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Riigikogu discussed “The Estonian Rural Life Development Plan for 2007-2013” as a matter of significant national importance, with reports from the Minister of Agriculture Helir-Valdor Seeder, Director of the Institute of Economics and Social Sciences of the University of Life Sciences Professor Rando Värnik and Chairman of the Rural Affairs Committee Kalvi Kõva. The discussion was initiated by the Rural Affairs Committee. 

Seeder remarked that the Rural Life Development Plan is a seven-year plan whose financing is guaranteed from the European Union and Estonian funds and which is approved for every Member State by the European Commission. It is therefore a strategic document that has shaped Estonia’s future to a significant extent. “When talking about the Rural Life Development Plan we are actually talking about the Common Agricultural Policy and the rural life development policy that goes with it,” Seeder said. The Common Agricultural Policy is made up of two pillars, the first of which are direct subsidies and market organisation, and the other is rural life development policy. This policy is funded from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, the Minister explained. 

The RLDP concentrates on five fields: firstly, transferral of knowledge from academic research to agriculture, forestry and food sectors; secondly agricultural competitiveness; thirdly, functioning of the food supply chain; fourthly, environment, and fifthly, rural businesses and local initiatives. 

Developments in rural economy of the last two decades has included a drop in the numbers of agricultural employees from 140,000 to 20,000, concentration of population and economic activities to centres, lack of attractive jobs and deterioration of the accessibility of services, Seeder remarked. According to him, focusing on the business and living environment in rural areas has been seen as a necessary step to solve these problems. 

“The focus of RLDP is mostly based on ways to use local resources and solutions for improving the living environment as well as for creating jobs,” the Minister said. At the same time, we must admit that no good alternatives have been found in rural areas for this workforce who is no longer employed in agriculture, and if we wish to reach a new quality in rural business and rural life in a broader sense, all EU funds, Ministries and sector policies must contribute towards this development, Seeder added. 

“During the new period, we have EUR 936 million, including the EU contribution and co-financing by the Estonian state, to be used in the framework of RLDP, 35 % of which goes to the environment, 28 % to competitiveness, 18 % to rural businesses and local initiatives, 11 % to food supply chain, and 4 % to transferring knowledge from academic research to business,” the Minister of Agriculture said. 

Värnik said in his report that regional policy would require reducing the backwardness of regions, which can find support from the development of viable businesses. The first step is therefore to define whether we wish to use agricultural policy to solve economic, environmental or social problems. Considering the limited resources, we must make choices because it is not possible to solve and alleviate all rural problems with RLDP subsidies alone. 

Agricultural policy today is definitely an economic, environmental, social and regional policy in a wider sense, but in view of achieving economic sustainability we should take into account the most efficient possible use of the existing resource during the new budgetary period. “The key concept is increased productivity. This, however, means that we must give increasingly more attention to how our products reach the consumer. This principle must be a priority for all the fields of agriculture and also for other rural businesses,” Värnik said. 

Värnik remarked that since the development of the rural areas depends greatly on the quality of the human capital, the involvement of academic research and advisory activities must greatly contribute to its increase. Rural life must adapt to changes. “The sooner we manage to achieve reasonable agreements carried by common sense, and make the necessary decisions, the quicker we can start the actual development process of rural life,” Värnik said. 

Kõva said that the Rural Affairs Committee has discussed this issue at 20 meetings, involving various organisations, from the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce to the Goat Breeders’ Association. Kõva gave an overview of the problems raised at Committee meetings, and the solutions proposed to these. 

“We think that Rural Life Development Plan must give stability and security to the Estonian rural life,” Kõva said. He added that we must all make efforts in anticipation of a time when European funds no longer support our rural life so strongly. “I hazard a hope that the broad involvement of target groups has helped to prepare a document on rural life development which has served as a basis for allocating funds in a way that has achieved the balance between efficient large scale production and sustainable small farming,” Kõva said. He expressed his conviction that the debate in the Plenary Hall of the Riigikogu helped to understand the yet unsolved problems on the table today. 

Aivar Kokk, Kalev Kotkas, Meelis Mälberg and Ester Tuiksoo took the floor during the debate on the Rural Life Development Plan. 

The Riigikogu passed two Acts: 

The Act on Amendments to the Law of Succession Act, the Notary Fees Act, the Notaries Act and Other Associated Acts (440 SE), initiated by the Government, was passed with 66 votes in favour. The Act changes the regulation concerning the maintenance of the succession register and establishes notary fees for notarial acts for which no fee has been provided for in the current Notary Fees Act. It also specifies the Law of Succession Act in general as well as the provisions on submitting the annual reports through a notary. 

The Act on Amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure (441 SE), initiated by the Government, was passed with 64 votes in favour. The Act transposes European union legal acts into national law. The Act provides additional rights to oral and written translation in criminal proceedings with regard to the suspect and the accused or the person who is subjected to a European Arrest Warrant. The Act extends the rights of the abovementioned persons, providing them with wider opportunities to use the help of an interpreter in criminal proceedings.           

The Riigikogu Press Service