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I am pleased to present you today the report and draft recommendation on local democracy in Liechtenstein approved at the last meeting of the Monitoring Committee on 14 February 2018.
The monitoring visit to review the state of local democracy in the Principality of Liechtenstein took place from 6 to 7 June 2017. We visited the capital city Vaduz and the municipalities Triesenberg and Planken.
The delegation was composed of Artur Torres Pereira from Portugal and myself as rapporteurs on local democracy as well as professor Zoltan Szente as expert. My co-rapporteur was unable to be present here for this debate because he has had to leave earlier for flight reasons.
It was the second monitoring visit of the Congress to the Principality since it ratified the Charter in 1988. The previous one took place in 2006 and resulted in a very positive Congress recommendation on local democracy in the country.
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a constitutional, hereditary monarchy. The Head of State is the reigning Prince.
Liechtenstein has 11 municipalities on the small surface area of 160 square kilometers. The population of the municipality of Planken, the smallest one, is around 450 inhabitants and the population of the largest municipality Schaan is around 6000 inhabitants.
During the visit we met the representatives of local authorities, notably the Mayors of Vaduz, Triesenberg and Planken. We were given a warm welcome by the National Delegation of Liechtenstein to the Congress.
For the central authorities, we had the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister of Liechtenstein, Minister of General Government Affairs and Finance and the Minister of Home Affairs, Education and Environment with whom we held an open and fruitful political exchange of views. We also met the President of the Landtag (Parliament) and the President of the Constitutional Court (State Court).
Finally, we held discussions with the recently established Association for Human Rights in Liechtenstein which fulfils the functions of the Ombudsman.
My co-rapporteur and I would like to thank the national delegation of the Principality to the Congress, the Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the Council of Europe and all our Liechtenstein’s colleagues who contributed to the excellent organisation of the visit and for the information they provided during and after it.
We have got a positive impression of the visit. Our overall assessment is that Liechtenstein duly implements the principles and requirements of the Charter. Municipalities play a crucial role in local democracy and have wide-ranging powers.
In particular, we noted with satisfaction a strong culture of consultation and co-operation between the central and local governments, facilitated by their proximity due to the reduced country’s size.
Moreover, we welcome the variety of forms and practice of citizen participation in local matters through the municipal assemblies and local referendums.
A wide range of rights of political participation in national affairs enjoyed by the municipalities of Liechtenstein should be particularly mentioned. For instance, municipalities can submit petitions to the Parliament to make known their views and opinions. They may request the convening of Parliament and initiate a popular vote on its dissolution. They may oblige the Parliament to consider and revise a specific law, lodge a petition to amend the Constitution and initiate popular votes on specific laws.
The Constitution of Liechtenstein goes so far as to attribute to municipalities the right to secede from the Principality within the limits of the law or an international treaty. A local referendum must be held on both the initiation of such a procedure and the final decision.
We also welcome in particular a very positive financial situation of Liechtenstein's municipalities which is to date a rather rare case in many other Council of Europe member states.
Liechtenstein municipalities benefit from a high percentage of tax revenue and their well-balanced budgets could serve as a good example for other countries.
We have observed only a couple of issues of conformity with the Charter that need to be solved in Liechtenstein.
First, our major source of concern is the present system of Government’s approval of municipal budgets in Liechtenstein. Each municipality, after the adoption of its annual budget, submits it to the Government for approval. So, local budgets become valid only after the Government approves them.
In our view, such system cannot be reconciled with the requirements of the Charter. The adoption of a municipal budget is not a delegated power, but a so-called “own responsibility” and the core function of local government, which gives municipalities greater autonomy.
Notwithstanding the government’s view to the contrary, in our assessment, the approval of local budgets by the central authorities is far removed from the proportionate and necessary means of legal supervision.
Taking into account the well-balanced financial situation of the municipalities, the Government’s approval based on checking whether municipalities have planned a budget deficit does not appear necessary either. We think that the same objectives can be achieved through less restrictive measures, such as obliging local authorities to submit regular reports on local financial management, subsequent audits or the financial equalisation system.
Therefore, we are of the view to recommend to Liechtenstein authorities to abolish Government’s approval of municipal budgets.
Second, we have also spotlighted some shared powers between central and local government that is incompatible with Article 4.4 of the Charter inasmuch as it empowers the central authorities to overrule the decisions of municipal bodies taken under their own responsibility.
In particular, the delivery of building permits and the adoption of local planning decisions, let alone the central government’s approval of local budgets, fall within the framework of such shared responsibilities. By the way, the issue of local planning was also raised in 2006.
It is advisable, therefore, to clarify the allocation of competences between the central government and the municipalities in the mentioned areas so as to ensure that local governments should have full and exclusive powers within the meaning of Article 4 paragraph 4.
Further, we suggest formalising in law the mechanism of consulting local authorities that would further safeguard this important right.
We also invite the national authorities to ratify non-ratified provisions of the Charter, which are de facto applied in Liechtenstein.
At last, we recommend to Liechtenstein to sign and ratify the Additional Protocol to the Charter since, in our opinion, the current practice in Liechtenstein appears consistent with the requirements of the treaty.
My co-rapporteur and I hope that you will adopt this draft recommendation.
I remain at your disposal for any additional questions.
Thank you for your attention.