Advantages and disadvantages of directly elected local executive in the light of the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government - CPL (11) 2 Part II


Dr Ian MICALLEF, Malta,
Chamber of Local Authorities
Political Group: EPP/CD
Dr Guido RHODIO, Italy,
Chamber of Local Authorities
Political Group: EPP/CD




1. As stated in Professor Alain Delcamp’s communiqué of 5th July 2002 (CLRAE/vl), at its meeting in Strasbourg on 11th March 2002 it was agreed, inter alia, that ‘second-generation reports’ would start being prepared  to examine in greater detail certain specific issues related to the Charter.

2. These proposals were approved by the Institutional Committee of the Chamber of Local Authorities at its meeting of 15th April 2002, and four topics were listed for report. This report on “The advantages and disadvantages of the directly elected executive at local level” was one of the topics approved by the Institutional Committee on 11 March 2003 (CG/INST (8) PV 5).

3. It is to be noted that another report which is currently being prepared by the Committee with the assistance of the Group of independent experts on the Charter deals with citizens’ particpation in local affairs and elections and most likely will be complementary to this report.

4. The topic of direct election, or otherwise, has been braced in few previous memoranda and resolutions, mainly in the context of relations between the public, the local assembly and the executive in local democracy and, generally, with regard to the application of mainly article 3.2 of the Charter. On this see, for example, Resolution 139 (2002), but more particularly we have, on the same subject, the more elaborate report (rapporteur : Mr Anders Knape), presented to the 9th session of the Congress in June 2002 (CPL (9) 2, Part II), which draws on the expertise of other experts especially Professor Philippe De Bruycker, Professor Alain Delcamp, Dr Gerhard Engel and Professor Eivind Smith.

5. However, so far, there seems to have been (1) no concerted effort frontally and organically to tackle the advantages and disadvantages of having directly elected executives in the local sphere, or indeed (2) critically to map out, on the basis of empirically-sourced expert opinion, how such processes of selection or election are currently working and/or changing in the member states (of whom so far 40 have signed the Charter and 37 ratified it). This became clear during the discussion of the draft questionnaire, entitled ‘Whose Mayor ?’, during a meeting of the Group in Aix-en-Provence held on 14th February 2003 under the chairmanship of Professor Delcamp.

6. This report, consequently, takes stock of such replies and suggestions as have been teased out by the questionnaire generally with a bearing on two fundamental aspects linked to article 3.2. First, what is actually happening in the member states today? Second : what are the trends or options in the situations now existing as these evolve?

7. On the basis of the data provided by respondents to the questions posed in the relevant questionnaire, and in further consultation with the Group of Independent Experts, it could become possible to draft some general observations by taking stock of existing situations, possibly in a broadly categorized format ; and then possibly to venture some recommendations or opinions on the basis of such deductions, with a view to advising the Congress and the Committee of Ministers accordingly.

8. In asking about this subject, there are considerations of definition and parameter, with many caveats, both conceptual and operational, influenced as these invariably are by home-grown particularisms which are composites of historical, social, political and constitutional practices or precepts. One potentially problematic definition concerns the ‘executive’ itself – its composition, its selection, its powers, which can vary enormously from state to state across a gamut ranging from ‘minimalist’ (for example, Norway) to ‘maximalist’ (for example, Portugal). Even the mayoral office may differ considerably among member states, with a few countries having more than one genre of mayor (for example, Bulgaria or the Ukraine), and various capital cities having a special status (as in Vienna or Tirana) ; just as in some cases there are different local or regional set-ups, depending on a variety of criteria, such a demographic-geographical factor (for example, Spain and the Czech Republic). Differences can be internal (within the same system) as well as external (when compared to other systems), which precludes any easy systematic correlation across the board between designations of mayor and executive. One might even question whether direct elections are so compatible with the Charter as it stands, although after due consideration this question would seem to have been generally resolved in the affirmative, provided however that sufficient checks and balances are in place to balance out the executive and deliberative organs. On the whole, all systems would aspire ideally to incorporate some such balance, with the popular assembly generally at the power-base of the most fundamental decisions, including the budgetary ones, but systems are differently weighted in one direction rather than in another, and sometimes deficient or dysfunctional.

9. Difficulties may arise not simply from deficient structural arrangements as from sociological and psychological considerations with a bearing on the political culture of a particular place in time. Various countries which have been subjected to long spells of dictatorial rule have opted (or would wish to opt) in favour of direct elections, but in practice such workings can prove to be transitional, transitory and indeed unrealisable in the short-term. Administrative functions may be more specifically delineated vis-à-vis political ones in some countries (for example, Italy), and such marked delineations could be a positive prospect to emulate ; but in other countries you can have a ‘winner takes all’ or ‘big boss’ mentality, even with an implication of institutionalised corruption.

10. Clearly we are not discussing a general situation which is at all static, or even uniform ; on the contrary this report serves to show how far and in what ways it is not so. During the meeting of the Experts of 22nd September 2003 in Strasbourg, two countries, Lithuania and Romania, pointed to ongoing tensions : the former in the legislative field where an appointed manager would assume greater powers than those henceforth given to an elected mayor ; and the latter in a mayoral predicament where assembly-executive blockages would be referred to adjudication not by a court of law or arbitration but to a government-appointed prefect or official.

11. There is a binding rule of thumb which, for want of a better one, is essentially article 3.2 of the Charter, wherein it is stipulated that local self-government be exercised by « councils or assemblies composed of members freely elected by secret ballot », and that on the basis of « direct, equal, universal suffrage ». Such bodies « may possess executive organs responsible to them. » Moreover, any other form of « direct citizen participation » not prevented by statute, including assemblies of citizens and referenda, is in no way precluded.

12. In the concluding paragraph of his introductory remarks to the already mentioned explanatory memorandum (CPL(9) 2/II ; para. 30, f.7), the rapporteur, Mr Knape, suggested that the best way to read article 3.2 may be in conjunction with Statutory Resolution 2000 (1) of the Congress, and Article 263 of the EC Treaty. A pertinent, more recent resolution in this regard is number 139 (2002) in CLRAE’s 9th session of 4th-6th June 2002 on « relations between the public, the local assembly and the executive in local democracy ». In view of the somewhat undefined turn of phrase in a part of article 3.2, it would be useful if this report could perhaps be more fully supported by precise references as appropriate from these texts, which could be appended to it. In general terms, the agreed norm is that local authorities are political institutions with administrative functions, but modalities as to how and by whom such democratic representation is exercised in practice can vary greatly.

13. Underpinning this investigation there are some internal contradictions, which had best be indicated at the outset. If local government is more citizen-friendly, why are voting numbers in elections generally declining (40% or more abstaining in 13 member states, some 50% or more in six of them, according to the latest available counts)? And why is voter turn-out usually higher, often much higher, for national rather than local elections? If councils or assemblies « may possess executive organs responsible to them », equally may they not do so? Who, then, would run the council or assembly, and with what legitimacy or authority? Would the elected councillors simply run everything themselves? In other words, what genre of an entity, as we understand it today, is an executive organ responsibly reporting to, or forming part of, an elected council or assembly? Are there identifiable models, perhaps beyond the broad generalised distinctions of ‘parliamentary’ and ‘presidential’ ? Does the tendency to have more directly elected executives, usually meaning the mayors and/or ‘their’ lists, redress the decline in voting, or could it do so? If a mayor is directly elected, how would s/he relate to the other elected members in the same ‘governing’ body, including the opposition ? If s/he is not, what electoral pull, legitimacy and authority could such a mayor really muster? If no criteria relating to a would-be mayor’s popularity need form part of mayoral credentials, and the personal preferences of voters are deemed to be irrelevant in an indirect system, what community leadership might be exercised by an incumbent? Can modalities be fathomed out, if political parties agreed, to weigh the advantages of direct election vis-à-vis the disadvantages of restricted selection, or vice-versa?

14. In all, 35 experts from as many as 33 member states responded to our questionnaire about direct elections. A full list of experts who replied to the questionnaire is appended to this report.

15. The content of this report, therefore, is a more or less integrated synthesis based on these informed replies to thirteen set questions, written in the light of some earlier attempts to begin to come to grips with our contemporary reading of the Charter’s article 3 entitled « Concept of Local Self-Government », and especially the latter half of its second part. Briefly, freely elected local authorities have the right and ability to regulate and manage "a substantial portion of public affairs" responsibly and responsively, possibly through executive organs reporting to them, which right and ability « shall in no way affect recourse to assemblies of citizens, referenda or any other form of direct citizen participation where it is permitted by statute. » That provision was formulated already in the mid-1980s, a decade before the end of the Cold War and the fast-moving reunification of a democratised Europe.

16. In tackling this sensitive matter, one has to appreciate that really we are pioneering a seminal discussion which, if it somewhat begins here, certainly does not end here. In a footnote to a concluding paragraph in his highly instructive and insightful summary report on the institutional framework of local democracy of June 2002, with its mainly juridical and constitutional bent, Professor Philippe De Bruycker referred to direct elections (and the question of balancing powers and responsibilities) as « this new problem ». He even suggested that it would be a good idea to propose holding a European conference « during which elected representatives and experts from various countries which have recently decided to adopt this system would have the opportunity to describe their experiences with a view to providing details of the legal and practical consequences of this type of reform, highlighting its advantages and drawbacks compared with the traditional system of appointment of the executive by the assembly » [CPL (9) 2, II, ftn. 16, ff. 33-34].

17. Perhaps this report, taken together with any other complementary ones, could in due course help to have an agenda drawn up in any move towards a full-scale brainstorming ‘face-to-face’ encounter involving municipal practitioners and seasoned analysts, with a special focus on those member states of the Council of Europe which have indeed veered towards - and experienced the working of - direct election genres, rather than retaining the more conventional methods.

18. Such a recommendation would take forward what comes across as a moving spirit of resolution 139 of 2002, which was presented by Mr Anders Knape of Sweden as rapporteur, approved by the Chamber of Local Authorities and subsequently adopted by the Standing Committee of the Congress on 5th-6th June 2002. In it, and in accordance with at least two other recommendations, including 2001/19 by the Committee of Ministers, the emphasis is on strengthening the link between local authorities, elected representatives and the public, to lessen abstentionism through greater openness and efficiency. Article 5 (c), (d) and (e) of resolution 139 in particular noted that « direct election of mayors by the people is a procedure increasingly used in Council of Europe member states to appoint the executive » and welcomed « the trends in the member states legislation and practice » which showed that « the election of the local executive becomes more and more common », considering that such election of the local executive was « the most appropriate procedure ». Such expressions of faith were counter-balanced of course by accountability requirements to which executives, whether elected or appointed, had to conform, given that the effective supervision by representative assemblies, notably in budgetary and fiscal matters, had to be safeguarded.

19. Following from that, however, the resolution instructed the Institutional Committee of the Chamber of Local Authorities, with the help of the Group of Independent Experts on the Charter, to study a set of related questions, starting first of all with (i) : « Advantages and disadvantages of the directly elected local executive in Council of Europe member states » [CPL(9) 2, f.3].


20. The countries which have, have been, or are expected soon to move towards, direct election of the mayor and/or the executive are, according to our respondents, the following ones :

21. In twelve countries, there already exists a more or less straightforward system, functioning in practice on a national basis, whereby the elections of mayors and/or executives are direct - by the citizenry. These are Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey and the Ukraine.

22. However, at the latest count, there are at least five others which have what may be called a ‘mixed’ system, direct in some areas or circumstances, indirect in others, depending on preference, or size. Broadly speaking these now comprise Austria, Germany, Norway, Russia and the UK (at least three other countries have different, more ‘direct’ systems only when it comes to choosing the ‘headmen’ in villages or hamlets ranging from up to a few hundred to 3000 inhabitants at most).

23. In addition, moreover, a few other countries are clearly demonstrating a growing preference for direct elections. Flanders, in Belgium, seems heading towards direct elections ; and so, too, is Finland, where the indirect system is expected soon to give way to a direct one ; even the Netherlands is moving along the same path.

24. If so, on the information currently available, that would bring the total of countries practising or actually planning to introduce direct election, wholly or in part, up to as many as 20 member states.

25. There is then the « tête de liste » practice in France, where although mayoral elections remain indirect, a rule of thumb usually exists whereby the person heading the party or civic list at the polls would be almost assured of being chosen by the assembly to be the mayor. In Denmark too, the most popular candidate is often elected mayor, although the system remains an indirect one. It has been noted that elsewhere too the indirect system may be reversed in effect through a majority choice in support of the most voted candidate, but there is nothing sure about that : depending to some extent on cultural and political contexts, ‘backstairs deals’ would be permissible within the existing indirect system where motivated individuals indeed might prefer, or be induced to opt, not to take account of such popular feeling in a mayoral election conducted, legally and correctly, behind closed doors among a small group.

26. In a few cases, as in Iceland, Estonia and the Czech Republic, small communities, each numbering in hundreds not thousands, where candidates would be well known locally, the chief or village elder - a kind of mini-mayor - may be chosen simply by a relative majority if not, occasionally, by consensus. In Spain, a mayor may only be directly elected by the people on a majority principle in tiny communities. For the rest, however, the national system itself even in these countries remains one of indirect election, where the executive is elected or appointed, sometimes recruited, by the council or assembly. Therefore, in spite of these relatively marginal peculiarities, we are classifying them all with those member states adopting an indirect system.

27. Thus this latter category so far would include 16 countries from among our respondents. These are : Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. It also includes Ireland where plans to introduce direct elections were well in hand until the political parties apparently had cold feet and these plans were scrapped.

28. What this shows, on the whole, is a continuing shift towards direct elections, while in those countries where indirect elections entails a dose of central government involvement or indeed royal prerogative, as in the Netherlands, there are some signs of a gradual softening-up. At the same time, however, the electoral choice in theory and in practice may not be so simple as easily to slot into a ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ system - the former ‘presidential’, presuming a recognition of leadership qualities; and the latter ‘parliamentary’, presuming an emphasis on consensual understandings.



29. There is general agreement that local authorities are and should be political bodies with administrative and executive functions, and that, at least in the more fundamental commitments, the executive should be in some way responsible to an elected assembly. At the same time, however, it has been noted that in practice the executive can assume a primacy which - if this enjoys a popular legitimacy through direct elections - might not be so bad. However, the Knape report, in line with certain deliberations in some member states, has suggested some possible modalities whereby the balance of the system could shift more towards the assembly while at the same time this could be relieved of some of its tasks by a greater delegation of tasks to the executive. In paragraph 25 of its introduction, however, the report distinguished four main modes of designation of the executive itself, so obviously the functioning of existing systems would tie in with the organic and operational consequences of such designations. The executive, it noted, could be (1) elected or appointed by the assembly ; (2) it could be directly elected by the population ; (3) it could be appointed by national or regional authorities or by an independent national board ; or (4) the assembly itself would perform executive functions.

30. In the following overview of the actual functioning of existing systems based on the data and views provided by our respondents, such considerations should be kept in mind.

31. The most ‘direct’ of direct elections case, perhaps to a fault, is probably Portugal, where both the executive and the assembly are elected directly, without however the latter being able really to control or to dismiss the former. The fact that as of 1999 the mayor may himself also name his assistants or associates (adjoints) has in actual fact rendered the mayor, individually, the principal municipal power, which goes beyond what the situation should be like stricti juris (« the organ of the commune »). Thus the Portuguese case, rather well accepted as it is, would seem to be one of direct democracy in extremis, so far as the Charter goes at any rate. In the case of Italy, following the 1993 legislation as amended in 1999, the situation is comparable, in so far as the directly elected mayor names the members of his executive college (Giunta), whose role is much the same as the mayoral adjoints as a collective in Portugal ; except that in Italy, unlike Portugal, the assembly can dismiss the mayor, whereupon however the assembly too would be dissolved and fresh elections called all round. In other words, it is not likely that any such dismissal would be a leisurely or capricious one. Executive or administrative functions, in relation to the more political responsibilities, have been indicated in order to lessen the margins of equivocation.

32. In Cyprus, although since 1985 the directly elected mayor has specific functions and prerogatives, he/she is himself a member of the municipal council, which he/she chairs ; but in this council vest various rights as well (including the appointment of municipal employees, and the issuing of all licenses), it being in the mayor’s interest not to upset the apple cart on which he sits, albeit by a popular mandate. The multi-party system as expressed in Cyprus moreover tends towards the serving mayor not having an absolute ‘party’ majority in the municipal council, which in turn tends to facilitate a consensual oriented wheeling and dealing in the ongoing decision-making process. Thus the actual functioning of mayor-council relations in Cyprus is generally less constrained by the party or coalition fuelled electoral contests preceding the formation of the municipal council and the election of mayor, as is so characteristic of Portugal and of Italy respectively. No doubt there is a caveat here, in so far as Cyprus remains a divided island, with only the Greek-Cypriot part of it recognized internationally, so presumably the outlined situation would not apply uniformly, at least so far, throughout the island state.

33. In both Greece and Turkey, however, there are direct elections. In the former, the practice to elect the executive organ goes as far back as 1912 when communes were set up as such, whereas that of the provincial prefects was introduced in 1994. Although the mayor is directly elected at the head of the party or coalition s/he represents, he has no vote in the assembly which he chairs ; and although this cannot depose him, it can question him on the ongoing issues and decisions being taken. As if contesting mayoral elections as an independent were not difficult and disadvantaged enough, all such independent candidacies are prohibited, thus restricting the tenure of office to an inter-party alternating succession.

34. As a norm, since 1963 Turkish mayors are directly elected, as is the case for the headman (mukhtar) in village administrations, but provision is made for exceptional cases where the Minister of the Interior or the centrally-appointed provincial governors may intervene. Exceptionally, even at present, a mayor can be appointed, in cases where the Council of Ministers deems it to be necessary or appropriate – which, unless truly restricted to force major, cannot be regarded as a very happy situation from the point of view of the European Charter of Local Self-government. Who decides what is necessary or appropriate and in what particular circumstances ? Cumul des mandats, whereby an elected mayor may simultaneously serve as an MP or indeed belong to the general or municipal council/s, is not permitted, which must be partly why local and parliamentary elections are held at the same time. Although since 1946 different parties have contested elections, the control exercised by the municipal council over the mayor and his/her executive would seem to be extremely limited ; moreover provision exists for the intervention of the centrally-appointed provincial governor as a mediator or intermediary, or even as an actor, in situations of acute disagreement, or exceptionally otherwise. If the mayoral office becomes vacant, the governor calls a meeting of the municipal council which chooses from among its own members, by a simply majority, another mayor ; or it chooses an acting mayor if an elected mayor has been suspended by the Minister of the Interior pending a court judgement or some such hiccup. On the whole, therefore, the position of the mayor in Turkey would seem to be a somewhat stronger one vis-à-vis the municipal council than in Greece ; but it is also liable to be more subject to the direct intervention of central authorities in cases of exceptional difficulty or disagreement.

35. In Slovenia, as in Hungary, the direct mayoral election system since 1993 and 1994 respectively is held to be working quite well, with occasional not insurmountable tiffs between the mayor and the council or assembly when these represent different political formations. The main peculiarities here are that whereas in Slovenia more than one-third of mayors are simultaneously MPs and have to attend regularly to their parliamentary duties, in Hungary the chief administrator and his/her office employees ***are ideally impartial civil servants as the permanent staff - except for the chief administrator who, in running the mayor’s office, is in the unenviable position of being obliged to report to both the mayor and the assembly, by whom he may be dismissed.

36. In Ukraine, under the 1997 amendments to the local self-government law, local councils as well as the mayor are directly elected by a relative majority. Although the mayor enjoys a veto power in some respects, those whom he proposes to serve on the executive, of which councillors cannot be members, would require the council’s approval. On the whole, however, the mayor and the executive should implement such general policy as is set or developed by the council, including budgetary policy. The national system includes county and provincial councils as well as a special status for cities such as Kiev and Sevastopol, with their several districts. The system is held to work better at the communal/municipal level, where checks and balances between the council, executive and mayor operate, than in the counties and provinces ; but an overall shortcoming of the system derives primarily from a very serious, pervasive problem with regard to its financial support and viability.

37. In Bulgaria, as in several other countries, there are three types of mayors, depending on geographical-demographic size : where the city is large there are districts (arrondissements) and in the smaller villages, a council. Of these, since 1995, only the mayors of the main communes are directly elected by the population ; in arrondissements (where they had been directly elected since 1991) and small villages they are chosen now by the respective councils, while in elections to the district councils it is the main municipality’s mayor who proposes candidates. The commune’s mayor is more of a coordinator, who helps to make things happen : s/he calls council meetings but does not chair them, the council elects a chairman other than the mayor, who however attends meetings and may address or quiz the council about anything as of right, without having a vote. In other words, the mayor is obliged to follow the policy directives of the council, which however he may also contest in case of a position seen to be at variance with the public interest.

38. In Albania and the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” local self-government institutions on the elective ‘universal suffrage’ principle, with directly elected mayors, date to the past decade (1992 and 1995 respectively), as is the case with other former Communist countries. There have not always been very clearly defined separations of competence between the executive and the assembly as the tendency would seem to be for the mayor to be taken for granted, rather passively, as the factotum and catalyst in the service of communal needs, with not much critical input or in-built opposition to his/her sway over public affairs in the locality, although political parties exist and participate. A 2002 Macedonian law has separated the distribution of power although de facto the mayor remains very strong, even daubed as ‘Bonapartist’. Albania’s capital Tirana has a special status, with districts, where executive bodies are elected directly by ballot in the relevant territory. In Romania, the mayor (autorité exécutive) is on a par with the council (autorité délibérative), both of which are directly elected, with the former both proposing projects to the latter as well as implementing measures on its behalf, according to a somewhat mutually binding general separation of competencies as set out in the relevant legislation of 1991. As mentioned earlier, this can lead to blockages, in turn requiring devolved Charter-compatible problem-solving modalities, which would be seen to be legitimate.

39. In countries which were for a long time subjected to top-down structures and frames of mind but have taken the bold step to democratize, representative local institutions, as these evolve, have become in varying degrees role players in the body politic. They are likely to become more so gradually, as their statutory and operational frameworks are fine-tuned, pro-active attitudes sharpened, problem-solving devices experienced, and hopefully their coffers filled, to meet needs, pressures and challenges as these arise.

40. Another set of five European countries have been experimenting cautiously with opening up their structures to comprise more direct democracy in the local and regional spheres, without going the whole way, or very much of the way, towards adopting a national system of direct elections. What are these ‘mixed’ and ‘evolving’ systems ; and to what extent are they functioning at present ?


41. The oldest practice of direct mayoral elections in this ‘mixed’ category would be in southern Germany, starting in Bavaria and Württemberg as early as the 1920s with its resumption after the war. Since 1990 direct elections have spread to most parts of the country, although variants exist as to the precise position occupied by the mayor : on one hand, as the council chairman and chief executive ; on the other, without being a member of the council itself ; or as an executive ‘collegial’ chairman, with its other directors elected by the council (rather than selected by the mayor.) With some exceptions, as in Austria, this system was adopted too by the länder, regionally so to speak. Austria, where autonomous municipalities similarly date back to 1920, has exercised the option of electing the mayor directly or indirectly for some time, but particularly since 1994 when the länder provided for the direct election of mayors. The capital, Vienna, has a somewhat different status, but out of eight länder six, so far, have opted for direct elections in mayoral contests ; but there are also local assemblies, which in turn can elect local boards. As in Greece, all candidates (who are normally returned by a simple majority) must have the support of an existing political party ; although, as in Russia, a degree of self-regulatory freedom in determining structures and procedures is permitted to the respective entity. The most significant differences between the länder, however, concern the mayor’s election.

42. In Russia, direct elections as an option started in 1995 : subject to local charters, the head of the municipality had to be elected either by the resident citizens or by the local self-government representative body. As a result, there are variants in different areas: the directly elected municipal head chairs the assembly, of which he/she is or is not a member, in addition to heading the local administration, or sometimes he may chair the assembly of the municipality represented ; or else, rarely, the administrative head is contracted by the council as a manager. The tendency now is towards a more widespread uniformity in norms and procedures on a national basis.

43. In Norway, direct mayoral elections became possible in 1999 but so far only 37 out of 450 municipalities have opted for this model ; moreover in strictly functional terms the directly elected mayor will not differ from the indirectly elected one as his/her statutory powers will continue to be limited by traditional collegial norms. Finally, in the UK, under the Local Government Act 2000, it became possible for local communities to choose by referendum whether or not they wished to elect their mayor directly (apart, that is, from the mayor of London, a regional authority, who would henceforth be so elected). Of the 29 referenda held in 2002, only 11 opted for direct elections, none of them a major city.

44. This ‘either-or’ system, if it may be so called, is held to be functioning reasonably well, where it is in place, in Germany, Austria and Norway. In Russia, plans are afoot to modify it ; whereas in the UK there has been no rush, but it may be too early to comment authoritatively.

45. However, it should be noted that this section excludes details relating to ‘mixed’ systems which have more open or direct elections on demographic-geographical criteria in small villages or hamlets, but indirect ones in the larger municipalities (as for example in the Czech Republic for human settlements of less than 3,000, and elsewhere, as already mentioned earlier.)


46. In another three member states, prospects would seem to be far advanced in the move towards direct elections. Although Belgium has had an emphatically indirect system, with mayors officially appointed by the Minister of the Interior on the advice of aldermen, the new Flemish administration agreed in 1999 that it would legislate to introduce the directly elected mayor, even if the debate is not quite over yet. In Finland, amendments to the municipal law are under discussion with a view to permitting direct mayoral elections, although initially it is expected that these would take place only in some municipalities. In the Netherlands too, following the change of government in May 2002, it was intended to amend the Constitution and introduce direct mayoral elections, a move still under discussion but which has the support of the Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the Liberal Democrats.

47. For a graphic summary of existing situations see the table at the end of this report (Appendix 2).


48. All told, respondents from countries where direct mayoral elections exist have tended to prefer this system, although sometimes with certain qualifications or suggestions for improving it.

49. Many of the advantages listed are the same or similar, expressed in different words. Foremost among these is the democratic and moral legitimacy implied in a direct popular choice of mayor, as opposed to one selected by a small group of councillors. Another is a plus for participatory democracy, involvement and commitment, which can also be reflected in voter turn-out. The dimension of communal leadership is seen to bolster delivery in services, cutting out bureaucratic red tape, as well as to hold the mayor as a person directly responsible to the people for what he or she does or not, and how things get done or otherwise. There is thus a bond between the person or personality elected and the people of the city or town whom he has to represent and to serve, if not to personify, more so than if he or she were simply a political party : the preference becomes literally a personal one. Moreover, this can be a factor of stability during the tenure of office. The separation of powers is clearer when local government is not lumped into one body, executive and deliberative, thus leading to more transparency. As such merits are often expressed in the same breath, clearly they are seen to be inseparably linked one to the other, as some of the following selected remarks (expert’s country of provenance given in parenthesis) demonstrate :

50. « strengthing local democracy… encouraging greater involvement… increasing participation in local politics and turn-out in local elections… a focus for community leadership… an understanding of the growing importance of the local authority’s governmental role… strengthening internal leadership in local government… more effective direction and cohesion… the directly elected mayor is a good and visible symbol of what the inhabitants want and who they are…» (Albania)

51. “…in this way meritorious and trustworthy people are elected, and this should promote optimum performance of their functions… they are directly responsible to the voters… they will try to solve the municipality’s problems more efficiently…” (Bulgaria)

52. « a strong legitimacy in his position » (Hungary)

53. “absence of political dysfunction: the mayor, the chairman of the municipal council and the prefect are directly elected by the population… this democratic legitimacy of the authorities is ongoing, because the citizen voter… is continually giving them form and legitimacy … decentralisation adds to the executive’s management dimension… the citizen feels more involved in the management of local affairs when he or she chooses the person closest to their problems… the deliberative assembly can question the mayor and the municipal committee about the execution of the programme…” (Greece)

54. “the clearest advantage is surely the stability of the executive. In theory the system ensures that the Mayor … remains in charge for the full duration of the mandate… The system also increases the Mayor’s direct legitimacy and political responsibility to the citizens. People vote for the Mayor rather than for his/her political party… bad results from a Mayor and his/her team often lead to a change of majority at the next election… the assertion of a more pronounced bipolarity. Bipolarity does not mean a two-party system… multi-party coalitions…” (Italy)

55. “rapidity of administrative procedure and decision-making…” (Portugal)

56. « raises the overall legitimacy of the system… a double opportunity for the citizens to vote for both a party candidate and an independent candidate… There are more checks and balances in the system because of the strong separation of powers between the legislative and the executive body… more transparency and effectiveness… strengthens the affiliation of the citizens to the community by their identification with the mayor who is regarded as pater urbi… it becomes more obvious in the case of two separate organs which one can be blamed for some failures… The individual organ can prove more efficient since the collective one must harmonize the opinions of its constituent members… » (“Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)

57. “… a separation of powers between the two structures and oversight of the mayor by the local council.” (Romania)

58. « … greater legitimacy… greater integration and identification of the residents with the municipality… » (Slovenia)
59. « … enables the mayor to receive his legitimacy directly from the will of the majority of the electors. He acts more or less independently of the partisan pressures of the members of the municipal council belonging to various political parties… direct election of mayors is simple, easy to operate, and less expensive. » (Turkey)

60. « personification of power : during elections people discuss very seriously  the different candidates standing for office, their voting is rather reasonable. » (Ukraine)

61. Respondents from countries with ‘either-or’ systems, where they have had direct exposure of both direct and indirect systems, the advantages were seen, rather similarly, as follows :

62. « direct elections, especially those of the mayor, seek to counter-act the general disenchantment with politics and the estrangement between politicians and citizens… outwardly represent their municipality much more strongly and self-confidently… voters" will is not corrupted by political agreements between the parties… Where the direct election of the mayor was established, the new system is assessed very positively…» (Austria)

63. “greater political legitimacy, a higher level of awareness among the population… possibilities for strong individuals, strengthened position of the mayor within the municipal administration and the council… improved democracy, the mayor’s position above parties…” (Germany)

64. « an increased legitimacy of the system supposed to follow from the addition of a strong "personal" element – strong  "profiles" contesting the "mayor’s chair" – to an electoral system that otherwise is to quite a high degree dominated by party lists… » (Norway)

65. « expresses the highest degree of legitimization of the mayor in his position. Therefore he is able to build a more independent policy, including non-traditional decisions… » (Russia)

66. « increased media attention… greater exposure and possibly greater accountability – "there are fewer places to hide"… a mayor is acquiring a reputation for a much more immediate, and apparently effective, response to local concerns… » (UK)

67. As for respondents from countries where only indirect elections have been possible so far, there may be rather more scepticism (Denmark, for instance, could see no particular advantages under present circumstances ; with Sweden undecided, given that « political parties are still overwhelmingly in charge of running the democratic institutions, both on national and local level") ; but some experts, at least individually, would prefer direct elections, or feel that people in their country would prefer this model. Here are selected quotes from some of their answers :

68. « a balance of power between council, parties, the group of aldermen and the mayor… parties have a possibility to combine popularity of the mayor with his professionalism. » (Belgium)

69. “faster decision-making, less factious, responsibility would be less dispersed…”(Estonia)

70. « stronger and more accountable political leadership, more open agenda setting, more direct involvement by the local citizenry » (Finland)

71. “Direct designation of the local executive by the electorate would probably enhance the assembly’s independence of the executive and thus also the reality of its control… Direct election of an executive which would be given its own specific powers, balanced by a separately elected assembly, would be a way of exercising more reciprocal control and thus more democracy.” (France)

72. « … directly elected local executives would be an advantage for the development of local democracy and for functioning of local self-government in general...  direct elections would be a correction factor to the partocracy, i.e. they would contribute to more direct mandate and thus to the more emphasised responsibility of local executives to voters. This is extremely important for smaller communities where voters know candidates much better… direct elections would have greater impact vis-à-vis service delivered. Public opinion is extremely important when tackling these issues…» (Croatia)

73. « it might attract a mixture of democratic control and efficient, professional administration. » (Iceland)

74. « to enhance the position of the local authority and to reinforce its position in the eyes of the electorate. This might lead to greater interest and participation in local politics… Irish local authorities are very weak and it is the manager who is the key actor. The present system (indirect election) reinforces this. » (Ireland)
75. « involving the citizens in the direct form of democracy, increasing the role of citizens" participation ; strengthening the role of executive power, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of local governments » (Latvia)

76. “more democracy” (Luxembourg)

77. « … more democratic. The public will be able to identify itself better with local politics and may become more interested… might decrease the abstention rate in local elections… » (The Netherlands)

78. “a single democratic legitimacy… the mayor always represents the majority of the population… a clear system of political responsibility, visible in the person of the mayor… minimal risks of political confrontation that could threaten management… less costly than a dual system of elections… the guarantee of stability…” (Spain)

79. While the advantages of direct elections appear very compelling - at least in principle - to most of the respondents, we must take stock, equally, of what are perceived to be the disadvantages, doubts and reservations, mixed with a preference for the status quo, or some compromise versions, which would tilt the argument in favour of indirect methods.


80. Countries (such as Iceland and Denmark) which have been accustomed to indirect election as a means of making local self-government work, mayors and all, may tend towards the adage : « if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. » In other words, if local self-government is believed to be working well, acceptably, through what could be indeed a more ‘collegial’ arrangement, under certain parameters and given certain attitudes of mind towards compromise, consensus and above all a mature respect for what is perceived to be public preference, why change that? Collegiality, not unlike direct democracy, can also sound good in principle but, when it comes to the crunch, turn out to be a device for power-mongering by back-scratching schemers and climbers, if and when ambition overrides service.
81. In assessing the disadvantages of direct elections, the most common preoccupation that arises concerns ‘cohabitation’ – the mayor and the assembly representing different parties in a worst scenario of deadlock – should that be the case. Another is a misgiving regarding the possibly excessive power in the mayor’s hands – ‘presidentialism’. That, as was held or intimated by some respondents, could be a preoccupation not so much of the resident citizen voting for the mayor, as of some constituency MP or cabinet minister who - whichever way the political objections might be phrased to sound convincing - could feel threatened by a strong, capable and popular mayor sharing the turf ; or possibly resent the more independent-minded individual personality of an electorally legitimized catalyst vis-à-vis the interests, instructions or expectations of the party machine. On the other hand, it is not known that film stars, football players or TV presenters would make the best mayors, assuming that any such wished to be elected mayor and obtained the necessary party or other endorsement for it. Apart from which there would still have to be a significant role for the council or assembly as a representative body with some clout, whether the mayor is elected or not. There is also some question as to whether pre-selected mayoral candidates actually would increase rather than reduce the sway of political parties and of partisanship in such elections.

82. The first preoccupation was expressed, with due scepticism but tellingly and forcefully, in the case of France, in these words: “in France people are obsessed by the fear of paralysis of local government when there is a conflict between the executive and the assembly and when the executive does not possess a stable majority in the assembly to support its policy.” This observation is stronger if we see it in the light of a preceding one, in the same context, once again with regard to France, but which carries a much wider resonance: “The present system (designation by the assembly) ought to result in strict control of the executive by the assembly. The opposite usually occurs: the majority in the deliberative assembly almost systematically supports the executive it has designated: the latter thus enjoys extensive power which is not really curbed by the assembly.”

83. The second preoccupation must partly explain why, in Ireland for instance, the proposal to have a directly elected mayor, elected for five years and open to any citizen, to begin with the local elections in 2004, in the end was scrapped altogether, even though the mayor would have been more of a figure head, with a non-elected official continuing to manage the executive. « However, this proposal was strongly opposed by the three local authority associations and elements within the ruling Fianna Fail party on the grounds that it would attract celebrity or single issue candidates and damage the standing of councillors. » There was some suggestion that MPs « feared that a directly elected mayor would become a serious rival to them. » The Minister responsible for Local Government responded to this by proposing « various compromises : that only councillors with five years experience could be candidates ; that the scheme would begin in 2009… »

84. A noteworthy attempt to weigh the pros and cons of direct vis-à-vis indirect elections was made in the 1999 Malta ‘white paper’ about amending the Local Councils Act in some minor respects (such as making the councillors’ election of a mayor no longer by secret ballot but by a show of hands ; and ensuring that every council, irrespective of size, also had a deputy mayor). Preferring the principle of ‘collegiality’ to that of ‘leadership’, it concluded in favour of maintaining the indirect system introduced in 1993, whereby councils comprising as few as five or seven elected members from different parties or political backgrounds should continue to elect the mayor among themselves (often, as it happens, by a one vote margin), regardless of the personal preferences demonstrated by resident electors in choosing the individual members of council through a ‘proportional representation’ voting system based on STV (single transferable vote), a system long used in Malta, Ireland and parts of Australia. As its strongest justification, the White Paper (which opens by recognising that « the method of election of mayors is probably the single most talked about item connected with Local Councils ») used the dangers of tensions which could arise from any differences between a directly elected mayor and other councillors, and/or the emargination of the latter. It also noted that selecting individual candidates as would-be mayors, in advance of an election, would actually strengthen the role of party at the expense of what electors, or indeed councillors, might prefer. Apart from making it impossible for electors to vote across party and excluding independents (neither of which, however, has been at all a pronounced tendency), it would require a change of electoral system to the lines of Jefferson-d’Hondt. Placing its faith in ‘the collegial link’, it assumes that a mayor without a working majority could not run a council ; that mayors might even change majorities ; and indeed that if the mayor would have been ‘solely’ selected by the party, introducing direct elections « does not in any way lessen party influence – it simply moves it in time. »

85. While, as we have seen, this view does not quite conform to the analyses offered by several of our respondents, evidently much would depend on the nature of party organisation and partisan mentality in existence in any particular context, whether one would adopt a considerate ‘softly, softly’ approach or a top-down ‘sledgehammer’ approach to such selections. There is a subtle, not uncomplicated hint in the White Paper at a possible resolution of such difficulties, which could be explored further. « Whilst the list system is somewhat preferable to the direct choice method in that it allows a wider choice within the context of an unblocked system, it still restricts choice to one party (hence remaining a "closed" system) unless one is prepared to increase the number of councillors to be elected in order that this is in proportion with the first preference expressed for the different parties… » The « extent of the problems encountered », it nevertheless concluded, « does not warrant such a drastic change to the Maltese electoral system, a change which will of necessity imply a move from a collegial system with inherent checks and balances to one where the strong leadership element is purposely emphasised over the need for compromise and collaboration… » (4.1-4.30, ff.46-53).

86. All of these considerations reverberate, to a greater or a lesser extent, together with some others, in a select listing of what our respondents thought would be the main disadvantages of the direct election formula. Here are some specimen, first from experts whose countries adopt the indirect system (where for the most part mayors are elected by the councils, or, as in the case of Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg, through some direct involvement of central government) ; followed by those from the others :

87. « encourages populism » (Belgium)

88. « a greater risk of inefficiency/deadlocks in cases where the mayor and the council represented different political preferences... very often the present mayor or a leading politician from the "opposition" gets a very great number of so-called personal votes (you can vogte for a person or for a list of candidates) ; thus in many cases the consequent election for the new mayor by a majority in the council becomes a pure formality… "presidential-like systems where one person is elected to hold substantial power are not very popular : compromise and the spreading out of power on more than one set of hands is probably seen as the political ideal…  » (Denmark)

89. “in practice a conflict between the executive and the assembly only arises in France when there is a conflict within the majority that won the elections. There may also be conflicts between executive and assembly in municipalities with fewer than 3,500 inhabitants or in the departments, where election on a majority basis does not apply. But there are few of these cases. Almost always, the executive’s powerful grip avoids conflicts… a number of presidents of regional councils have been elected by assemblies without stable majorities… special arrangements have been adopted to guarantee that budgets are voted in spite of the absence of a clear majority… ” (France)

90. « The disadvantages are few… the executive should not be limited to the council period, but the counter-argument is that a new council should be free to select another executive... it is easier for the council not to be forced to 'fire' the executive if it wants to change the top layer of the commune’s officials » (Iceland)

91. « it might attract candidates who are mere celebrities (TV stars, football players, etc) incapable of carrying out the functions. » (Ireland)

92. « the role of the directly elected, broadly representative council might diminish, centralisation of power and polarisation of municipal decision-making, the role of political parties might diminish, lack of executive expertise » ( Finland)

93. “could narrow the basis on which political balance rests and the political-administrative links, possibly reducing executive coalitions…” (Estonia)

94. « concentration of power in the hands of the mayor (directly elected mayor is usually, simultaneously, chair of the council or assembly, and head of administration) » (Latvia)

95. « it will inevitably cause a conflict of power and a problem of loyalty between the directly elected one and the council » (Lithuania)

96. « The risk of having an elected mayor is that professional qualifications of candidates for the position of mayor will become less significant and therefore the capabilities of mayors to govern their municipality might decrease » (The Netherlands)

97. “the possible hypothesis that a burgomaster directly elected by the voter could find himself without an operational majority in the municipal council. This risk is prevented by the existing system which ensures political cohesion because the members of the executive are de facto if not de jure put forward to the appointing authority by the majority on the municipal council…” (Luxembourg)

98. “a certain risk of political instability… in a situation where a political party might not obtain the absolute majority, electoral alliances are necessary to organise an executive that can command the support of at least half plus one of the municipal councillors… In most municipalities the risk is minimised by the fact that there are only three political parties on a nationwide scale… there is also the risk of political “defection”: at some point after the local elections, a municipal councillor elected on the list of party A might well decide to join the ranks of party B, possibly upsetting the balance that emerged from the local elections. This situation could lead to a new correlation of majorities… in cases of very dominant absolute majorities,… minority parties have hardly any chance of bringing any initiative to a successful conclusion…the d’Hondt rule means that many votes are “useless” if they are given to political parties which do not obtain the minimum score of 5% in the municipality.” (Spain)

99. « Such a step would predictably be seen as a threat to the present party run system of local democracy. The very often discussed "crisis" of the political parties is not manifest enough to make such a bold change seen as necessary by the political elite. It seems that there are too many important actors who have vested interests in the present system. » (Sweden)
100. The following excerpts have as a background countries adopting mixed, i.e. ‘either-or’ systems, with direct election generally in the ascendant, but in different ways and certainly (in the case of Norway and Britain) at a different pace.

101. « No real problems are inherent in the existing systems, so there are no significant disadvantages. » (Austria)

102. “The municipal council… is weakened; relations with the council may be confrontational; the mayor’s professional qualification is less guaranteed…” (Germany)

103. « … a main disadvantage seems to be a dissymmetry between the presumed importance of functions to which you are directly elected, on one hand, and the relative lack of importance of the functions to which a Norwegian "mayor" is elected, on the other… so far as the "personal" powers of the "mayor" remain as limited as these are within the present system, it might well happen that his/her position would lose quite systematically when confronted with the majority views within the council… Should the formal position of the "mayor" within the relevant municipal system become much stronger than it is today, there would be a risk of conflicts… » (Norway)

104. « With the mayor (and simultaneously the head of administration) elected by the population it is difficult to guarantee his managerial professionalism… A new mayor will change the team… it is impossible to provide for continuity in local administrative policy… » (Russia)

105. « half the elected mayors were "fringe or rebel" candidates… mayors have clashed in a potentially destructive way with the elected council, especially over the budget – although in some areas a new consensus has been built between mayor and council… some local resentment on the part of established political parties who feel that the referendum and electoral processes were hijacked… » (UK)

106. While some of those respondents having indirect systems have expressed themselves, sometimes strongly, in favour of direct ones, by contrast those in whose countries of provenance direct election is used were, generally, approving and less critical, in some cases refusing to answer to our question about disadvantages at all, although some suggestions for improvement were forthcoming from others. None from countries with direct systems opted for indirect ones as possibly a better alternative, whereas some from countries with indirect systems said they would prefer direct ones. Here are some specimen quotes which say it all :

107. “the actual and juridical possibility of opposition occurring between mayors and municipal councils… in a situation where the mayor is a member of one political party, while the majority on the municipal council belongs to another …” (Bulgaria)

108. « No disadvantages could be detected so far... There are only advantages in a directly elected executive. Such an executive can act independently of the council, does not have to bow to petty politics, and can serve the interests of the town better.  » (Cyprus)

109. « It can be regarded as a disadvantage that the mayor bears no political responsibility to the assembly… While the chief administrator exercises a number of delegated state administrative functions, his position depends on the majority in the assembly. » (Hungary)

110. “personalisation of power and the creation of ‘client networks’… the mayor is the most popular elected official from whom the citizen has very high expectations… Direct election of the executive makes him/her a ‘political figure’ within a politico-administrative system… mayors of big cities use the popularity acquired during their term of office to take a place in the national government or vice versa”. (Greece)

111. “personalisation of the figure of the Mayor or fragmentation of the system of political parties… may lead to conflicts… with the assembly, with the political parties, especially those of the coalition supporting the Mayor, with the administrative machine… the electoral system encourages the existence of parties that are very small in terms of votes but decisive in ensuring the victory of a coalition…” (Italy)

112. “the concentration of the mayor’s powers, the subordination of the other members of the executive (directly elected like the mayor) and the reduction of forms of internal oversight of municipal administration” (Portugal)

113. « The Mayor can be too strong if checks and balances are lacking, especially in a country of weak democratic traditions or the lack of a participatory political culture of citizens, or a strong public opinion… In the case of a lack of financial or audit control…the Mayor acquires unlimited opportunities to dispose of municipal property… » (Republic of Macedonia)

114. “personalisation… presidentialism…” (Romania)

115. « cohabitation… The problem was diminished (when)…the municipal council was not any more convened and chaired by its own president but it is now the mayor who chairs it. » (Slovenia)

116. « Unless political parties and their leaders attribute a special care to the qualifications of the candidates for executive positions, the elections may result in choosing those candidates who are simply acceptable and sympathetic to the party organizations, rather than the people who can really meet the technical requirements of the office... » (Turkey)

117. « …the Mayor is a big boss in the city, who in fact decides everything… a bottle-neck for all incoming and outgoing information… represents both the council and the executive committee… always overloaded with work… The council decision may be put into force only by the Mayor’s signature… for months a Mayor refused to sign a decision which he disliked… no personal responsibility for decisions… a good soil for corruption… » (Ukraine)


118. From these responses one almost despairs at the prospect of taking sides : to lead from the front, or from the back, or not at all ?

119. Direct elections could be personalized, presidential, populistic, leading to clashes between the mayor and the council or even within the governing coalitions, possibly emarginating minority views, or worse ; but on the other hand they would be more democratic, efficient, visible, involving and motivating the citizenry towards greater participation and a sense of belonging to the locality as led and symbolised by its mayor. Would this increase or decrease the power of political parties in orchestrating mayoral seats? As the mayor’s moral legitimacy would be greater if directly elected, his or her stature would grow in relation to the political apparatus, whereas a collegiality, if such it is, could be, by definition, rather more cowed, cubersome and inconspicuous. In conditions prone to litigiousness, direct elections could lend stability, provided that a ‘checks and balances’ recipe has been cooked and baked with the right ingredients. Moreover in selecting a person to stand for mayor any party normally would have to consider - and wilnily respect - his or her likely appeal on the basis of personal qualities, qualifications and achievements. Perhaps simplistically, voters are known generally to prefer faces to institutions, individuals to collectives, the more so if they feel they have had an effective say in exercising a personal preference.

120. On balance, there would seem to be a decided and indeed growing preference for more direct election. At the same time, however, it is clear that much depends on (a) institutional structures and modalities which balance out competencies and responsibilities in as clearly defined ways as possible to avoid equivocal interpretations or pretentions, and to minimise the possibility of direct confrontations ; and (b) social, cultural and political attitudes, the presence or absence of certain norms, or of human resources, and an assured financial viability and operational feasibility, in given contexts which, in the light of the Charter’s requisites, may still be in a transitional phase.

121. The quintessential democratic principle, on which almost everything else may depend, as succinctly stated by the German expert, is really this: “It depends to a large extent on the modalities whether concentration of power in the person of the mayor is excessive.” But even this (as we have amply seen in the representative overview above) opens up a hornet’s nest. What is to be regarded as exaggerated, or reasonable, or necessary ; and who decides ?

122. Clearly, the mayor should not be the city’s big boss who decides everything himself ; nor should s/he be disposing of municipal property at will ; or surrounding himself by dressed-down acolytes as if no other representative body existed ; nor should he be held at ransom by a party strongman in the shadows ; or indeed deferring to some royal prerogative or privilege. If there is a problem with managerial constraints, mayors could have managers to assit and advise them, but it would be singularly unfortunate if, as political animals, in running their office they would not consult or heed the advice of an elected council or assembly, to which they may or may not belong, and which they may or may not chair. As for the fear of clashes and deadlocks, which really are not unknown in any system, ways and means could be and indeed have been devised to limit such a likelihood. Whether one likes them or not is something else. On the whole, they would seem to be working, stabilising the system, at the same time as popularising it in a way ; but what works in one place might be shunned or feared in another, depending on multiple factors. Again here, the suit would have to be tailored to the cloth, which is not so say that a set of criteria and modalities, now on the basis of comparative experiences, may not be drawn up, at least as guidelines, with a view to facilitating the successful operation of direct election in conformity with the Charter’s basic norms. The Charter as it stands is obviously much too vague ; it requires further elaboration in the light of unfolding contemporary realities. And then, the balance is always a delicate one, ultimately depending to a large extent on human ingenuity (or crassness) and electoral sensitivity (or passiveness).

123. One of the objectives of this investigation was, at the outset, to see if one could, on the basis of updated statistics, draw a graph to show, and possibly to tentatively equate, voter turn-out rates to systems which were direct or indirect, possibly showing that in direct elections the turn-out would be or were becoming somewhat higher, as seems to be the general perception. However, at this stage not many respondents provided enough statistical data for us to be able to attempt such an exercise. Perhaps it could be pushed further and attempted again in due course. It would also be instructive to compare, in a complementary graph, country-by-country voter turn-out percentages in local and national elections, as these may be shifting, if only during the decade 1990-2000 or so.

124. Apart from the Scandinavian countries, which appear to be set in their ‘collegial’ and ‘political’ ways as a geo-political bloc, perhaps with Norway so far as a looming exception to some extent, there is elsewhere a decided incidence in favour of more direct election, especially but not only in countries keen to wrest themselves of the vestiges of dictatorial pasts. Equally, however, particular circumstances could militate against that trend for a variety of other reasons (as noted, in some detail, with regard to Spain, for example). All this presumes a degree of consideration and maturity on the part of both the citizenry and, not less, the political parties and organizations in the body politic, which have the wherewithal to propose or select candidates possibly at will, and to mobilise public opinion, to include or to exclude - in spite of what is generally felt to be a spreading alienation towards them as such.

125. There is a miscellany of variants when it comes to the exercise of control by the council or assembly on the executive, or vice-versa. Generally speaking, the former are less pronounced where direct election prevails, making it all the more difficult, in that case, and understandably so, to dismiss an elected executive. A full examination of such modalities and structures certainly could constitute another related exercise, with a view to testing its application in the field of possibly facilitating the direct election of executives or otherwise. A set of organigrams and concentric circles would suggest themselves to a public administrator cum political scientist, albeit never without some ‘nationalistic’ peculiarities.

126. On the basis of such responses as have been forthcoming to this investigation, many of which have been highly informative, even extensive, there is every reason to believe that, all told, the responses to this investigation have shown that in practice Article 3.2 of the Charter is beginning to acquire a life of its own.

127. Much more work and expert consultation is called for in various aspects related to this vital subject. The country-by-country monitoring reports undertaken by the Congress, for instance, could eventually be scanned to produce a more holistic rendering also taking into consideration the electoral methods used, the responsibilities assigned to local authorities and citizens’ participation. The object of this survey not having been a prescriptive one, however, what is has offered is a exposition of the main arguments for and against direct elections on the basis of the experiences and the considered opinions of expert observers, including some former practitioners, covering a very large majority of the member states, while taking stock of some earlier endeavours to begin to focus more on this whole question. There is no hard-and-fast weighing down of the scales in support of one system or another ; and there obviously are no cast-iron prototypes, but rather several possible sub-varieties of each. For the time being, this may serve to open a thin end of the wedge, especially in so far as interpreting the 1985 Charter is concerned.

128. In conclusion, it is only fair sincerely to thank and to pay tribute to all the respondents who have cooperated in this exercise, to other pioneering colleagues who formulated earlier reports, memoranda and resolutions with a bearing on its subject matter, and to all those who participated personally in this debate in our group encounters during 2002/2003.

Appendix 1

List of experts who provided replies to the questionnaire:

Peter PERNTHALER (Austria) ; Genc RULI and Artan HOXHA (Albania) ; Filip DE RYNCK (Belgium) ; Alexandre VODENITCHAROV (Bulgaria) ; Zvonimir LAUC (Croatia) ; Richard POMAHAC (Czech Republic) ; Andreas PANDELIDES (Cyprus) ; Hans Otto JORGENSEN (Denmark) ; Sulev MAELTSEMEES (Estonia) ; Olli MAENPAA (Finland) ; Jean-Marie WOEHRLING (France); Dian SCHEFOLD (Germany) ; Spyridon FLOGAITIS (Greece) ; Zoltan SZENTE (Hungary) ; Unnar STEFANSSON (Iceland) ; John LOUGHLIN (Ireland) ; Francesco MERLONI (Italy) ; Edvins VANAGS and Inga VILKA (Latvia) ; Artashes GAZARYAN (Lithuania) ; Jean-Mathias GOERENS (Luxembourg) ; Ine VAN HAAREN-DRESENS (Netherlands) ; Eivind SMITH (Norway) ; Antonio Rebordao MONTALVO (Portugal) ; Corneliu-Liviu POPESCU (Roumania) ; Liudmila LAPTEVA (Russia) ; Franc GRAD (Slovenia) ; Angel-Manuel MORENO MOLINA (Spain) ; Torsten BJERKEN (Sweden) ; Gordana SILJANOVSKA DAVKOVA (Republic of Macedonia) ; Rusen KELES (Turkey) ; Vadym PROSHKO (Ukraine) ; Chris HIMSWORTH (UK) ; and Henry FRENDO (Malta).

Appendix 2














Belgium *






Czech Republic +






Estonia +



Finland *






Iceland +



Ireland, Latvia











Netherlands *


Spain +, Sweden

* Moving partly or wholly towards direct elections
+ More direct elections conducted in smaller communities