Tallinn Mayor: Give commission more regional budget clout

The EU's large regional policy budget should be kept at its current level, but only if the European Commission gets a bigger say on how funding is allocated and to which regions, Tallinn’s Mayor Edgar Savisaar told EURACTIV in an interview, lamenting a lack of coherence in the distribution of funds.

Edgar Savisaar is mayor of Tallinn.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

Overall, do you feel that Tallinn has benefited from EU regional/cohesion funds? Is there an 'added value' to these funds compared to national funding mechanisms?

Certainly the means of the EU structural funds have a significant role in raising the quality of the living environment. The means of these funds constitute approximately half of our city budget investments this year. To ensure sustainable city development in 2010 and in the coming years, we plan to use these additional means to build social, cultural and technical infrastructure.

The implementation of several planned main road construction projects (intersections of Ülemiste and Russalka, Tallinn Tramline project, Tallinn Small Ring Road, etc.) is possible only with the support of EU funds. 

While the main part (approximately 90%) of EU funds allocated to the Republic is divided according to state-approved requirements and through the state budget, these requirements often do not consider the particular needs of the City of Tallinn as a capital.

For instance, the state has excluded the possibility of using these funds to create social jobs, although the majority of EU member states do not have this restriction. These additional means would be essential for Tallinn, given that the population of the city constitutes a third of the Republic's population and two-thirds of the country's economical potential. 

Thus, the EU funding mechanisms (INTERREG, 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development) that are allocated directly without any intervention of the state are extremely important.

What problems has your city experienced in absorbing cohesion funds? Do project leaders and managing authorities experience problems with complicated application rules? 

The main problem is that the government has not passed the necessary legislation in time and has insufficient administrative capacity. The implementation of the main projects in the 2007-2013 financial period is therefore accumulated to the final years of the period, which causes a disproportional increase in the amount of self-financing in these years.

The changed economic climate impairs this in turn; therefore the implementation of the projects is delayed. Project leaders and managing authorities are experiencing problems with ambivalent interpretation of some demands and the complexity of public procurement procedures.

What is your assessment of new Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn? Has he identified the right priorities? What could he be doing better?

The commissioner with his cabinet and DG Regio have demonstrated their commitment and worked hard to overcome the crisis in Europe. We appreciate the commissioner's striving to simplify the application and implementation process of structural funds, because regrettably all eligible applicants do not always have the administrative capacity to follow complicated procedures.

Commissioner Hahn's first months in office have shown him to be a competent politician who deals effectively with issues of regional development.

Do you believe the Europe 2020 strategy gives the regions enough prominence? Could the European Commission have gone further in making regions/local authorities a central stakeholder in the strategy?

Based on the Estonian experience I would claim that the strategic document should consider more the needs of the EU's greater cities and metropolitan regions, which are the development engines of the member states on the one hand, but also the areas with the most concentrated social problems on the other.

We consider it important that the structures under the management of Commissioner Hahn will find additional means to meet the needs of greater metropolitan areas. 

Do you think the priorities identified by Europe 2020 (which in turn are likely to become the priorities for earmarking regional funds after 2013) are the right ones? What could have been different or better? 

The priorities identified in the Europe 2020 strategy are essential and important to Tallinn.  

Where does your city stand in the debate on the future of EU regional/cohesion policy? What changes would you like to see brought in? 

Tallinn supports the European Capital Cities & Regions Brussels Office Informal Network's vision 'EU Regional Policy Post-2013 & Europe 2020'. This document underlines the need to strengthen capitals and their regions' status in EU member states with significant additional funding to solve their socio-economic problems. 

Tallinn definitely supports the proposals made in the report by Fabrizio Barca about place-based implementation of cohesion policy. Trilateral agreements between local government, member-state governments and the Commission would allow Tallinn and other EU local and regional governments to implement the existing Cohesion Funds regardless of possible policy differences between end users and member-state governments. 

Do you think the budget for EU regional/cohesion policy should remain at its current level beyond 2013 (approx. 33% of the combined EU budget)? Why?

We consider the continuation of cohesion policy at its current level as important, if a considerably bigger share in the decision-making process is shifted from the member-state governments to the Commission, which operates in accordance with EU policies.

As a result, the cities and regions that are listed as ineligible by member-state governments could also benefit from cohesion funds.