To what extent does central government ensure that subnational self-governments may use their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation?

The central government enables subnational self-governments to make full use of their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
The federal state has no formal authority over regions and communities, because there is no hierarchy between the federal and regional/community levels. When compared with other federal systems, this creates major complications. For instance, any single region has the ability to block an international treaty, since it has exactly the same prerogatives as the federal state. This occurred in September and October of 2016, when the Walloon region singlehandedly blocked the signing of a major treaty between the EU and Canada (CETA). The treaty was eventually signed on 30 October, after weeks of pressure and tense negotiations.

On some policy dimensions (e.g., spatial planning, transport, education, culture, applied research, local authorities, etc.), the regions and communities are actually becoming more powerful than the federal government. The tensions between the country’s linguistic communities, as well as between its geographically defined regions (both the communities and regions have their own political institutions and administrations), have served to reinforce this trend.
Local government in Iceland has no constitutional status, beyond a paragraph in the 1944 constitution that states that municipal affairs shall be decided by law. The Local Government Act (Sveitarstjórnarlög) states that local governments shall manage and take responsibility for their own affairs. The parliament or the responsible ministry – the Ministry of the Interior – have the power to make decisions that affect local government. However, beyond these decisions, local governments are free to engage in any governing activities that are not forbidden by law.
Eythórsson, Grétar (1999): The Iceland National Report. In Jacob, Linder, Nabholz and Heierli (eds.): Democracy and Local Governance. Nine Empirical Studies. Institute of Political science, University of Bern, Switzerland (p. 62-88).

Local Government Act. (Sveitarstjórnarlög nr. 128/2011).
Municipalities and cantons have a high degree of autonomy, while the federation has only a subsidiary role. The central government has little opportunity to counter decisions made by cantonal parliaments or governments. Municipal discretion in policymaking is a constitutional norm. Article 50 of the constitution states: “(1) The autonomy of the municipalities is guaranteed within the limits fixed by cantonal law. (2) In its activity, the confederation shall take into account the possible consequences for the municipalities. (3) In particular, it shall take into account the special situation of cities, agglomerations and mountainous regions.” The municipalities and cantons make use of their competences to the maximum extent possible.
Canada’s central government takes substantial steps to ensure subnational self-governments are able to use their constitutional scope of discretion. Canadian provinces, especially large ones such as Quebec and Alberta, guard their constitutional powers closely and allow the federal government little scope to increase its power. Indeed, certain responsibilities that have traditionally been under joint federal-provincial jurisdiction, such as labor market training, have in recent years been decentralized and delegated completely to the provinces. This devolution of powers is not always permanent, however, as has been illustrated by the Canada Job Grant Program. The program, which came into effect in 2014, exists under federal authority but is administered by the provinces and covers a significant amount of the training costs associated with each eligible worker.

Even when the federal government has tried to assert its authority in economic areas it believes to be under exclusive federal jurisdiction, such as the regulation of securities markets, certain provinces have vociferously objected and taken the federal government to the Supreme Court, and won.
Municipalities in Finland have a long tradition of independence in specific policy areas, while also implementing policies of the central government. In particular, municipalities are responsible for the implementation of educational, health care, social and infrastructural services. Municipalities may not be burdened with new functions or with financial or other obligations, nor may they be deprived of their functions and rights, except by an act of parliament. The control that the state exercises over municipalities does not imply any general state right to intervene. Control may be exercised only in accordance with specific legal provisions. Thus, subnational autonomy is guaranteed and protected by law. Still, the autonomy of local government may be curtailed in practice by financial pressures. The still pending SOTE reform which creates autonomous regions for the organization of social welfare and health care will lead to greater complexity in terms of financing structures, accountability, and responsibilities.
Although unfunded mandates have been much debated, central government overwhelmingly respects local autonomy. Local government enjoys extensive autonomy, which is guaranteed by the constitution. Indeed, the strength of local autonomy adds to the fragmented nature of the Swedish political system and sometimes creates problems in governance and coordination. In terms of crisis, extraordinary challenges or when there are major national interests at stake, however, government can increase its pressure on local government, despite the latter’s formal autonomy. In these cases, the usual procedure is first to negotiate with the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and the Regions (SALAR) and, if that proves unsuccessful, introduce stronger regulatory measures. For instance, in 2015, to what extent the central government should force all local authorities to receive asylum-seekers was thoroughly debated.

Pre-policy studies conducted in 2016 show that state control over autonomous local governments has increased gradually during the past several years. Such control reaches not across the board but is generally targeted at specific issues and programs such as education. The government and its key advisory agencies are currently reviewing intergovernmental relations in preparation of a reform proposal that will be presented to the parliament in 2018.
Central government policies inadvertently limit the subnational self-governments’ scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
The competences of the states (Länder) and municipalities are limited by the constitution. However, national administrative tasks are often carried out by subnational agencies, which gives the federal states considerable (de facto) political power.

Hence the main challenge lies in the contradiction between the fact of constitutionally weak states and a constitutionally strong national government, and a political environment that renders the states quite influential and the national government quite weak. Although the national government has a de facto monopoly on the power to raise taxes and other revenues, state governments have considerable leverage in financial negotiations over how these funds are to be distributed.

Thus, in general terms, the Austrian political system ensures that subnational self-governments are able to utilize their constitutional scope of discretion quite effectively. Examples include health and education policies and the relative authority held by states (Länder) in these areas, which successfully precludes the central government from taking on a stronger role.

One aspect is the increasing difference in the way coalitions are built between the federal and state level: More and more, state governments are formed by an alliance between one of the parties of the federal government and another party which is in opposition at the federal level. This underlines the growing complexity of the party system, reflected in the ongoing decline of the two traditionally dominant parties.
Section 82 of the Danish constitution dictates that “The right of municipalities to manage their own affairs independently, under state supervision, shall be laid down by statute.”

The constitution thus assumes some autonomy of municipalities, but leaves it to parliament to determine the scope. Indeed, in a comparative perspective, Denmark is a decentralized state, but it is not a federal state. In recent years there has been a tendency to curtail the effective discretion of lower layers in the public sector, in particular the municipalities. The parliament can, at any time, change the scope of local autonomy and its organization. The regions are mainly responsible for health care provision and regional development, while the municipalities have a wider range of tasks. They are the main provider of welfare services (e.g., schools, day care, care for the elderly, libraries, sports and roads) and play an important role in implementing employment policies (e.g., job-centers).
Jørgen Grønnegård Christiansen et al., Politik og forvaltning, 4. udg., 2017.
Carsten Henrichsen, Offentlig Forvaltning, 2006.
The allocation of tasks and responsibilities between the federal and state governments is defined in the Basic Law. Thus, police functions, cultural tasks, and education, including both schools and universities, are the responsibility of the states. This distribution of tasks is largely respected by the federal government. A far-reaching equalization system and an ongoing shift of tax revenues from the federal to the state level has also been improving the financial capabilities of states to fulfill these tasks (see Task Funding).
Whether the federal government permits the states to exercise their constitutional authority without undue interference is one of the central constitutional controversies in U.S. politics. In one sense, there is no such thing as the federal government depriving states of their constitutional discretion. Whatever decisions the federal government imposes on the states can be appealed to the federal courts. Given the availability of appeals, one can assume that states are able to exercise their constitutional jurisdiction as it is currently interpreted. In 2012, the Supreme Court, supporting the Obama administration, invalidated most of an Arizona law that provided for aggressive state-level investigation and prosecution of undocumented immigrants. In 2015, it invalidated all state laws that bar same-sex marriage. On the other hand, multiple states have legalized medical and sometimes recreational use of marijuana. Even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law, under the Obama administration, the federal government had not attempted to prosecute violators in states with legalization policies.
Czech Rep.
The discretion of local and regional governments over exactly how resources should be spent does not face formal limitations. Effective discretion is limited by budget limitations, but money can be transferred between uses. More significantly, regional governments are effectively constrained by the need to meet the standards set for key services, notably education, which limits the scope for transferring funds between uses. Irregularities in public procurement, against which NGOs campaigned, have been somewhat addressed due to EU pressure and strong oversight with respect to EU structural funding. The involvement of the EU anti-fraud body OLAF in the irregularities of Andrej Babiš’s receipt of EU funds for one of his businesses led to his dismissal from the Ministry of Finance and a governmental crisis.
The constitutional and legislative changes, which had substantially increased the powers and scope of regional government activity over the last 20 years, did not make the relationship between different levels of government less antagonistic. Across an increased number of policy fields, central and regional governments have concurrent legislative powers. In these areas, the central state should simply define general guidelines, leaving the articulation of specific legislative contents to regional assemblies. However, the national government and parliament have a tendency not to respect this division of authority, impinging upon the sphere of regional autonomy instead.

For their part, regions often adopt a posture of resistance to national rules. This has produced an exceeding amount of litigation before the Constitutional Court. Tensions between the two levels have also increased as a result of the strained fiscal context. The central government has sought greater oversight over local governments (often perceived as the culprits of unrestrained spending). In order to balance the national budget, central government transfers to local authorities are repeatedly cut. These cuts are typically applied universally, rather than selectively. However, in several emergencies, the national government has given substantial financial aid to municipalities and regions. Moreover, central government has provided the necessary funds whenever local governments have been close to defaulting.
A clearer definition of the powers and responsibilities of central state and regions failed when the proposed constitutional reform was defeated in the referendum of December 2016.
Local governments increasingly depend on transfers from the central government. Land use regulation was centralized during the review period. Nevertheless, a serious conflict between local interests and the aims of the government’s transport and land use planning body (Integrierte Verkehrs- und Landesplanung, IVL) occurred when the construction of a large business center in a rural region near the capital was not authorized. Following a reform of the education system, municipalities lost one of their major prerogatives, which was the autonomous management of primary school (students four to 12 years old) teaching staff. With a municipal reform, the municipalities also lost autonomy, as evidenced by a law on emergency services. In return, the government has promised to provide more autonomy, through territorial reform, especially in the form of expanded financial autonomy and the provision of support for municipal finances through regional funds.
Eser, Th. W./Scholtes, M. (2008), Raumentwicklung, Regionalpolitik und Landesplanung, in: Lorig, W./Hirsch, M. (ed.), Das politische System Luxembourgs, Wiesbaden, pp. 286-309.

Feist, Peter. “Der Tanz Beginnt | D’Lëtzebuerger Land.” D’Lëtzebuerger Land, 8 Feb. 2013, Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

“IVL.“ Ministère du Développement durable et des Infrastructures 2017. Accessed 30 Dec. 2017

“Schlecht gerüstet.” – Für Politik, Gesellschaft Und Kultur in Luxemburg, June 2013, Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

“Reform der Rettungsdienste. Der Preis der effizienten Hilfe.” Luxemburger Wort, 2. Jun 2015, Accessed 7. Feb. 2018.
A distinction must be made between local authorities of England, on the one hand, and the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly of Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, on the other hand. The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland enjoy considerable autonomy from central government, in contrast to the strong restrictions on local authorities in England. In recent years, the trend has been reversed through measures stemming from the 2011 Localism Act. These measures substantially increased local authorities’ decision-making and spending powers over, for example, health care, skills training, transport, employment support, physical infrastructure investment and housing. In addition, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, in what can be seen as a limited push toward English devolution, established directly elected mayors for combined local authorities in England and Wales, so-called metro mayors. Eight elections for metro mayors were held in 2017.

The devolved parliaments in Scotland and Northern Ireland have ruled against the creation of directly elected mayors in their respective regions. The establishment of a directly elected mayor in England or Wales normally follows a local referendum, although neither Leicester nor Liverpool held a popular vote. However, in the majority of cases, voters opposed the establishment of a new mayoral office and one even revoked an existing office (Stoke on Trent in 2009). In June 2017, 17 cities had directly elected mayors, including London. However, one will be abolished in May 2019 following a referendum. As of 4 May 2017, there are also seven so-called metro mayors, who are the chairs of “mayoral combined authorities,” for instance in the Greater Manchester Area and the West Midlands. In addition, there are several indirectly elected mayors with comparable political powers and many localities have a purely ceremonial Lord Mayor.

Some further powers are shifting to the devolved administrations. Scotland’s increased tax powers are now in effect and being used: the 2017 Scottish Budget sets out new income-tax bands. Meanwhile, the New Welsh Land Transaction Tax was introduced on 1 April 2018. The return of powers from the European Union will lead to a significant increase in the decision-making powers of the Scottish and Welsh governments, and what is expected to be a restored Northern Ireland executive after a long political hiatus resulting from the collapse of the power-sharing executive in early 2017.

The political weight of these subsidiary authorities varies strongly and the substance of mayoral offices in the traditionally centralized political system of the United Kingdom is hard to measure. The number of mayors is clearly increasing, but remains remarkably low in comparison to the total number of authorities. However, several of the largest and most important cities of the country (e.g., London, Bristol, Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region) have directly elected mayors. Notably, the Greater London Authority is headed by its mayor, the Rt. Hon. Sadiq Khan, and culturally and politically can almost be seen as a federated state within the United Kingdom.

An evaluation by the Council of Europe notes a general satisfaction with recent developments in the United Kingdom, but expresses concern about funding and “the limitation of local authorities’ discretion to manage local affairs through the intervention by various ministries of the central government.”

The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish government have become major political actors, especially through the Scotland Act 2016. Although the powers of the Scottish Parliament are revocable by central government, they should be considered permanent for political reasons. The Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments have considerable autonomy, granted for instance in the Wales Bill. However, these powers differ in degree from those held by the Scottish Parliament, although new financial powers are being devolved, such as the proposed introduction of a Northern Ireland rate for corporation tax. Even if some decisions by the Scottish government have antagonized central government, the central government has not intervened.
Guide to Localism Act:

House of Commons Briefing paper SN05000 2016 – Directly elected mayors:
Some instances of recentralization have occurred through fiscal or administrative means, but despite the usual stereotypes about French hyper-centralization, it is fair to say that subnational government enjoys much freedom of maneuver. Legally, subnational government is subordinate. Politically, the influence of local elites in parliament and in particular in the Senate is decisive. The most efficient but contested instruments of control derive from the legal, technical or economic standards imposed by the Brussels and Paris bureaucracies. Violating such standards can involve high political, monetary and legal costs for local politicians. As local taxes and spending have grown beyond control over the past 30 years, and the myriad of local units make the steering of policymaking difficult, central government has failed to find more effective tools than reducing central government financial contributions to force local authorities to reduce their spending.
The central government generally respects local authorities’ constitutional scope of power, but centrally determined political, legal, administrative or fiscal measures sometimes constrain subnational policymaking and implementation autonomy. In addition to the problems of limited powers and insufficient fiscal resources, the elimination of county administrations and other central-level decisions have reduced municipalities’ policymaking and implementation capacities in areas such as territorial planning, construction, and the regulation of land ownership.
The Mexican constitution gives subnational entities, in particular states, considerable opportunity to influence policy. However, fiscal federalism in Mexico still relies heavily on transfers and thus gives the central government considerable leverage over states. The economic heterogeneity of states is so substantial that there is a need for a solidarity-oriented transfer system. In other words, fiscal federalism in Mexico cannot rely on the principle of market-based federalism with its focus on competition among subnational entities.

The current system is not in equilibrium between solidarity and market-based federalism. The federal government formally has substantial leverage over states, the federal government has generally refrained from reining in the illiberal practices of local elites. Considerable administrative capacity deficits and illiberal political practices therefore persist at the subnational level, and political processes in several states fall short of democratic practices. The complicity of the federal government is illustrated by its failure to intervene even in cases where governors systematically embezzled funds to the point of financially ruining their states, such as Veracruz. In the case of Mexico, federalism is therefore undermined not only by an overbearing center but also by a lack of accountability and oversight of subnational officials.
New Zealand
There is a clear legal framework for local government autonomy, consisting of the Local Government Act 2002, the Local Electoral Act 2001 and the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002. In addition, the comprehensive reform program, “Better Local Government,” was put into action during the review period, culminating in the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Act 2014. The Amendment Act became law in August 2014. According to the Department of Internal Affairs, the act includes, among others things: changes in regard to what development contributions can be used for; more collaboration and shared services between local authorities; new requirements for infrastructure strategies and asset management planning; elected members to use technology to participate in council meetings, rather than attending in person; local councils to disclose information about their rating bases in long-term plans, annual plans and annual reports; and discloses risk management arrangements for physical assets in annual reports. In addition, the act includes provisions that enable the Local Government Commission to establish local boards as part of new unitary authorities, and in existing unitary authorities. There is no de facto infringement of this scope. Local governments do not enjoy constitutional status, as they are creatures of statute. As noted already, local governments in New Zealand are unusual in terms of their relatively narrow task profiles and their inability to tap into other commonly used sources of subnational revenue such as sales and/or income taxes. Local governments therefore raise a relatively large proportion of revenue from rates and charges; and given concerns about rating levels, they are fiscally constrained from expanding their roles and functions.
Department of Internal Affairs, Better Local Government: (accessed November 30, 2015).
Local Electoral Act 2001 (Wellington: The Government of New Zealand 2012).
Local Government Act 2002 (Wellington: The Government of New Zealand 2012).
Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Act 2014 (Wellington: The Government of New Zealand 2014).
Local Government (Rating) Act 2002 (Wellington: The Government of New Zealand 2011).
Norway is a unitary state with a tradition of considerable local autonomy. There is ongoing tension between Norway’s local and central governments over the extent of local government’s discretionary powers, and we have observed a long trend of gradually increased centralization around the larger urban areas. Some claim that the central government has increasingly tied the hands of local governments. For example, central government partially controls local government spending by earmarking transferred funds for specific purposes. As part of the current reform agenda, the government has offered to grant greater autonomy to those units that decide to merge and form larger units.
The central government formally respects the constitutional autonomy of subnational self-governments, but de facto narrows their scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
The responsibilities of the Commonwealth and of the states and territories are clearly laid out in the Australian constitution. However, they have been subject to judicial review over the course of the century, which has resulted in the increasing centralization of executive power. In turn, the policies of the major political parties have been to increase this centralization in the interests of fiscal and administrative efficiency. However, given the restrictions of the Australian constitution, the federal-state relationship is suboptimal, but not as problematic as some state representatives suggest. The states and territories have sought legal redress through the courts on occasions when they have felt that their authority has been diminished by the Commonwealth government. On a number of occasions, the federal government has also used its superior financial position to coerce state governments to relinquish powers or adopt favored policies of the federal government, which has had the effect of subverting their constitutional scope of discretion. However, the relationship between the federal and the state level has improved in recent years, although there is room for additional improvement. Considering the asymmetrical relationship of the past, the current situation is much improved.
Chile is a centrally organized state. This represents a structural problem given the wide-range of differences between the respective regions regarding geography, development and density of population. Nevertheless, local governments legally enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy concerning mandates and tasks that do not touch on constitutional issues and can be executed within the allocated budget. Furthermore, the government has tended to devolve responsibilities to local governments (i.e., in the domain of urban regulation). In comparison to the local or municipal levels, regional governments enjoy a high degree of budget autonomy. At the regional level, however, governors’ autonomy is limited by their simultaneous function as representatives of the national government. A draft law has been elaborated that would enhance regional governors’ (Gobernador Regional) financial autonomy. This draft became law shortly after the period under review.
According to the Estonian constitution, local self-governments can independently decide on all local issues. The rights and responsibilities of local governments are stipulated in detail in the Local Government Organization Act. In the spring of 2016, the government launched a radical administrative reform, including merging smaller local governments (i.e., with fewer than 1,000 residents) into larger units comprising at least 5,000 residents. Mergers were carried out by the central government where they did not occur voluntarily; several municipalities appealed the decisions to the courts. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the central government acted in accordance with the constitution.
Ireland is a unitary state, without a significant degree of autonomous local or regional self-government. Article 28a of the constitution simply states: “The state recognizes the role of local government in providing a forum for the democratic representation of local communities, in exercising and performing at local level powers and functions conferred by law and in promoting by its initiatives the interests of such communities.”

In keeping with its weak constitutional foundation, the role of subnational government is viewed by the electorate as confined to a narrow range of functions. Most of the units of local government – the counties and county boroughs – are small, and many have weak economic bases.

The role of subnational units of government has been progressively reduced, most notably by the removal of their responsibility for the provision of health and water services (respectively in 2005 and 2014). However, the government decided that local authorities that stand to receive more income in 2015 from the LPT than they received from the Local Government Fund in 2014 will be entitled to use a certain portion of that additional funding for their own discretionary purposes as part of their normal budgetary process.

While the Local Government Reform Act 2014 introduced some important changes in the structure of local government (merging three pairs of city/county councils and replacing town councils with municipal districts), it did not radically alter the structure or functions of local government. The act also replaced the existing regional authorities with three new Regional Assemblies that are tasked with preparing Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies by 2016. Local Community Development Committees have also been established. It remains to be seen if these developments will significantly increase subnational implementation autonomy. John Coakley describes the 2014 act as “the ultimate stage in the centralization of the Irish local government system” (2018, p21).
John Coakley (2018), ‘The foundations of statehood,’ in in John Coakley and Michael Gallagher (eds), Politics in the Republic of Ireland. 6th edition. London: Routledge and PSAI Press.
The legal framework for local government is based on the “ultra vires” principle, according to which local government is authorized to act only within the parameters designated by law. While local governments are elected, and some stronger municipalities have been able to expand their policy influence, local authorities often serve merely as a local branch for implementing central-government policy. In light of frequent problems with corruption, management failure and extreme politicization during the 1990s, the Ministry of the Interior has expanded its oversight over municipalities; its powers now allowing it to appoint a permanent outside accountant, cancel approved budgets and even dissolve local councils and nominate professional alternatives. The national attorney general formed a special committee to address corruption problems in 2015. The committee recommended that the heads of local authorities make an effort to increase financial transparency, for instance through the annual declaration of capital owned by senior authority staffers. However, these recommendations have been only partially implemented.

These centralizing steps are both intentional and constitutional, but often interfere with local autonomy. However, in 2014 the Knesset approved an amendment to the municipalities law that defined standards for the designation of strong municipalities. Strong municipalities are given concessions regarding their dependence on the central government in order to enhance the decentralization of authority. A separate amendment to the planning and construction law gives greater discretion (and adequate budgetary allocations) to local planning committees if they have proven to be effective and professional.
Authorization of local committees, Planning Authority website,

Benita, Rinat, “Local Authorities in Israel“, The Knesset Research Center 17.5.2015: (Hebrew)

Hayman-rysh, Noami, “Changes in the status of local government,” IDI website, October 2008 (Hebrew)

“Municipalities law: Position paper,” IDC, December 2011 (Hebrew) “Government legal proposal 292,” Official legal records 1997 (Hebrew)

Lichtman, Moshe. “It’s not necessary to recommend to reduce mayors term,” 19.9.2016 (Hebrew):
Local governments have a constitutional right to autonomy. This right is reinforced by Latvia’s commitments as a signatory of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which have been upheld by the Constitutional Court. The Ministry of Environment and Regional Development monitors local-government regulations for legal compliance and has the right to strike down regulations deemed to be in violation of legal norms.

The President’s Strategic Advisory Council has noted a tendency for central government to over-regulate, which has negatively affected local governments’ discretionary authority.

Public discussion about the appropriate division of responsibilities and the burden of financing erupted in 2012, when central government simultaneously reduced the guaranteed minimum income benefit and transferred responsibility for financing the program to local governments. Similarly, in 2015 and 2016 public discussion focused on the burden of financing expected refugee flows.
The President’s Strategic Advisory Council (2013), Management Improvement Proposals, Available at (in Latvian):, Last assessed: 21.05.2013
Formally, the central government enables subnational governments to make full use of their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to policy implementation. However, subnational governments do not have their own sources of revenue, being instead dependent on central-government transfers. This means that the central government generally has considerable control. This control increased with the bailout, and has continued to be substantial afterward. For example, the central government imposed its own conditionalities on the Madeira regional government as part of a bailout package that ended on 31 December 2015, and has acted similarly with other municipalities that have requested central-government help (as noted in the previous question). However, much the same is true of even for municipalities that have not sought a central-government bailout, as increasing reductions in financial expenditures have resulted in budget cuts for programs involving partnerships between the central and local governments.
The Slovenian constitution, the European Charter on Local Government (ratified in 1996) and the Local Government Act give municipalities responsibility for all local public affairs and some autonomy in implementing national legislation. In practice, however, financing constraints and a limited administrative capacity in the larger number of small municipalities limit local autonomy. The Cerar government has started to address this issue through the adoption of the Public Administration Development Strategy in April 2015 and a separate strategy for the development of local government in September 2016. Both strategies aim at fostering closer cooperation between municipalities in the fields of public services and tourism, but implementation of those strategies has so far proven inadequate and central government and municipalities are still far apart on the most issues.
Government of the Republic of Slovenia (2015): Public Administration 2020: Public Administration Development Strategy 2015-2020. Ljubljana (
Ministry for Public Administration (2016): Strategija razvoja lokalne samouprave do 2020 (Strategy of local government development until 2020). Ljubljana (
Rozen, Tomaz and Miro Haček (2014): Merjenje upravljavske sposobnosti lokalnih samoupravnih skupnosti: primer slovenskih obcin (Measurement of administrative capacity of local governments: case of Slovenian municipalities). Ljubljana: Faculty of Social Sciences.
South Korea
While autonomous local governments are protected by the constitution, the constitution does not clearly define specific competencies and rights. A major obstacle to subnational self-government is the lack of fiscal autonomy for local governments. Due to the very high dependence on transfer grants from the central government, most regional and local governments are vulnerable to central-government interference. The fiscal self-reliance ratio in over 90% of local governments (220 out of a total 243 local governments) was under 50% in 2016. The reality of inadequate budgetary and functional authority in many local areas, as well as the disproportionate influence of city and provincial authorities, often leaves local administrators and governments short on revenue and effective governing capacity.

However, local-government autonomy is expected to be expanded under the new administration. President Moon has promised to reduce centralization within the country’s overall system of governance. For example, he has suggested holding periodic meetings with local government leaders, thus creating a kind of “secondary cabinet.” Moon also has shown great interest in holding a referendum on a constitutional amendment designed to redistribute power to the local level.
Joong-Ho Kook (2014), Does Local Autonomy Enhance the Autonomy in Local Public Finance? Evidence from the Case of Korea,
Korea Times. Moon and Local Authority. September 26, 2017.
Organic Law 2/2012 on Budgetary Stability and Financial Sustainability of Public Administrations imposes austerity conditions and debt targets on all public administrative bodies. With this legislation, the central government is – despite formally respecting Autonomous Communities’ constitutional autonomy – de facto narrowing their scope of spending autonomy. Organic Law 2/2012 had primarily been intended to appease potential bond buyers, but the central government also took advantage of this situation to politically weaken the regions. Some regions (particularly Catalonia) have tried to protect themselves from what they deem excessive central control. One of the effects of the law has been the paralysis of initiatives, especially at the municipal and regional levels.
November 2017, El País: “Montoro interviene las cuentas del Ayuntamiento de Madrid para que ajuste el gasto” 7/11/07/madrid/ ml
Dutch local governments are hybrids of “autonomous” and “co-government” forms. However, local autonomy is defined mostly negatively as pertaining to those tasks left to local discretion because they are not explicitly mentioned as national policy issues. Co-government is financially and materially constrained in rather extensive detail by ministerial grants. Increasingly, the Dutch national government uses administrative and financial tools to steer and influence local policymaking. Some would go so far as to claim that these tools have in sum created a culture of quality control and accountability that paralyzes local governments, violating the European Charter for Local Government. This is due in part to popular and political opinion that local policymaking, levels of local-service delivery and local taxes ought to be equal everywhere in the (small) country.

Starting in 2016, the Local Government Fund (Gemeentefonds) budget has increased in step with increases in the national government’s budget. The transfer of policy competencies in many domains of care imply that local discretion has increased, sometimes resulting in different treatment for similar cases by local governments in different parts of the country.
Hans Keman and Jaap Woldendorp (2010), „The Netherlands: Centralized – more than less!‟, in: Jürgen Dieringer and Roland Sturm (hrsg.), Regional Governance in EU-Staaten, Verlag Barbara Budrich: 269-286.

VNG-reactir op de Rijksbegroting 2017, Bijzondere Ledenbrief,, consulted 12 October 2017
Bulgaria is a unitary state with two levels of government – national and municipal. The constitution vests municipalities with a relatively broad set of powers and competencies, and the law generally respects this independence. However, in reality most Bulgarian municipalities are financially dependent on central government transfers, because their own revenue base is inadequate for generating the necessary revenues. On occasion, the central government attempts to capitalize on this dependence or has favored local governments affiliated with the governing coalition.

In 2016, the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works adopted a new decentralization strategy for the next 10 years. Compared to its largely ineffective predecessor, it has a broader scope and covers not only fiscal matters, but the functions of different tiers of government as well. The strategy is accompanied by an implementation program for 2016 – 2019. Its implementation should be monitored by a newly created council on the decentralization of state government. However, as of late 2017, the council has not had a single session since February 2016.
The autonomy of local and regional self-government units is very limited. In violation of the European Charter on Local Self-Government, local units are usually not allowed to regulate and expand their autonomous scope of activities on their own. In the case of activities devolved to local self-government units by the central government, a central-government body issues instructions to county prefects and mayors. The Ministry of Administration can dissolve the representative bodies of local or regional self-government units if they violate the constitution or laws.
The constitutional status of local government is vague. Placed originally under the authority of communal chambers (Art. 86-111) that were abolished with the collapse of bi-communality (1964), local authorities are governed by the Law on Municipalities of 1985. Local authorities demonstrate limited capacity and efficiency. The aforementioned constitutional clauses have led to restrictions on municipalities’ powers. Budgets, specifically management decisions regarding selected financial issues and assets, are subject to approval by the Council of Ministers. Additionally, the law on fiscal responsibility (20(I)/2014) imposes stricter controls. Arguments in favor of reducing the (excessive) number of municipalities are strengthened by their chronically deficient management. Thus, local governments must prove that they deserve their autonomy.
The law on municipalities, 111/1985,,35,English
The Japanese constitution guarantees local-government autonomy. However, articles 92 to 95 of Chapter VIII, which discuss local self-government, are very short and lack specifics. The central state makes its power felt through three mechanisms in particular: control over vertical fiscal transfers, the delegation of functions that local entities are required to execute, and personnel relations between local entities and the central ministry in charge of local autonomy. Moreover, co-financing schemes for public works provide incentives to follow central-government policies.

Over the course of the last decade, there have been a growing number of initiatives aimed at strengthening local autonomy. One major reform proposal envisions the establishment of regional blocks above the prefectural level and giving these bodies far-reaching autonomy on internal matters (doshu system). There are no indications that the current government will seek to turn this controversial idea into practice.
The process of government decentralization that started in 1998 has been broadly accepted. However, since the PiS government has perceived local governments as a bastion of the opposition, it has tried to restrict their role. Legislation passed in 2017 has reduced the role of subnational governments in the management of inland waterways and regional operational programs involving EU funds. In July 2017, President Duda vetoed an amendment to the auditing of subnational finances, which would have increased the national government’s grip on decisions at the subnational level.
The second government initiated a far-reaching reform of local government. The government has established new tiers of state administration at the county and district level that were given some of the functions previously exercised by local and other subnational self-governments. This stripping of competencies has been especially severe in the case of the city of Budapest, a traditional liberal stronghold which has since lost its special role in national politics. On the one hand, the reform lifted a significant burden from smaller units, as it professionalized services in deconcentrated state bodies. On the other hand, the general shift of competences did not at all improve self-governments’ performance flexibility in those areas remaining under their control. As a result, both the formal powers of subnational self-governments and their capacities to make full use of these powers have declined. Local Fidesz strongholds like Debrecen seem to have enjoyed special treatment in the process of allocating EU funds.
Local councils have no constitutional right of implementation autonomy, and all their activities and responsibilities are monitored and can be challenged by the Department of Local Government. All by-laws have to be approved by the central government and decisions taken may be rescinded. These constraints are intentional, to prevent local councils from assuming responsibilities independent from the central government or adopting policies which conflict with those of the central government. Consequently, local councils intent on taking decisions that conflict with the central government, for instance in the area of local planning, must resort to sui generis tactics, often working with civil society organizations, in order to support the views of the locality.
The autonomy of subnational units is often curtailed by fiscal measures enforced from the central level. The allocation of discretionary financial transfers and investment projects to municipalities and counties along partisan lines has continued in the period under review. Another problem is that allocations are often made with considerable delay, which affects the capacity of subnational units to initiate and complete projects. This problem seems to be especially pronounced in the predominantly Hungarian counties of Transylvania, Covasna and Harghita.
All Fico-led governments pursued a hands-on approach limiting the constitutional discretion of subnational governments. The creation of the new district offices under the second Fico government has not led to a greater concentration of power, but to the further politicization of local government bodies. The politics of direct patronage for party-loyal municipalities (such as building sports facilities in towns and villages led by Smer-SD party members) has continued under the third Fico government.
The central government deliberately precludes subnational self-governments from making use of their constitutionally provided implementation autonomy.
While the autonomy of subnational self-governments is nominally guaranteed by the constitution – which requires that the government provides them with all legislative, regulatory and financial means to accomplish their tasks – in practice, subnational self-governments have few financial means at their disposal. Since the crisis began, successive governments narrowed the scope of fiscal discretion of subnational self-governments because the state’s finances have been on the brink of collapse and the country has relied on external support from Greece’s lenders. However, in legal and administrative terms, the responsibilities of subnational governments has not been reduced. Between 2015 and 2016, at least three municipalities, two in the Greater Athens area and one in Crete, officially declared bankruptcy and the government rescued them financially.
Article 102 of the constitution provides for the autonomy of subnational governments.
According to Article 127, Paragraph 1 of the constitution, local administrative bodies are public entities established to meet the common needs of the local inhabitants of provinces, municipal districts and villages, whose decision-making bodies are determined by the electorate as described in law, and whose structure is also determined by law. However, according to Article 127, Paragraph 5 of the constitution, the central administration has the power of administrative trusteeship over local governments, under a framework of legal principles and procedures designed to ensure the functioning of local services in conformity with the principle of administrative unity and integrity, to secure uniform public services, to safeguard the public interest and to meet local needs in an appropriate manner.

Past reforms driven by the process of alignment with the European charter of local self-government have changed Turkey’s administrative structure and the relationship between the center and subnational bodies. In December 2012, the boundaries of metropolitan municipalities were revised to make public service provision more effective and productive. The law has been criticized, as it appears to set aside the principle of subsidiarity despite its “official” goal of strengthening democracy at the local level. First, the legal status of provincial administrations, villages and municipalities cannot be changed through a special law without consultation or referendum; such changes require a constitutional amendment. Second, the 2012 law essentially violates the principle of self-government. And finally, it is questionable whether the effective delivery of social services is indeed relevant to strengthening local democracy. In addition, the Mass Housing Administration (Toplu Konut İdaresi, TOKI), a central administrative body and a patronage tool for the AKP, is empowered to implement urban renewal projects almost anywhere.

In mid-2014, some mayors in southeast Anatolian provinces called for the transfer of half of the state’s share yielded from oil drilling to the municipality of the province in which oil is produced.

Soon after the 7 June 2015 parliamentary elections, two towns and 16 municipalities (14 towns and two neighborhoods in İstanbul) declared self-government. The government took a strong stand against these declarations, and judicial investigations were initiated against mayors and other people in charge. Moreover, in the wake of the 15 July coup attempt and the government’s declared state of emergency, numerous democratically elected mayors and municipality staff of larger and smaller local administrations in various provinces have been detained and replaced with trustees by the central government.
Ayşe Güner and Serdar Yılmaz, Son Değişikliklerin Türkiye’de Yerel Yönetimlerin Takdir Hakkı ve Hesap Verilebilirlik Üzerindeki Etkisi, Marmara İktisat Dergisi, 1,2 Eylül 2017, 229-250.
Mehmet Zahid Sobacı, Türkiye’nin Avrupa Yerel Yönetimler Özerklik Şartı’na Uyumu: Özerklik Miti, 2015,
Öz yönetim ilan edilen merkez sayısı 16’ya yükseldi, 20 August 2015,,306949
HDP submits bill for oil revenue sharing with local governments, 3 July 2014,
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