According to local media, some 1,300 of the inhabitants of Valka, the Latvian border town just across from Valga on the Estonian side, are already registered as Estonian residents. And their number is increasing.
The strategy of the residents in question is to register in Estonia and go on living in Latvia. This allows them to claim Estonian benefits and makes looking for work, while they can go on living in the significantly cheaper conditions south of the border.
As daily Lõuna-Eesti Postimees writes, it’s the Estonian child benefits that make all the difference. “While in Latvia a family of five gets €134 a month from the state, in Estonia it’s €500. This is an enormous difference,” the paper quotes Inga Karpova, a journalist with local daily Ziemeļlatvija.
Vents Armands Krauklis, mayor of Valka, has warned on several occasions that this could eventually mean a crisis for the Latvian town. For example, the local government may eventually have trouble maintaining Valka’s schools and nursery schools.
The local authorities are now trying to involve the Latvian government, having sent request to Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis already in December last year asking him to quickly resolve the situation, and also approached committee chairs of the Saeima, the Latvian parliament, Lõuna-Eesti Postimees writes.
The response, which they received on 11 January this year, couldn’t have been very uplifting. In it, the Latvian ministry of finance explains to the local authorities that the law applies to all local councils evenly, which means that there won’t be an exception for Valka.
Meanwhile, Ms Karpova believes the situation will continue for some time, as measures aren’t currently going beyond an exchange of letters between Valka and the capital. She is a supporter of an entirely different idea, namely the creation of a cross-border municipality that would include both Valka and Valga. On the Estonian side, the mayor of Valga as well as Estonian MEP Igor Gräzin among others have expressed their support of the idea.