The Organization and the Functioning of Local Governance in Europe

Hotel Emerald
24 September 2014

•    Besnik Tahiri, Director of Kosovo Local Government Institute
•    Jan Braathu, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway
•    Norbert Piljs, Program Manager – DEMOS
•    Kai Hofman, GIZ Local Governance Program Manager
•    Gunter Fehlinger, GIZ Cadaster Team Leader

•    Types of Local Governance in Europe
•    Norwegian Local Governance Model
•    Dutch Local Governance Model
•    German and Austrian Local Governance Models

Organization and Functioning of the Local Governance in Europe
Jan Braathu, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway: I am pleased to talk about this field. This region has become part of me in different phases. Norway has a very important approach to this region. It helps this part of the region in different ways, even though we are far away in the north corner of Europe. We believe that conflicts affect us all. Norwegian municipalities in transition: Local politics in Norway is important, reference is priority. Norway has been part of Denmark, when we were part of centralist politics, and decentralization did not come on its own. The year of 1837 brought about a big change. That is when we became independent. During that time period we developed the local policy. We wanted to be independent because we farmed our land and we were not accustomed to being dependent on others.

As early as in 1837 they established 389 municipalities. Norway has the state church which used have great influence, and when I was born I had to be baptized in the church, but this phenomenon has nowadays faded and does not have the same approach it had in 1800-1850. During that time period Norway was the poorest country in Europe, but economic development brought about a rise in the number of municipalities and thus the political transformation began. We as very independent as people, in 1830 we had 749 municipalities. The government thought that this was way too many, so in 1897 it reduced this number to 451 municipalities. Today in 2014 we have 428 municipalities. The government wants to reduce this number to 109 municipalities. There were attempts to organize a referendum for citizens of the municipalities to declare themselves, but the referendum failed. The Municipal Councils for 5000 citizens consist of 11 councilors. The third biggest city has 83 councilors. We do not elect the mayor directly; instead we elect only municipal councilors, except for the city of Oslo where the mayor is elected directly. There is discussion about setting the voting age requirement at 16. Voters have to be registered at the municipality. Citizens of the Nordic countries living in municipalities have the right to vote since June 30. The free movement of people was enabled in 1970.

Elections are based on the lists of the parties. The voter has the right to transfer the candidate from one list to another. There are three official languages in Norway. The average turnout of voters for elections is 64%. The government is trying to stimulate women in politics because we are concerned about the fact that only 22 municipalities out of 428 are headed by women. Our municipalities are very small. The government provides the budget, but the territorial size of the municipalities is very big. The average population of municipalities is 11 000 inhabitants, while in Britain it 17 000 inhabitants, and the EU has an average of 5400 inhabitants. The average size of the territory is 710 km2. If the number of municipalities is reduced to 109, we will end up having the largest municipalities in EU.

The large territorial size of a municipality is a management issue. There are two trends in Norway: in 2020 we will have more retired people and the birth rate will be higher. Thus the municipalities will face an increasingly higher demand for healthcare and child care services. Small municipalities face difficulties in providing the services. The government argues that the smaller the number of municipalities is the better the services are. Norway looks to its neighbors, and we have watched Danes. They have created large municipalities. Experts have concluded that the creation of large municipalities in Denmark has not given good results.

The cooperation among municipalities has improved, for instance firefighter may belong to two municipalities and this kind of cooperation has given good results. Nordic municipalities also have very good cooperation among themselves. It is different here in Kosovo, but I believe that this type of cooperation will be good for you, as well.

Citizens of smaller municipalities are happier. 45% of the candidates on the list must be women. My municipality held a referendum to join another municipality. But, the municipality we wanted to join did not want us. Local patriotism in Norway is very strong.  Norway has 19 cantons and the government wants to dissolve them. The Cantons are responsible for secondary education and they control the municipalities. Each canton has a governor appointed by the state. Municipalities may be governed by the cantons. Most of the people do not get involved in major political issues, because they deal with politics that affect directly their neighborhood. Norway does not have big industry. The economy has changed drastically since 1930’s. We give more priority to environment pollution and salaries, and we are very rigorous especially in relation to those two.

Norbert Piljs, Program manager – DEMOS: Local Governance in Holland: What is Holland’s biggest enemy? It is water. In 1500 we had the biggest cooperation on building the sea embankment when many tasks were transferred to local governance. In 1848 we adopted the structured Constitution. We have informal rules. We have a monarchy system, but also democracy. The government is similar to Kosovo in terms of the formation. The King appoints the mandate holder for the establishment of the government. There is a balanced package of powers. We do not have a constitutional court. We are a member of EU and we have adopted EU laws. The government is situated in Hague. Holland consists of 12 provinces and 403 municipalities.

We have a four year cycle on three levels. We have the Nationalist Party and local parties who register in the municipalities. The legal framework in Kosovo is good. The Municipality has autonomy in some of its policies and there is good government-municipality cooperation. The central government controls social and educational policies, etc. the provinces have the same roles as the cantons in Norway. The Provinces cannot collect tax. The municipalities have taxes similar to those in Kosovo. Currently there is discussion about dissolving the province.

During the 800’s municipalities merged. The government does not interfere. The merging is voluntary and the process is organic. I believe that small municipalities can be merged. The municipalities have their Municipal Councils who elect the directors. The Mayor is appointed by the king and this is inherited in our Constitution. We have been criticized for the dictatorship, although we have democracy. The Mayor is elected from among the members of the Council. The Mayor appoints the director of the police force, and the Council has legislative powers. The city administrator is the most senior servant and he has the power to recruit people for work. He protects the civil servants from politics.

The local governance has competence similar to those in Kosovo.  In the field of education it only provides for infrastructure. The budget allocation is similar to Kosovo, and is allocated on the basis of the number of inhabitants and square kilometers. Every municipality has own source revenues. 25% of the national budget is spent on municipalities, as opposed to Kosovo where this percentage is only 12%. Citizens’ involvement in discussions is very low. Construction licenses are issued only so that people could refuse them. Cooperation among municipalities is very strong. I hope decentralization will continue to develop in Kosovo.   

Kai Hofman, GIZ - Local Governance Program Manager:
Germany was always divided; there was no capital like for instance your Pristina. In 1918 we got rid of the king. We ended up with Hitler. There were 37 parties and everything so politicized. We failed in our democracy, but now we are stable. The municipalities failed because of problems. After the fall of Hitler they were like colonies. The allies were leading. This was part of history. Our development burst after the Marshal’s Plan. In the last 15 years we have seen the failure of citizen participation. In Germany we have 5 municipalities independent from the Federation. We have cities that have their local currency. In Germany there are economic differences between the north and the south. Many municipalities in the north have bankrupted as a result of building so many roads and then failing in maintaining them. The cities take care of infrastructure but not any other costs. When you implement projects you must think about maintaining them.

Besnik Tahiri: Our mistake is that we ask for competence while we have no capacities. Citizen participation in discussions is only logical when it produces results. I believe that the problem is with the municipalities who never tried to raise the awareness of the citizens. Lack of participation on the part of citizens is results of the perception of the leader as a corrupted politician.

Germany was fighting France and they realized it was a mistake, so they turned to cooperation. We must educate our children in the spirit of such cooperation.

Gunter Fehlinger, GIZ – Cadaster Team Leader: We support the cooperation among municipalities. Vienna has many problems just like you. Austria has many similarities with you, but also many differences. Austria is a member of EU. Membership in the EU contributes to the infrastructure of the municipality. Austria is a federal republic with 9 regions, and it functions quite well. Kosovo is well decentralized on the paper, but in reality it is very centralist. Pristina is a very big city. This is not how it is in Austria. We should not create only one region. Kosovars, Serbs and others are very successful in Switzerland, Austria because of decentralization. In Kosovo we have centralization and that does not help democracy.