According to European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Crețu, Estonia itself must decide whether to divide the country into two statistical regions for the purpose of regional policy and disbursement of EU structural funds, reported daily Postimees.
“It is up to each individual country to decide how they wish to be viewed administratively,” Crețu told the paper. “If the Estonian state wishes to split itself into two regions, the European Commission will have to discuss it.”
“The only restriction that you have to reckon with is that a change like this can be sought only once every three years and it must be executed in collaboration between our statistical office Eurostat and your statistical office,” the commissioner explained.
The next opportunity to change the statistical division of Europe will likely open in 2019, which would then take effect from 2021.
“It has to be kept in mind, however, that if Estonia chooses that path, it will be too late to do so with regard to changing the way money will be divided in the 2021-2027 period,” Crețu explained. “It would apply to the financing period from 2027 onwards.”
According to Ministry of Finance spokesperson Ott Heinapuu, Estonia is currently focusing on negotiations for the 2021-2027 budget period, and that the statistical redivision of the country is not a priority in these negotiations.
“Dividing [the country] into two regions would artificially reduce opportunities to support important investments in Harju County and the Estonian government’s right to decide for itself nationwide for what purpose and how much support should be directed to what region,” Heinapuu said.
“In an Estonia divided into two regions, it would be more difficult to implement large structural reforms such as the reorganisation of the education system or the work ability reform,” he continued. “Supporting universities, research and innovation in the region of the capital city would be more difficult as well.”
According to the proposal tabled by the European Commission in May, the size of the cohesion policy budget under the 2021-2027 fiscal framework would be €373 billion. Disbursements to Estonia would drop from €3.5 to €2.9 billion under the current fiscal framework.
“The reduction in allocations to Estonia is specifically a result of the country’s very strong economic performance,” Crețu said.
Last year, Estonia’s GDP per capita reached 77% of the EU average.