is based in the Constitution. It is worth recalling the words of Jüri Raidla, then the Minister of Justice, when addressing the Constitutional Assembly: “We do not, in principle, approve of treating the election of local councils as a way of exercising state power. We would then provide a constitutional channel for subjecting local governments to the state authority. This draft aims at establishing real local self-government, not self-government partially managed by the state.” This idea was also kept in mind when Chapter XIV of the Constitution was written. It can be added that according to the Constitution adopted in 1920 and the amendments adopted in 1933, local self-government in Estonia was state managed, although communal local self-government had historically been characteristic of Estonia.

The essence and position of local self-government has repeatedly been the object of discussion in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court made a ruling in 2005 about election coalitions being allowed to participate in municipal elections. The ruling was substantiated as follows: „According to the Constitution, local self-government is based on the idea of a community that is responsible for solving the problems of the said community and managing its affairs. If the possibilities to represent communal interests are made dependent on the decisions of national political parties, representation of local interests can be put in jeopardy. This, in its turn, can be in conflict with the principle of local self-government autonomy. In case of a conflict between the interests of the state and the local community, members of the local council must have the possibility of taking independent decisions on local issues in the interests of the community.”

In order to understand the essence and importance of local self-government in the Estonian society, Article 14 of the Constitution has to be mentioned; according to the Article, local governments, beside the legislative, executive and judicial powers, are also responsible for guaranteeing the rights and freedoms (of the persons). One of the constitutional guarantees of local self-government results from Article 65 establishing that the Riigikogu manages the affairs of the state over which the President of the Republic, the Government of the Republic, other national authorities or local governments hold no power of decision. Article 79 of the Constitution prescribes that if the President of the Republic is not elected by the Riigikogu even in the third round of voting, the President of the Riigikogu will convene an electoral body. The electoral body is comprised of members of the Riigikogu and representatives of local councils. Each local council elects at least one representative of the electoral body. The number of members of the electoral body representing cities is even higher – Tallinn has ten representatives, Tartu has four, Kohtla-Järve, Kuressaare, Narva, Pärnu, Rakvere, Viljandi and Võru each have two representatives. Therefore, the number of local politicians in the electoral body exceeds the number of members of the Riigikogu 2.5 times. Due to mergers, the number of representatives of local governments in the electoral body has decreased.

The members of the electoral body and the representatives of local councils in the electoral body convened for electing the President of the Republic

Year Members of electoral body Members of local councils
1996 374 273
2001 367 266
2006 (potential number) 347 246
Table 2

It is not insignificant that both in 1996 and 2001, the President of the Republic was elected by the electoral body which means that Estonian local politicians have a significant role in deciding such an important public issue.

Details about this article