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 constitutionally regulated 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 Union and Canada (CETA). The treaty was only signed 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 contributed to reinforcing this trend.

However, the new importance gained by bodies such as the consultation committee (“Comité de Concertation”/”Overlegcomité,” aka CoDeCo), which bring together representatives of the different levels (federal and regional/community), could enhance coordination and therefore quell potential tensions between the different levels, at least if the implementation of policies is discussed there beforehand. However, this would require that the body be less instrumentalized by certain parties than has already been the case. Recently, an N-VA minister (a party in power in Flanders, but in the opposition at the national level) who is usually in favor of the relaxation of public health measures summoned a third CoDeCo meeting in slightly more than two weeks with the goal of reinforcing public health measures (one week after having blocked them, and one day after having opposed further tightening). The single, suddenly important point was to ban some indoor recreational activities. It soon became apparent that his hidden agenda was to cancel a giant Santa Claus event in Antwerp, saving the mayor, his party president, from having to do so himself.
Canada is, by all measures, one of the most decentralized federations in the world (Dardanelli et al., 2019). The division of power in the federation is such that provincial governments have exclusive autonomy to legislate and to implement policy in their constitutionally-assigned fields of jurisdiction. Provinces exercise the entirety of their constitutional autonomy, and any attempt by the federal government to direct policy in provincial fields of jurisdiction meets with staunch resistance, first and foremost from Québec but also from Alberta and from some other provinces. The resistance faced also depends on the timing of measures and the policy sector (Lecours, 2019).
Dardanelli, Paolo, et al. 2019. “Dynamic De/centralization in Federations: Comparative Conclusions,” Publius: The Journal of Federalism, vol. 49, no.1, 194-219.

Lecours, André. 2019. “Dynamic De/centralization in Canada, 1867-2010,” Publius: The Journal of Federalism, vol.49, no.1, 57-83.
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.
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, the 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, the state 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, the appropriate extent to which the central government ought to be able to force local governments to receive asylum-seekers was thoroughly debated. However, the national government did not interfere with the implementation of the contagion mitigation measures at the municipality level, though other Scandinavian countries did so (Petridou, 2020).

State control over autonomous local governments has increased gradually over the past several years. Such control does not reach across the board, but is generally targeted at specific issues and programs such as education. The red-green minority government from 2014 until 2018 and its key advisory agencies established a commission of inquiry and the Public Management Agency review intergovernmental relations in preparation for a reform proposal. A 2020 commission of inquiry (Regeringskansliet, 2020) has also proposed a series of measures (including mergers) that would help municipalities pay for the welfare services they are tasked with providing. Given the sensitivity of this issue, municipal autonomy is sure to be a question in the upcoming 2022 elections.
Petridou, Evangelia. 2020. “Politics and Administration in Times of Crisis: Explaining the Swedish Response to the Covid-19 Crisis.” European Policy Analysis 6: 147-58.

Regeringskansliet. (Government Offices of Sweden). 2020. “Starkare Kommuner – med Kapacitet att Klara Välfärdsuppdraget.”
Central government policies inadvertently limit the subnational self-governments’ scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
Subnational self-governments in Austria are able to utilize their constitutional scope of discretion quite effectively. While the competences and independent financial resources of the states (Länder) and municipalities are limited by the constitution, national administrative tasks are often carried out by subnational agencies, which gives the states considerable (de facto) political power. This implies that constitutionally weak states tend to be more powerful at the level of the “living constitution.” Important examples relate to the areas of healthcare and education.
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, compared to other similar countries, the Danish public sector is relatively decentralized. 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.
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).
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 latter have devolved governments enjoying considerable autonomy from central government, in contrast to the strong restrictions on local authorities in England. Nevertheless, more power was given to local authorities in England by the 2011 Localism Act, which 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 alone.

The devolved parliaments in Scotland and Northern Ireland decided 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 and in one case (Torbay, in May 2019) the mayoralty was abolished following a referendum. These plebiscites more often than not rejected proposals to install mayors. In 2021, 15 cities had directly elected mayors, including London. However, there are also nine so-called metro mayors, who are the chairs of “mayoral combined authorities,” for instance in the Greater Manchester Area and the West Midlands; the latest being in West Yorkshire, elected in May 2021.

The political weight of these subsidiary authorities varies markedly and the substance of mayoral offices in the traditionally centralized political system of England is hard to measure. The number of mayors is clearly increasing and they now cover 41% of the population, much of it in the nine metropolitan areas. Numerically, though, they remain a small proportion of all English subnational government jurisdictions.

Some further powers were shifted to the devolved administrations and they undoubtedly took advantage of these (and existing) powers in differentiating their responses to the pandemic. Scotland has gained increased tax powers. The 2017 Scottish Budget set out new income-tax bands. 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 the restored Northern Ireland executive after a long political hiatus between 2017 and 2020. 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. With the current Scottish government planning for a second referendum on independence, the central government will likely be even more cautious not to do so.
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. On the other hand, multiple states have legalized medical and sometimes recreational use of marijuana. The Trump administration sought to impose controls on states that maintained certain liberal policies. The advent of the Biden administration has put an end to such policies.
Chile is a centrally organized state, rather than a federal state. This represents a structural problem given the wide range of differences between the various regions with respect to geography, level of 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.

In January 2018, a law (Ley No. 21,074) was enacted that enhances the regionalization of the state (Ley para el Fortalecimiento de la regionalización en Chile). This can be seen as an important step in the context of the ongoing decentralization process. Since July 2021, regional governors have been directly elected and are therefore politically independent from the national government. A regional presidential delegate, serving as representative of the national government, is responsible for the coordination, supervision and oversight of public services operating in the region that depend on or are related to a ministry. These delegates exercise their respective functions in accordance with the orders and instructions of the president.
On decentralization:
Fundación Chile Descentralizado,, last accessed: 13 January 2022.

On Law Nr. 21,074:
Library of the National Congress of Chile (Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile, BCN):, last accessed: 13 January 2022.

Regional Governments:
Undersecretary of Regional and Administrative Development (Subsecretaría de Desarrollo Regional y Administrativo),, last accessed: 13 January 2022.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “Making Decentralisation Work in Chile”, September 2017,, last accessed: 13 January 2022.
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.
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.

The COVID-19 emergency has fostered a greater degree of cooperation between central government and regional authorities through regular consultation procedures involving the government and the Conferenza Sato-Regioni (State-Regions conference).
Citations: (accessed 2 January 2022).
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. 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.

Syvicol. Accessed 14 January 2022.
The constitution sets out the division of powers: some powers are expressly assigned to the central government, while the autonomous communities are by statute able to address all matters not allocated to the central government, as well as the legislative development of these tasks and the implementation of the relevant framework legislation and federal legislation. This enables the autonomous communities to adapt federal laws somewhat to fit their own preferences. Over the last 40 years, the autonomous communities have adopted their own statutes defining their institutions and powers, and have assumed responsibility for providing a wide range of public services of a regional or local nature.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the suspension of EU fiscal rules provided the various levels of government with considerable discretion over overall debt limits, but also uncertainty about the normative context of their medium-term budget planning.

During the first state of alarm (14 March – 21 June), the autonomous communities lost their decision-making capacity, although they remained responsible for the management of centrally issued instructions. However, the second nationwide state of emergency (October 2020 – May 2021) was implemented in a decentralized manner, and was managed primarily by the autonomous community governments. Since then, these entities have been able use their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to perimetral lockdowns and restrictions on social and religious gatherings.
The central government allows subnational governments to use their constitutional discretion, but available funding remains an important constraint, with reform to the system still needed.
Carrión Álvarez, Miguel (2021), Eurozone fiscal reform in light of COVID-19: a review of existing proposals, FUNCAS,
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 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” fixing spending caps 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. Additionally, considerable administrative capacity deficits persist at the subnational level. Under President López Obrador, the concentration of power in the presidency has further undermined this fragile equilibrium.
On 7 September 2021, the Mexican Supreme Court unanimously ruled that penalizing abortion was unconstitutional, setting an important precedent across the whole country.
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. Some claim that the central government increasingly has 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 social 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.
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, although the situation improved in a major way during the period under review. 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. The implementation of those strategies was very slow from the beginning, achieving the stated goals only under the Janša government, when an agreement between central government and the three representative municipal associations was signed regarding adequate funding for local communities and lowering the bureaucratic burdens on municipalities.
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 (
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. In addition, local administrations are understaffed, and central-government employees are often delegated to subnational authorities. 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.

President Moon highlighted the importance of decentralizing state power in order to allow local municipalities and provinces to be run more autonomously. Under the 2018 budget proposal, KRW 3.5 trillion ($3.1 billion) in subsidies was to be provided to provincial governments. While the broader effort to achieve regionally balanced development was delayed, the Moon administration did push through some reforms via amendments to the Local Autonomy Act (e.g., autonomous local police, increased local fiscal authority, enhanced local councils).
Kook, Joong-Ho. „Does Local Autonomy Enhance the Autonomy in Local Public Finance? Evidence from the Case of Korea,“ 2014.
The Korea Times. Moon and Local Authority. September 26, 2017.
“Moon: Constitutional Amendment Needed for Decentralization.” KBS World, January 17, 2022.
“Remarks by President Moon Jae-in at 1st Central and Local Government Cooperation Meeting.” The Republic of Korea Cheong Wa Dae, January 13, 2022.
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 cities and counties – 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 in 2015 that local authorities that stand to receive more income from the LPT than they received from the Local Government Fund 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).
Coakley, J. (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.
Economic gaps between local municipalities in Israel greatly affect their autonomy, so the policy autonomy of rich cities (e.g., Tel Aviv) is significantly higher than that of poor municipalities. In addition, rich municipalities in Israel are organized in a forum that acts as a pressure group vis-à-vis the government, further enhancing their de facto autonomy. Tensions between local municipalities and central government are also evident when it comes to central government’s administrative control over a variety of issues. For example, the minister of interior used the ministry’s authority to authorize municipal bylaws to limit supermarket opening hours and public transport operations during Shabbat (Saturday).
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 has 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 central government has a tendency to overregulate, a practice that may negatively affect the local government’s discretionary authority.
1. Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments, Smart municipalities for the next centenary of Latvia, Available (in Latvian) at:, Last accessed: 05.01.2022.

2. Law on Local Governments, Available at:, Last accessed: 05.01.2022.
Formally, the central government enables subnational governments to make full use of their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation. However, subnational governments have very limited scope for independent action, which requires cooperation with the central government in many domains of policy implementation, and certainly for the most important domains. The central government is not always fully responsive to local government communications in this regard, though that appears to be a largely inadvertent consequence of the complex, legalistic structure and rigid bureaucracy noted elsewhere in this report. It should be noted that local governments have very limited sources of revenue, and are largely dependent on transfers from the central government.
Dutch local governments are hybrids of “autonomous” and “co-government” forms. Typically, starting in 2016, the Local Government Fund (Gemeentefonds) budget has decreased and/or increased in step with the national government’s budget. Local autonomy is defined mostly negatively as pertaining to those tasks left to local discretion because they are not explicitly designated as national policy competencies. Co-government is financially and materially constrained in rather extensive detail by the elaborate set of indicators specified in the Local Government Fund (Gemeentefonds). 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, jointly, violate the European Charter for Local Government in having created a culture of quality control and accountability that paralyzes local governments by reducing their policy flexibility to near zero. This is due in part to popular and political opinion that in a small country like the Netherlands local policymaking, levels of local-service delivery and local taxes ought to be equal everywhere. The transfer of policy competencies in many domains of care imply that local discretion has formally increased, sometimes resulting in different treatment of similar cases by local governments in different parts of the country. In 2021 the Dutch Association of Local Governments (VNG) offered a moderately positive evaluation regarding its increasing share in the national budget. But it also went so far as to publish a critical analysis of what it called an erosion of local government and democracy and, overturning the present constitutional three-level structure of inter-administrative relations (Huis van Thorbecke), advocated a radically innovative design for a Law on Decentralized Government.
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)

VNG, February, 2021. Manifest. Het roer om. Naar nieuwe verhoudingen in het openbaar en decentraal bestuur,

VNG, September 2021. VNG-reactie op de Rijksbegroting 2022. Bijzondere ledenbrief.

Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksaangelegenheden, Staat van het bestuur 2020: groeiende zorgen over decentrale democratie en het lokaal bestuur. (
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 in 2021, no new implementation program for the coming years had been published.

The expiration of various municipal development in 2021 meant that new seven-year plans were to be drafted and adopted by the end of the year; this process is still underway.
OECD (2021): Decentralisation and Regionalisation in Bulgaria,
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. On 1 January 2020, special laws came into force entrusting certain tasks formerly implemented by the state administration to county governments. By entrusting these tasks to counties, the government intended to encourage the process of further decentralization.
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. In order to proceed with the reforms, which under law require local approval via referendums, the executive and the parliament suspended the 2021 elections and by-passed the law provisions for referendums.
The situation that has prevailed over the years has been one in which local authorities have not made good use of their (limited) autonomy.
1. Municipal elections postponed, Cyprus Mail, 16 September 2021,
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 government 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.

The most recent example of a push for local autonomy by merging the Osaka prefecture and Osaka city to create an Osaka metropolis failed to materialize, partly due to the lack of central government interest.
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,
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. Since Fidesz lost control over Hungary’s major cities, including the capital, and a large proportion of smaller settlements in the municipal elections in October 2019, it has declared war against municipalities and has sought to further disempower them. The Orbán government has instrumentalized the COVID-19 pandemic in continuing this war. Drawing on the state of emergency, it has further curtailed the competencies of the municipalities. It has deprived them of important revenue sources, including the vehicle tax, car parking fees and business taxes, and has prohibited them from raising taxes as a means of coping with the hardships of the pandemic. The government has also canceled a number of local development projects, most of them in opposition-led municipalities, and has misused anti-crisis legislation providing the possibility of “special economic areas” for transferring tax revenues from opposition-led municipalities to Fidesz-controlled counties. Some observers have called the attack on opposition-run municipalities, “the real COVID-19 coup in Hungary” (Györi et al. 2021:31). While the government’s measures have hit opposition-led municipalities most strongly, Fidesz-ruled settlements have also been affected, so that even Fidesz-loyal leaders have protested against the bleeding of local public administration.
Györi, G. et al. (2021): Hungarian Politics in 2020. Budapest: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung/ Policy Solutions (
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.
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. It has restricted rather than encouraged locally adopted responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and has complicated the cooperation of Polish and German regions and municipalities regarding cross-border commuters and healthcare. Moreover, the central government has distributed funding and support not on merit, but has selectively supported PiS-leaning municipalities. Since the higher courts – which could normally be called on in cases of conflict between national and local or regional levels of government – are politically loyal to the government, representatives of the municipalities are unlikely to win judicial support.
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 current government does not list decentralization among its major objectives.
All Fico-led governments pursued a hands-on approach that limited the constitutional discretion of subnational governments and privileged subnational governments considered to be loyal. 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) continued. When 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 self-governments increased even further. The new center-right government has not respected the autonomy of subnational self-governments either. Prime Minister Matovič’s rhetoric toward representatives of self-governments was often offensive, and he did not treat them as equal partners vital to solving this crisis, thus prompting frustration and massive protests by the Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia (ZMOS) (Hrabovská Francelová 2021). Mass testing activities conducted in October and November 2020 were not done so with the consent of subnational self-governments. Like previous governments, the new government has not based its transfers to municipalities on clear economic and legal criteria.
Hrabovská Francelová, N. (2021) Confused and frustrated municipalities call on government to treat them as equals, in: Slovak Spectator, February 4 (
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. Between the economic crisis of the previous decade and the period under review, successive governments have narrowed the scope of fiscal discretion available to subnational self-governments, because – given the large size of Greece’s public debt – state finances are at risk of collapsing.
Article 102 of the constitution provides for the autonomy of subnational governments.

OECD, Regional Policy for Greece Post-2020 (especially Ch. 4) available at
Since 2014, Turkey’s 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.

While existing competencies will in general remain, ensuring effective and efficient delivery of public services will require an expansion of local government powers, 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.
K. Öztürk, “Yerel Yönetim Reformunda Yerelleşme– Merkezileşme Dikotomisi: 6360 Sayılı Yasa Örneği,” Hukuk Ve İktisat Araştırmaları Dergisi, 11(2): 133-48.
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