13th Congress Plenary Session 30 May - 1st June 2006

Local Democracy in Liechtenstein

Rapporteur: Christopher NEWBURY, United Kingdom,

Chamber of Local Authorities

Political Group : EPP/CD


I. Introduction

1. Liechtenstein is a principality with a surface area of 160 square kilometres and a population of about 34,000. It has eleven municipalities, varying in size between 1,000 and 6,000 residents, and all of these municipalities have strong historical roots.

2. The characteristics of the present municipalities and of municipal legislation in Liechtenstein date back far into the past. Even during the ‘Absolutist’ period in the second half of the eighteenth century, the village communities maintained their own rights. The present-day characteristics, borders and status of municipalities date from the early nineteenth century and were defined by the Law of 1 January 1810. With the advent of m modern political communities, the roles of municipalities as managers of municipal property and in the granting of local citizenship gradually became less important. The law of 1 August 1842 maintained the central power’s right to appoint municipal officers. This came to an end with the Constitution of 1862 and the law of 24 May 1864, which established the free election of municipal representatives. This law of 1864 served for a long time as the framework for municipal affairs, and its main underlying principles were incorporated into the law of 1959. Lastly, the law of 20 March 1996 paved the way for a modernisation of municipal legislation, drawing on the guidelines set out in the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which had been ratified by Liechtenstein in 1988.

3. Local democracy in Liechtenstein is thriving and has strong legitimacy, but it is characterised by very small municipalities and the proximity to the state (Land) level. The state itself is of a size which in much of Europe is that of a local authority, so it is small enough to deal appropriately with many local affairs.

4. On the whole, Liechtenstein has made the most of its situation and has developed a strong and well equipped municipal structure in parallel with a central government which is itself active in all spheres.

II. Constitutional basis

5. Liechtenstein’s municipalities have a solid constitutional basis.

6. Article 1 of the Constitution provides that the Principality is a union (Verband) of two regions (Landschaften), with eleven municipalities which are listed by name. This might give the impression that the state of Liechtenstein is made up of the eleven municipalities it comprises. The article should not however be interpreted as giving the principality a federative nature or as meaning that the municipalities participate in state power. They have the status merely of local authorities, and their powers are limited to those conferred on them by the Constitution or by legislation. Nonetheless, they can influence the drafting of legislation, as explained below.

7. Article 4.1 of the Constitution provides that changes to municipal boundaries, the creation of new municipalities or the merging of existing ones may take place only by virtue of a law and requires the agreement of the majority of the citizens. Article 5 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government is therefore fully complied with.

8. Paragraph 2 of Article 4 institutes a right for each municipality to leave the state union (Staatsverband). Such secession must be agreed to by the majority of the citizens of the municipality, observing a procedure laid down in the law. This power of secession was introduced in 2003, in the latest constitutional reform.

9. Under Article 110 of the Constitution, the organisation and duties of municipalities shall be laid down in legislation. The Constitution also guarantees that the mayor and other municipal office-holders shall be elected by the municipal assembly of citizens.

10. The Constitution also recognises the right of municipalities to participate in and influence the drafting of legislation:

- where at least three municipalities are in agreement, a request for the enactment, amendment or repeal of a law may be presented and must be debated at the next sitting of Liechtenstein’s legislative assembly (Landtag);

- a request to amend the Constitution may similarly be presented by a minimum of four municipalities;

- a request for a legislative referendum may be presented by a minimum of three municipalities (four municipalities in the case of a constitutional referendum);

- a minimum of three municipalities may also present a demand for the convening or dissolution of the legislative assembly;

- lastly, any resolution of the legislative assembly relating to the ratification of an international agreement must be put to a referendum if at least three municipalities so request.

11. Nonetheless, this protection afforded by the constitution is limited in certain respects: the Constitution does not formally guarantee a specific core of municipal competences, and the latter derive primarily from legislation. However, in a judgement of 1982, Liechtenstein’s Constitutional Court (Staatsgerichtshof) held that it was clear from the Constitution that the legislature must assign to the municipalities a sufficiently substantial field of competences to enable them to function satisfactorily.

12. While the Constitution refers to the autonomous management of municipal property, the administration of the local police and maintenance of a well-ordered system for the relief of poverty, it further states that these powers shall be exercised under the supervision of the government, which might indicate that there could be government interference in the exercise of such responsibilities. However, the legislature has provided that in the municipalities’ own fields of competence (eigener Wirkungskreis), the government may exercise only a review of the legality of their actions.

13. The provisions of Article 4.1 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, on constitutional and legislative guarantees for local self-government, are complied with.

III. Compliance with the Charter by Liechtenstein’s legislation

14. Liechtenstein ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government on 1 September 1988.

15. In Liechtenstein’s legal system, lawfully ratified international treaties are directly enforceable in the domestic courts without there being a need for a law to transpose the international treaty into domestic law. Such treaties can be directly relied on since, because of their nature, they can be considered to be self-executive. However, the view of the Liechtenstein authorities is that the European Charter of Local Self-Government is not so enforceable, as its provisions have the character of general policy.

16. This view needs to be qualified. Each of the provisions of the Charter needs to be considered separately in order to determine its scope. Several of the provisions of the Charter lay down rules which are sufficiently precise to have a direct effect. It would be wrong to view all the provisions of the Charter as general guidelines. Furthermore, Liechtenstein’s own Constitutional Court, in a judgement on 13 September 1998, accepted as admissible an application based on failure to comply with the Charter (St GH 1998/10). It agreed that Article 8.2 of the Charter, which provides that “Administrative supervision should normally be confined to the question of the legality of local authority action and not its expediency” was binding on Liechtenstein’s domestic law, though it considered that this established a general principle to which an exception could be made in duly substantiated cases.

17. The Liechtenstein authorities point out that several amendments to the Principality’s legislation were made following ratification of the Charter. The constitutional and legislative amendments since 1 September 1998 have taken account of the rules and principles contained in the Charter.

18. Nonetheless, it should be noted that Liechtenstein limited its ratification of the Charter to certain of its provisions. The country declared that it would be bound by the following provisions: Article 2, Article 3 paragraph 1, Article 4, Article 5, Article 6 paragraph 1, Article 7, paragraphs 1 and 3, Article 8, Article 9 paragraphs 1, 2 and 5 to 7, Article 10 paragraph 1 and Article 11. Such reservations are provided for in Article 12 of the Charter and cannot as such be open to criticism. However, it seems surprising that Liechtenstein has made such reservations in respect of paragraphs of the Charter with which its domestic legislation corresponds perfectly.

19. Reservations should not be made unless there are specific substantive discrepancies or incompatibilities between national legislation and the provisions of the Charter. Clearly, subscribing to international obligations which already correspond to national practice has no immediate benefit for local democracy in Liechtenstein. But accession to the Charter has a much broader scope. The Council of Europe’s member states jointly define an international guarantee of local self-government, and Liechtenstein would be making a real contribution to this if it were to accept all of the provisions of the Charter, unless there were justified objections to particular provisions.

20. While this report raises a few questions over Articles 8.2 and 9.7, it does not identify any real contradiction between Liechtenstein’s legislation and any paragraph of the Charter.

IV. Municipal competences and administrative supervision by the state

21. Municipal law in Liechtenstein, as in many other countries, and as provided for by the European Charter, differentiates between two categories of competences exercised by municipalities.

A. Own powers (eigener Wirkungskreis)

22. This includes all matters of primary concern to the municipalities which they themselves can undertake, and all activities which they intend to carry out under their own freedom and within the limits set by the law.

23. Liechtenstein’s interpretation of municipal self-government and the principle of subsidiarity is in compliance with Article 4, paragraphs 2 and 3, of the Charter. In the case of the municipalities of Liechtenstein, these responsibilities include:

24. State supervision is, in this context, limited to compliance with the law and does not include, in theory, any power to assess the expediency of the measures taken.