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 European U 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 and local authorities), 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, 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.

The main competences for public policies are with the cantons. The implementation of federal policies in Switzerland is strongly shaped by the institutional setting. According to Vatter, “While the Federation holds the legislative power in many areas, responsibility for implementing federal policies resides to a large extent with the cantons.” Therefore, in a great number of policy domains, the federal level is dependent on the cantons for the implementation of federal legislation. Due to the high degree of legislative autonomy of the Swiss cantons, the delegation applies not only to the actual implementation of federal laws (i.e., the right to act) but also to the adaptation of these provisions to the local situation (i.e., the right to decide). The cantons are not only implementing, but also programming authorities. According to Sager et al., the complexities of modern infrastructure, economic intervention and social programs have stimulated mechanisms of intensive cooperation between the three levels of the federal system.
Sager et al. (2019) show how the cantons use their discretionary power to complement federal policies in order to achieve their stated objectives.
Sager, F., Ingold, K., & Balthasar, A. (2017). Policy-Analyse in der Schweiz: Besonderheiten, Theorien, Beispiele. Politik und Gesellschaft in der Schweiz. Zürich: NZZ.

Sager, Fritz, Christian Rüefli and Eva Thomann (2019). « Fixing Federal Faults. Complementary Member State Policies in Swiss Health Care Policy », International Review of Public Policy [Online], 1:2 | 2019, Online since 20 November 2019, connection on 04 December 2019. URL :

Vatter, A. (2007) ‘Federalism,’ in U. Klöti et al. (eds), Handbook of Swiss Politics, 2nd edn, Zurich: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 77-99.
Canada’s federal government works to ensure subnational 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. However, this process can be ambiguous.

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, healthcare, 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.
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 and 2017 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 former government (2014 – 2018) and its key advisory agencies have had a royal commission and the Public Management Agency review intergovernmental relations in preparation for a reform proposal. With the expected change in the composition of government following the 2018 election, this reform appears to be on hold.
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. The parliament can, at any time, change the scope of local autonomy and its organization. In recent years there has been a tendency to curtail the effective discretion of lower layers in the public sector, in particular the municipalities.
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). Moreover, the Basic Law also grants local self-government to the almost 12,000 local governments in Germany. Local governments enjoy autonomy in organizing and carrying out their own affairs.
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, healthcare, 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 2018, 17 cities had directly elected mayors, including London. However, one (Torbay) will be abolished in May 2019 following a referendum. 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:
Whether the federal government permits the states to exercise their constitutional authority without undue interference is one of the central, long-term 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 2015, the Supreme Court invalidated all state laws that bar same-sex marriage. On the other hand, multiple states have legalized medical and sometimes recreational use of marijuana. The Trump administration has sought to impose controls on states that have maintained certain liberal policies. More notable examples include the administration’s attempt to annul California’s strict standards for automobile emissions, enforce the federal prohibition of cannabis in states that have legalized it, and penalize “sanctuary cities” that protect undocumented immigrants.
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 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.

Under the first Conte government, some regions advanced a request for a broader devolution of competences, as allowed by the constitution. However, as the two main governing parties were divided on this request, the issue remained unresolved.
Local governments increasingly depend on transfers from the central government. Efforts to centralize the regulation of land use have been ongoing for years and continue to drag on as a result of insufficient personnel, changing EU legislation and citizen initiatives. 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. A municipal reform also undermined other aspects of autonomy, as evidenced by a law on emergency services. In return, the government has promised to provide more autonomy through territorial reforms, especially in the form of expanded financial autonomy and the provision of support for municipal finances through regional funds.
Eser, Thiemo W./Scholtes, Maryse (2008): Raumentwicklung, Regionalpolitik und Landesplanung, in:Wolfgang H. Lorig/Mario Hirsch (eds.), Das politische System Luxemburgs, Springer VS Verlag, Wiesbaden, pp. 286 – 309.

Feist, Peter: “Der Tanz Beginnt | D’Lëtzebuerger Land.” D’Lëtzebuerger Land, 8 February 2013. Accessed 24 Oct. 2019.

“Schlecht gerüstet.” Interview with Emile Eicher, Syvicol., june 2013, no. 330, pp. 48 – 49. Accessed 24 Oct. 2019.
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 relatively high degree of budget autonomy. At the regional level, however, governors’ autonomy is limited by their simultaneous function as representatives of the national government.
In January 2018, a new law (Ley No. 21,074) was enacted that enhances the regionalization of the state (Ley de fortalecimiento de la regionalización del país). This can be seen as an important step in the context of the ongoing decentralization process, which is planned to be fully implemented with the first direct-democratic election of regional governors in 2020.

Law Nr. 21,074:
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 2018, former (smaller) municipalities with a median population of 1,900 were merged into larger units with a median population of 7,700. The aim of the reform was to enhance local governance capacity and to improve the quality of public services throughout the country. Following the reform, the scope of implementation autonomy has extended. Today, local governments can decide on regional public transport arrangements. Previously, these arrangements had been the task of the former county governments, which had represented the central government and were abolished at the beginning of 2018.
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 has been decisive. However, this is less true in the National Assembly due to the fact that the majority of the new deputies elected in 2017 have no local experience or responsibility. 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/judicial 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, the central government has failed to find any tools more effective than cutting central government funding in order to force local authorities to reduce their spending. “Contracts” determining spending were signed with most of the large local units in 2018.
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. Furthermore, according to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, many legal regulations tend to restrict municipal autonomy and local authorities’ ability to act independently.
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (2018). Local democracy in Lithuania, Report, CPL35(2018)02prov. Available at:
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 therefore persist at the subnational level.
Diaz-Cayeros, Alberto, Fiscal Federalism and Redistribution in Mexico (December 16, 2016). Available at SSRN:
New Zealand
Local governments do not enjoy constitutional status, as they are creatures of statute. 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, a comprehensive reform program (“Better Local Government”) culminated in the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Act 2014. According to the Department of Internal Affairs, the act includes: 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 the disclosure of 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.
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. Central government also defines specific standards on services and rights. 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.
Formally, the central government enables subnational governments to make full use of their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to policy implementation. However, in practice it is the central government that generally has considerable control.
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 accorded to 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 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.
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.
Since 2012, legislation on budgetary stability and financial sustainability has imposed austerity conditions and debt targets on all public administrative bodies. With this legislation, the central government has – despite formally respecting the autonomous communities’ constitutional autonomy – de facto narrowed the scope of their spending autonomy. One of the effects of the law has been to paralyze policy initiatives, especially at the municipal and regional levels.

However, since June 2018 and the change in central government, attitudes have become more sympathetic toward the regions regarding funding, Constitutional Court conflicts and policy cooperation at the so-called intergovernmental sectoral conferences. As a consequence of increased public revenue, more money will flow to the autonomous communities in the near future.
September 2019, La Vanguardia “Hacienda prevé desbloquear 4.500 millones para las autonomías en 10 días”
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 past 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. 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 federal 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 policies favored by the federal government, which has had the effect of subverting their constitutional scope for discretion.
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.
As a part of the government’s effort to handle corruption problems, the attorney general formed a special committee in 2015. The committee recommended that the heads of local authorities increase transparency regarding finance, such as requiring senior local authority staff to provide annual declarations of capital. In 2016, a report made by the committee was submitted to the attorney general. It appears likely that the reports’ recommendations will be made law by parliament. However, in another report, published in 2018, the recommendations were shelved. Attempts to promote the legislation of the reports’ recommendations face resistance from both political sides in parliament.

The tension between the national and local governments intensified after the legislation of the “Supermarket law” in 2017. The law prohibited the opening of supermarkets on “Shabbat” (Saturday). The law was heavily criticized by local authorities with small religious populations. Some local authorities tried to legislate a Municipal Bylaw, allowing the authority to act in disregard of the national law. However, as part of the centralization of local authorities in Israel, such bylaws must be approved by the minister of interior, who in this instance denied their approval. Another example of a clash between national and local governments regarding legislation concerns public transportation during Shabbat. In recent years, tensions over the construction of railways and bridges, and management of local public transport networks have increased between the national government and local authorities in specific areas. In October 2019, the Tel Aviv municipality announced that it would fund local weekend bus services, with weekend bus services starting at the end of November 2019.
Benita, Rinat, “Local Authorities in Israel“, The Knesset Research Center 17.5.2015: (Hebrew).

Crisis of Jewish Bridge on Saturday Shabbat?, Mako, 14.1.2019 (Hebrew):

Deri used the supermarket law, Channel 7 News, 21.6.2018 (Hebrew):

“Government legal proposal 292,” Official legal records 1997 (Hebrew)

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

Lichtman, Moshe. “It’s not necessary to recommend to reduce mayors term,” 19.9.16 (Hebrew):

Modi’in joined the “bypassing the supermarkets,” Ynet News 3.1.18 (Hebrew)::,7340,L-5065779,00.html

“Municipalities law: A position paper,” IDC, December 2011 (Hebrew)

“Not waiting for government: Tel Aviv will fund buses on Saturday,” The Marker, 10.10.2019 (Hebrew):

“Stop the train work on Saturday,” Israel Today (“Israel Hayom”), 16.9.2018 (Hebrew):

The report that was shelved: A new bill to combat corruption in the local government, Israel News, 18.1.2018

The Supermarkets Law was approved in second and third readings – by a vote of one vote, Walla News, 9.1.2018 (Hebrew):

“What will be opened and what will be closed on Shabbat? All you need to know about the “Supermarket Law”“, Ynet
News 9.1.18 (Hebrew):,7340,L-5068454,00.html

Why and by whom is a report of recommendations for eradicating corruption in the local government shelved?, Branza News, 23.1.18, (Hebrew):,7340,L-5068454,00.html

“Buses overflow as Tel Aviv launches public transportation on Shabbat,” Times of Israel, 23.11.2019,
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.
1. The President’s Strategic Advisory Council (2013), Management Improvement Proposals, Available at (in Latvian):, Last assessed: 05.11.2019.

2. Law on Local Governments, Available at:, Last assessed: 05.11.2019.
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 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. This has not changed under the Šarec government.
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 (
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-reactie op de Rijksbegroting 2019, Bijzondere Ledenbrief, (, consulted 1 November 2018)

H. Bekkers, VNG waarschuwt voor tegenvallen 2019, Binnenlands Bestuur, 27 September 2018 (, accessed 1 November 2018)
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.

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 was accompanied by an implementation program for the 2016 – 2019 period. Its implementation was meant to be monitored by a newly created council on the decentralization of state government. However, this council has existed only on paper. No evaluation of the implementation program has been published thus far, and as of the end of 2019, no new implementation program for the coming years had been published.
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. “Lex Šerif,” a special law passed in 2017, strengthened mayors vis-à-vis local assemblies by allowing mayors to dissolve the assemblies when they do not adopt budgets. This was an attempt on behalf of the ruling HDZ to provide more power to mayors from their own ranks in the face of growing political fragmentation in local assemblies since 2017 election.
The constitutional status of local government is vague. Placed originally under the authority of the Communal Chambers (Art. 86-111), which were abolished in 1964, local authorities are governed by the Law on Municipalities of 1985. Local authorities possess limited competences because constitutional clauses allow the central government to impose restrictions on their powers. Budgets and management decisions on a variety of financial issues and assets are subject to approval by the Council of Ministers. Additionally, the law on fiscal responsibility (20(I)/2014) imposes strict budget controls by the finance minister. Reforms under discussion include the merger of the excessive number of municipalities, a reform that would require local approval via referenda.
In order to avoid a vote in which local interests would likely prevail over broader goals, the government seeks consensus. Though this points to centralization tendencies, the reform aims at addressing a situation where local authorities have so far not made good use of their autonomy..
1. Petrides: We want to create a new kind of local authority, Cyprus Mail, 25 September 2019,
The Japanese constitution guarantees the autonomy of local governments. However, articles 92 to 95 discussing 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 last decade, there have been a growing number of initiatives aimed at strengthening local autonomy. However, the success of the government’s regional revitalization drive remains questionable given the continuing allure of Tokyo and its surroundings. This issue is gaining in urgency as remote regions age and lose population with increasing speed.

Experiences with increasing agency autonomy in Japan have been underwhelming to date. A recent survey suggested that quasi-public so-called independent agencies still essentially remain dependent on the government.
Local autonomy in dire peril (Editorial), The Japan Times, 26 January 2019,

Shuntaro Iizuka, Consequences of Agencification in Japan: An Analysis of Survey Data, Paper for IPSA Conference 2018,
Despite the existing level of decentralization in Poland, the PiS government has perceived local governments as a bastion of the opposition. A view that was reinforced by the 2018 local election results. Thus, the PiS government has tried to restrict local government powers. Since judicial institutions – which could normally be called on in cases of conflict between national and local or regional levels of government – is politically loyal to the government, representatives of the municipalities are unlikely to win judicial support.
The second Orbán government initiated a far-reaching reform of local governments, which aimed to tackle the persistent problem of inefficient subnational governance. It 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. As a result, the autonomy of the latter has decreased. The stripping of competencies has been especially severe in the case of the city of Budapest, a traditional liberal stronghold which lost its special role in national politics. With the victory of the opposition in the 2019 municipal elections, the capital has regained its role as a forerunner of democracy, and the political conflicts over local competencies and local discretion will increase.
Hajnal, G., K. Kádár, É. Kovács (2018): Hungary, in: N. Thijs, G. Hammerschmid (eds.), Public Administration Characteristics and Performance in EU28. Luxemburg: European Union, 426-459, 429-430 ( 1-11e8-8bc1-01aa75ed71a1/language-en).
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 during 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. The Dăncilă government promised to further decentralization, but was unable to deliver on this promise by the time it was unseated. The Orban cabinet does not list decentralization among its major objectives.
All Fico-led governments pursued a hands-on approach limiting the constitutional discretion of subnational governments. Under the Pellegrini government, 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. As Smer-SD lost all regional capitals to predominantly independent candidates or candidates supported by the opposition parties in the municipal elections in November 2018, the tensions between central government and subnational governments have increased. In a joint statement in November 2019, the Chair of the Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia (ZMOS), and the Chair of Supreme Audit Office argued that central government must base its transfers to municipalities on economic and legal rather than political criteria. The fact that several municipalities have increased property taxes and waste disposal charges, and some are even planning to introduce a development fee, has increased tensions between central government and municipalities. Leading Smer-SD figures have criticized mayors for fueling political dissatisfaction in the run up to the parliamentary elections in February 2020.
The central government deliberately precludes subnational self-governments from making use of their constitutionally provided implementation autonomy.
Subnational authorities have limited scope of discretion in Greece. 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.
Article 102 of the constitution provides for the autonomy of subnational governments.
Since 2014, the Turkish metropolitan municipalities have been subject to significant changes with respect to the delivery of administrative, financial, political and public services. These changes run contrary to the European Charter of Local Self-Government and severely undermine the principle of subsidiarity. In addition, the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKI) now holds all the power to act in efforts to prevent shanty housing in new areas assigned to a municipality. Furthermore, a June 2019 amendment to the Urban Transformation Regulation enabled the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization to consolidate the application of urban areas which results in a limitation of municipalities’ ability to exercise their powers.

Shortly after the June 2014 parliamentary elections, two towns and 15 provinces in the southeast of Turkey and two neighborhoods in Istanbul declared self-government. The central 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 averted coup attempt in 2016 and the government’s state of emergency, a total of 95 out of 102 HDP democratically elected mayors from HDP replaced with pro-government appointees by the central government.
Following the 31 March 2019 local elections, 24 out of 69 mayors from the opposition HDP were also replaced by so-called trustees.

While existing competencies will in general remain, ensuring effective and efficient delivery of public services will require an expansion of local government powers, a diversification of local needs and a strengthening of public interest. However, Turkey’s new presidential system, which is based on the centralization and unification of decision-making, does not allow for decentralization.
Cumhurbaşkanlığı Teşkilatı Hakkında Cumhurbaşkanlığı Kararnamesi 1, (accessed 1 November 2018)
K. Gözler, Türkiye’nin Yönetim Yapısı (TC İdari Teşkilatı), Bursa: Ekin Basın Yayın Dağıtım, 2018.

K. Öztürk, “Yerel Yönetim Reformunda Yerelleşme– Merkezileşme Dikotomisi: 6360 Sayılı Yasa Örneği,” Hukuk Ve İktisat Araştırmaları Dergisi, 11(2): 133-48.

“Yerel yönetimlere düzenleme: İller ‘Bütünşehir’ sayılacak, belediye başkanlarının yetkisi artacak,” (accessed 1 November 2018)

“Yeni dönemde 15, öncekinde 95 belediyeye kayyum atandı,” Independent Tükçe, 4 November 2019, (accessed 1 November 2019)

“Belediyelere AKP kıskacı,” Birgün dailynewspaper, 25 June 2019, (accessed 1 November 2019)
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