“The Brussels Diary With Yana Toom”: Just Transition Fund Is Just For Ida-Virumaa!


Hundreds of millions of euros should create jobs, and not just anywhere, but in the region that suffers most – Ida-Virumaa.


I have been a politician for ten years and thought nothing could surprise me. How wrong I was. The government decision to take away a portion of money earmarked for Ida-Virumaa is a proverbial bolt from the blue. I maintain contact with Narva and know that headlines like “Ida-Virumaa Is Deceived” and “Businessmen Are Enraged” are not exaggerations. Neither is the fact that the decision had been taken under the influence and pressure of the coalition partners a consolation.


Just a reminder: Specifically in order to ease the transition to a green economy and avoid a catastrophe in vulnerable regions, the European Commission created the Just Transition Fund. At the last count, it totals €17,5 bln from two sources, the EU budget and EU recovery fund. Estonia will get approximately one third of a billion. This is very substantial sum of money. The whole Estonian budget is slightly more than €11 bln.


It is worth clarifying that the recipient of the money is not Estonia. Each country would like to pay for different projects with European money, but JTF is not intended for this. Brussels is aware of governments’ appetites and therefore only allows the money to be spent in those regions where the economy depends on coal, turf and oil shale. The main focus is on those who lose their jobs, their skilling and re-skilling, and investment in SMEs (and in big business in the less developed areas). In brief, hundreds of millions of euros should create jobs, and not just anywhere, but in the region that suffers most – Ida-Virumaa.


The Estonian government should set up a detailed regional development plan and submit it to the European Commission. And then we are told two things; Firstly, it has been decided to put 73% of JTF money towards entrepreneurial development and 27% into solving ecological problems. Local governments and the business community of Ida-Virumaa requested that funding of entrepreneurship be set at 90%, but their opinion isn’t being taken into account.


Secondly, the government has decided to give money not only to Ida-Virumaa, but also to the neighbouring counties of Lääne-Virumaa and Jõgevamaa. On what grounds? A few years ago, the municipalities of Aseri, Lohusuu and Avinurme took the decision to leave Ida-Viru county and join the other counties. Ida-Viru, with demographics which are deplorable as it is, lost circa 2% of its population and, therefore, its tax income. The dissenting municipalities justified their decision by the fact that they had nothing to do with oil shale. Meaning, they didn’t when there were no money in it. And when money appeared, it became instantly clear that they did, in fact, have something to do with it. But of course: when a poor cousin of yours whom you didn’t want to know suddenly gets rich, shouldn’t you claim your share?


Incidentally, at the end of October, most unemployed Estonians were in Ida-Virumaa, 12,5%, and the lowest number was in Jõgevamaa, 4,8%. Who needs the money most?


I am absolutely on the side of the Ida-Virumaa Municipalities Union and on the side of the people of the Northeast that are furious because of this development. But it is too early to become dispirited: Brussels is set to have the last word. The European Commission will either accept or reject the plan for spending this European money. Of course, the Commission remembers why the Just Transition Fund was created in the first place, and who ought to get the money. So we will fight on.