Tallinn's reps in Brussels under fire

  • 2002-07-11
  • Kairi Kurm

Former Tallinn Mayor Juri Mois and the right-wing Pro Patria faction in the Tallinn City Council have blasted the opening of a Tallinn representative office in Brussels this year in a row that centers on Estonia's EU accession preparations.

"It is a place to bury huge amounts of taxpayers' money, and as a result something will be left undone in the city,"said Mois, who as mayor between 2000 and 2002 fought to cut costs and closed a similar representative office in Brussels.

"Local municipalities have nothing to do with EU accession. It is a matter of states."

Matti Tarum, head of the Pro Patria faction, echoed Mois' criticisms but said they were not official party policy.

"It does not make any sense but enables Mayor Edgar Savisaar to visit Brussels more often and enjoy being there," said Tarum. "It would be comical to close it down again if we got in power. We haven't made a joint decision about that yet."

Kaido Sirel, the current head of the office on Brussels' Rue de Luxembourg, defended its work. "Time has shown that (Mois' decision to close the last office) was a mistake," said Sirel, the office's only full time staff member.

"A representation is a strategic investment in the future. Unless we find out how to follow precisely EU rules, apply for EU finances and find project partners and create an impression of being a reliable and cooperative partner, then we might lose hundreds or thousands of times more in the future than we currently invest in the representation."

Estonia's Embassy does not represent municipalities at the EU or in the various networks of European regions and municipalities, said Sirel. Different types of Estonian representations in Brussels could complement each other, he said.

This year the city has allocated 1.3 million kroons ($81,300) to the Brussels office out of a total city budget of 5.3 billion kroons, but officials said the actual expenses were likely to be three times less because of the late opening of the office and a change in the lease of its premises.

The opposition Moderates also backed the office's work.

"Maybe the representation was not so necessary, but the closer we get to the EU the more important it becomes," said Jaak Juske, an adviser to Tallinn's Moderates.

Currently more than 200 cities, regions, associations and private companies have representative offices in Brussels, 26 of which are from the EU candidate countries.

Other Baltic representative offices in Brussels include that of Lithuania's Kaunas region, which opened in April last year and has one full time employee and eight support staff in Kaunas itself.