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Size , Levels and Functions of LG. The basic theoretical questions of local governance are oriented around the following issues: 1. T ype of basic units; 2. Tiers of the administrative structure; 3. Internal organization of municipalities;

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Size , Levels and Functions of LG

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Size , Levels and Functions of LG

  • The basic theoretical questions of local governance are oriented around the following issues:

    1. Type of basic units;

    2. Tiers of the administrative structure;

    3. Internal organization of municipalities;

    4. Evolving elements of change, such as the development of responsibilities and financial management.

Federal vs Unitary

  • In federal systems, states (which may have predated the nation) enjoy constitutional rights, whereas in unitary states, sub-national government is normally a creature of national legislation.

Single or multiple tier

  • Because of the different spatial requirements of local government, many systems have two, three, or more levels of sub-national government, for example: provinces, municipalities and communities.


  • Where there is more than one tier, there is often a hierarchical relationship, with the upper tier supervising the lower.

  • But this need not be the case: in the UK, both counties and districts are autonomous units which relate separately and directly to central government, i.e. a county has no “authority” over the districts within that county.

LG levels and Territorial Pattern

  • The nature and number of levels , the size of LG units and the distribution of functions among the respective levels of crucial problems of the organization of any LG system, and are the basic differentiation criteria among LG systems.

  • This distribution of functions and responsibilities is not always related to the levels or tiers of LG, but rather depends on Legal and Political traditions within the country.

Large units or small units?

  • Large units offer the potential for economies of scale in service delivery (the justification for large units in the UK), while small units bring local government closer to citizens and enhance representation (the justification for very small units in France).

  • In France, economies of scale are handled through groupings of municipalities and through contracting out to large service providers (eg. CompanieGenérale des Eaux). The larger the units, the less likely it is that they will reflect the communities with which people identify.


  • The logic is that larger units provide services that have greater economies of scale, minimising the problem of inter-jursdictional spillovers for those services (that is, where citizens of one jurisdiction use services provided by another jurisdiction), while smaller units provide more local services.

Territorial Governmental and Administrative Units in Central Europe

Urban and rural authorities

  • In some systems there are different types of local government in rural and urban areas, often with different powers and functions. This is often a product of history, but may also reflect the limited resources, and hence lesser political influence, of rural LGs compared to urban.


  • rapid rural to urban migration often means that urban local government boundaries do not reflect the reality on the ground.

Trends in EU

  • In most European countries the trend was to setup further smaller unites at the local level.

  • Smaller Units closer to citizen better knowledge the real needs of the people and can give them what they want reach efficiency …..

Opposite Trends

  • Some believe that amalgamation of the responsibility of responsibilities of the intermediate level must be narrowed and specialized in few services.

  • Other considered that preserving the historical features of municipalities was essential and therefore they didn’t unify the bulk of municipalities as intermediate level of LG and settlement were allowed to preserve LG organs making autonomous decisions.

LG levels and territorial pattern

  • On the lower level , some countries have created large LG units (UK , Sweden)

  • Other’s have maintained numerous small communes (France , Hungary)

  • Or have created out comprehensive territorial reform (Germany , Poland )


  • In the last century , the size and Nb. of LG was hardly subject to significant changes.

  • Local functions had to do with maintaining law & order and with the L. organization of the underdeveloped public services.

  • The development stage of the 20th had a significant bearing on the function, size , Nb. &cooperation of LG’s.


  • The 1st wave of unification reduced the Nb. Of communes from 2500 to 1037 , bringing down rural communes from 2281 to 821. "Greater Commune Reform“

  • The purpose of such a reform was to strengthen the commune and equalize the differences between large and small communes regarding Tax capacities, administrative and service skills.


  • By grouping lower-level , it was easy to put services with a lesser territorial requirement into this large sphere of authority and matching the minimal requirements of size of the educational district & other basic services.

  • Larger territory helped in the development of wider and new services.

    ( secondary school, regional funds for providing special jobs and regional development... )

  • The wider unit had to deal with the most forms of social services, adult education , rescue services, environment and health services , land use and planning , building permits , housing assistance among others.

Denmark & Belgium

  • Denmark: Unification of 1388 communes to 275 municipal governments.

    The counties kept more functions than in Sweden.

  • Belgium: Unification of 2663 communes to 589 municipal governments between 1961 and 1980.


  • With a different approach , a great emphasis was given to areas with large populations.

  • The Nb. Of communes was reduced from 24512 in 59 to 850 in 1980 and 1457 in 2007.

United Kingdom

  • Reform was easier in the UK due to the very strong Parliamant and relatively weak LG.

  • The Nb. Of LG was already law in (1347) in 1950 and in 1973 it increased to (1857) that decreased to 521 in 1975 and finally reached 443 in 2007.

Ex-Socialist Countries

  • In Bulgaria, 1394 municipalities were amalgamated into 300 in 1978.

  • The former SU didn't act on the general trend of amalgamation that prevailed in Europe.

  • In Hungary, The preservation of the historical features of communes was the dominant trend , however, amalgamation was later introduced.

Romania and Poland

  • Romania: LG based on the settlements was maintained until 1989

  • Poland carried out amalgamation of commune too , but in a moderate way.

Other Countries

  • Other European countries resisted the amalgamation wave that existed in Europe such as France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain and Greece.

  • In these countries local services and local administration are divided between the basic and medium level of local authorities


  • It is the principle of power sharing that is not always necessary to unify as many of the important services as possible and to place them at an artificially created basic level, but the bulk of local tasks can be separated and placed at the most appropriate level of LG.


  • Under proper conditions both the small and the large can be beautiful. Increasing local services requires larger districts.

  • This can be done either by preserving the basic level local government structure and the federation of the services or by the unification of basic level LG structure.


  • The greatest detriment of amalgamation, however, is that it weakness the local sense of community, the line between urban and rural regions is blurred.

  • While it is easier to D affaires of higher significance to large LG, the state is more interested in such affaires and so central regulation is more detailed and state supervision is stronger.

Possibilities for improvement

  • Handle the extremes, the compulsory unification of the “dwarf communes” below a certain limit.

  • Incite and spread voluntary cooperation between LG by legal-economic means.

  • Make association voluntary

  • Legally prescribing the majority principle.

  • Make the establishment of suburban committees compulsory in which assembly coordination are obligatory but agreement is voluntary.


  • The strongest way consists in making association compulsory to perform some functions, although this joint authority is controlled by local authorities.

  • The above solution for a multi/commune system can be realised simultaneously or in sequence. The question of measure and place are sort by the conditions of the given country and in relation to the pattern and structure of the upper level LG.

  • Efforts aimed at D & efficiency moved public authority tasks away from the CG to LG (Intermediate and municipalities) and it was planned for Intermediate LG (department, county, and province) to pass down public authority tasks to lower LG (ex. German reform).

Intermediate level

  • Most European countries have Intermediate levels so called Regional Level.

  • Despite the process of democratic LSG , basic differences between lower levels of LG and intermediate levels of LG still exist.

The essence of intermediate Levels of LG

  • General features

  • The 4 main types of Intermediate levels of LG:

  • The Department,

  • The County,

  • The District and

  • The Region

    Each type is the generalization of very different cases worked out by history.

General features

  • All are based on very stable territorial patterns which have been fixed for a long time and have originally formed the divisions of the territory for the authorities subordinated to the C powers, size and boundaries are determined by functionality rather than by community areas.

  • Intermediate level is under continuous pressure for change.

Raison d'être

  • Gift from the King : They have power , authority and special status.

  • Rational Reason: Due to the need for them.

  • Agencies shouldn't be at the commune level so it was better to have this medium level to facilitate the work of the C.

The department or ‘province’

  • It is of French origin and was extended to neighboring countries by the Revolution ad the Empire.

The District

  • It is the smaller government unit . It was used under that name under the French revolution, but later it survived only as the constituency of the sub prefect .

  • It was introduced to in most CEC and was used as a lower level of CG authority in former socialist regime.

The Region

  • Regional G. has a more recent history. It is an upper tier of G. with very different features in the various countries where it has been established , and appears in 2very different forms.

  • Political and administrative regionalism

  • All member States of the EU have 1of the 2forms except Luxembourg (before the enlargement of 2004 )

Political Regionalism

  • In some countries , RG is the political expression of a community that can be distinguished by history, culture and even language in specific cases , the claim for regional autonomy is based on this regional identity

  • Example “Italy and Spain”

Administrative Regionalism

  • Regions have been established first by the CG for its own purposes , planning and economic policy implementation. To that extent regions were designed to meet functional needs of the state, not at all to reflect growing regional identities.

  • Example : France


  • A tradition of large self sufficient LG units concerned with the implementation of national policies.

  • Citizen’s Charter adopted by the government in 1991: LG should act as regulators rather actual service providers.

Central and EasternEuropean Countries

  • The question of the intermediate level of LG is the most difficult.

  • The claim now for autonomy at the lower level is not disputed, but the function and the nature of the intermediate level are much more controversial subjects.


  • Single tier system of LG is established, but the state administration is organised at the Province level.


  • Article 163: Local self-government shall perform public tasks not reserved by the Constitution or statutes to the organs of other public authorities.

  • Article 164:

    1. The commune (gmina) shall be the basic unit of local self-government.

    2. Other units of regional and/or local self-government shall be specified by statute.

    3. The commune shall perform all tasks of local self-government not reserved to other units of local self-government.


  • The county is a LSG tier , the Commune too.

  • However the county council is a representation of municipal councils as in Europe.

  • The country is also divided into 8 economic regions.


  • Local government in Hungary exists at two levels: the municipality and the county. Municipalities are the basic units of the system and are organized by settlements, which in Hungary include villages, cities and cities with county rights. The middle tier of local government, also referred to as “regional” government, consists of nineteen counties. The capital city, Budapest, has special legal status.


There are no hierarchical relations between the two levels of local government. As declared by the constitution, the fundamental rights of all local governments are equal. County local governments neither are superior organs to municipalities, and nor do they have supervisory authority over them.


  • The difference between these two lies in the administrative tasks delegated to each. Municipalities provide local public services to their settlements; counties have a subsidiary role in that they provide public services that settlements are not capable of performing, as well as those that have a regional character.

Distribution of Functions

  • 2 Methods to determine the functions of LG authorities:

  • The general Clause (all responsibilities and functions are to be performed by a certain tier of LG unless otherwise provided for specifically by the law)

  • The responsibilities specifically conferred by the law.

  • The structure of intergovernmental systems is determined by not only the number of levels that exist but also the links and division of responsibilities among them. Earlier, dilemmas concerning the basic units of self-government were described.


  • The general clause is more favourable in LA since LG policies are not restricted to matters determined by the law.

  • In practice no country follow the general clause in a mitigated way.

  • In England , LG doesnt have a general competence they operate under the ultra vires principle.


  • The distribution of responsibilities has to be analysed according to other principles such as proper responsibilities or delegated ones, mandatory or optional responsibilities, and Public/Private responsabilities

  • Also Functional issues can be analyzed from at least two perspectives. One is based on legal regulations including the delegation of powers to different territorial organizations. The other is the delivery of local public services.

  • Thus far the main principle concerning the delegation of local functions is that in this region, the basic level of government systems is preferred as the supplier of services.

  • The upper local government tier, if it exists at all, serves as a supplementary provider. The division of functions was established from the very beginning, meaning that there is no duplication between levels; rather the distribution of work is adjusted to the rationality of service provision. This basic conception follows the West European tradition.

  • Differences emerge concerning the role of territorial administrative units with general competencies.

  • The more powers delegated to state administrative offices, the fewer functions remain in the hands of local governments.


  • In the first administrative offices have exclusively state administrative functions, like supervisory powers, monitoring legality, representation of central government and implementation of its initiatives, coordination of special purpose centrally subordinated offices, et cetera. Representative of this model are Estonia, Hungary and Slovenia.


  • In the other group administrative offices have local or regional functions, following the western tradition. For example, the maintenance and development of secondary schools, responsibilities for health and child care, et cetera are delegated to such administrative offices. This is or was the situation in the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Slovakia.

It is quite unique that district/regional administrative offices have territorial government functions as well.


Distribution of functions in Hungary

  • Municipal governments have broad responsibilities in service provision. They can undertake any local public issue not prohibited by law that does not endanger the fulfillment of obligatory functions and powers. Thus, local government tasks are differentiated as mandatory and optional.

  • Obligatory functions and powers of local governments are determined by parliament, which simultaneously must ensure the financial means necessary for the fulfillment of such tasks.

The functions of municipalities—village and city settlements—are enumerated by the Act on Local Governments. Mandatory tasks prescribed by the act include the provision of healthy drinking water, kindergarten education, primary school instruction and education, basic health and welfare services, public lighting, local public roads and public cemeteries and the protection of the rights of ethnic and national minorities. A local government freely may undertake optional tasks determined on the basis of the requirements of the population and financial means available.


  • According to some authors [Regulska 1996, Grochowski 1997] the local reform and democratization process in Poland reached stagnation in the mid-1990s (though some local experiments with new models continued), breeding disillusionment. Debate was continuous during this period concerning the appropriate number of levels for the territorial administrative and local government systems.


  • Territorial division before the last crucial change in 1999 instigated further discussion among political factions, and as a consequence, the draft version of the reform program was amended, altering the number of tiers and their governing rights. Thus, crucial politico-administrative changes occurred while the transformation was in process.


  • Another example of “internal” criticism resulting in a subsequently altered trajectory for transition is found in Lithuania. Crucial reform revisions were initiated in 1995, replacing the formerly conceptualized two-tiered system of local government with a single tier. Additionally, strong criticism emerged concerning the comprehensiveness of change. According to Gazaryan [1995], the development of local government in the first five years resulted in neither the improvement of public services nor the involvement of the populace in decision making.


  • The Czech example should be mentioned. This country quite radically has reformed its institutions and mechanisms of local democracy. Municipalities have taken over all self-governing functions, and the division of power is quite clear between state administrative and local government offices. However, debate on the establishment of an intermediate government tier has ensued for a decade. Subsequently, from the year 2000, this concept will be realized in practice.

  • Czech districts are responsible for secondary, technical and special schools; public health; regional planning; and civil defense. They also oversee other institutions that basically belong to the competencies of municipalities, such as primary schools, kindergartens and welfare homes; hospitals, theaters, museums and libraries; roads, public transport and fire brigades; et cetera. These supplementary functions are delegated to districts if a municipality cannot fulfill them.


  • Counties are in charge of health care, child and elderly care, civil defense, preservation of cultural heritage, public transport and maintenance of vocational schools. Apart from these typically local or regional government functions they have public administrative tasks, like directing educational inspectorates and the administration of agriculture. Individual local governments decide this legal division of functions.


  • Regional and district offices in Slovakia manage most primary schools, hospitals and primary health care institutions; maintain kindergartens, welfare homes, theaters, museums and libraries; address regional planning, civil defense and consumer protection; et cetera. They also have locally and regionally delegated functions that municipalities cannot or do not want to fulfill.


  • In all cases a common feature is that at the district or regional level, compulsory associations of local governments form parallel territorial bodies.

  • The logic for choosing this type of system at the intermediate level was the protection of the autonomy of the basic level. Such logic was adopted in countries following more traditional models, like Hungary. Here county government has been preserved, but state administrative functions were delegated to separate county administrative offices.


  • Again the new evolving structures can be typified only by the orientation of reforms rather than defining categories among the members of this country group. As previously mentioned Poland recently abolished its administrative offices, replacing them with elected self-governments.


  • In the Czech Republic a similar reform has been adopted and will be implemented from the beginning of 2000. Regulations in these systems are moving towards intergovernmental relation rather than determining hierarchies in an absolutely formal way. This can be demonstrated through changes in public service managing systems and financial mechanisms.

Thank You

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