Report on Local and Regional Democracy in Slovak Republic - CG (8) 5 Part II
Rapporteurs: Mr. Anders KNAPE (Sweden) and Mr. Miljenko DORIC (Croatia)
The present document is a draft report on the situation of local and regional democracy in the Slovak Republic. It is composed of an introduction, two numbered parts, plus conclusions and recommendations. The introduction describes the visit that triggered the present document. The first part deals with the current features of local and regional democracy in the Slovak Republic, as well as the identified problems. The second part refers to the changes that are now in progress. Finally, the conclusions focus on the problems that could be raised in the light of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the draft European Charter of Regional Self- Government.
This explanatory memorandum was written after an official visit to the Slovak Republic on behalf of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and taking into consideration the discussions and conclusions of the Colloquy, which was held on 4 and 5 December 2000 in Bratislava. On 2 October 2000, the Institutional Committee of the Congress appointed Mr. Anders Knape, Sweden (Chamber of Local Authorities) and Mr. Miljenko Doric, Croatia (Chamber of Regions) as the Rapporteurs on the situation of local and regional democracy in the Slovak Republic. The consultant to the rapporteurs was Dr. Angel-Manuel Moreno, Professor of Law at Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) and independent expert of the Congress. The rapporteurs wish to express their thanks to Dr. Moreno for his assistance in the preparation of this report.
I. CURRENT SITUATION OF LOCAL AND REGIONAL DEMOCRACY IN THE SLOVAK REPUBLIC
1. LOCAL DEMOCRACY
1.1. Legal foundations
1.1.1. Constitutional underpinnings
Articles 64 to 71 of the Slovak Constitution deal with the territorial self-administration. Article 64 describes the « Community » (English translation) as the central element of territorial self-administration, being an « independent territorial and administrative unit ». The community (that is, a local or municipal territorial body, a town or city) is a juridical person which « under conditions set out in a law, independently manages its own property and financial resources » (article 65, first indent). The self-government unit is deemed to finance its needs from own revenues and from state subsidies (art. 65, 2nd indent).
Moreover, it decides « independently in matters of local self-administration », while « duties and restrictions may be imposed on it only by the law » (art. 67). Under the Constitution, the bodies of the community are: (a) a representative body, composed of deputies, elected through a secret, general, direct voting process; and (b) the mayor, who is the executive body, and who is also elected by the citizens of the Community through a secret, general, direct voting process (art. 69). On the other hand, local State administration may transfer some of their tasks to the communities (art. 71). Finally, the constitution recognises the communities’ power to « issue generally binding decrees in matters of local self-administration » (art. 68).
In the light of these constitutional provisions, it can be said that the requirements of article 2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government are satisfied.
Important notice: during the visit (22-23 February 2001), the National Council (Parliament) of Slovakia debated, and voted, several amendments to the Constitution. On this development, and the likely impact on the matters addressed by this report, please see part II, point 1, below.
1.1.2. The Slovak Republic and the European Charter of Local Self-Government
The signature and ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government (hereinafter, « the Charter », or just « ECLSG ») by the Slovak Republic has undergone a long process, to which recent developments have put a successful end.
Even before the birth of the Slovak Republic in 1993, different Slovak associations of Towns and Municipalities had claimed for such a signature. Shortly after the creation of the new state, the National Council of the Slovak Republic recommended to create preconditions for the ratification of the Charter (Resolution No. 435, of 24 March 1994). In 1995 and 1996, the Slovak Association of Towns and Municipalities pushed again for making possible the signature of the Charter. In August 1996, the government charged the competent Minister with the duty to submit a workable programme of reform tasks, so as to facilitate Slovakia’s accession to the Charter (Decree No. 552). After a cumbersome interministerial process, a formal proposal was presented to the Council of Ministers in June 1998, but the Government had no time to discuss it in full.
After the new elections in Autumn, 1998, the incumbent government promptly included in its programme the recommendation to accede to the Charter, and eventually signed it for the Slovak Republic on 23 February, 1999. Under a government proposal, the National Council of the Slovak Republic gave permission to ratify the Charter (Decree No. 516 of 26 October, 1999), and later on, the instrument of ratification was tabled on 1 February 2000. The Charter entered into force on 1 June 2000, and was published in the Slovak Collection of Laws on 26 October 2000.
Under article 12 of the Charter, Slovakia declared itself to be bound by the following provisions of the Charter: art. 2; art. 3, par. 2; art.4, pars.1, 2, 4 and 6; art. 5; art. 6.1; art. 7, par.1, 2 and 3; art. 8, par.1, 2 and 3; art. 9, par.2, 3, 4 and 8; art. 10, par. 1; and article 11.
That commitment only narrowly complies with the minimal requirements of article 12.1 of the ECLSG (twenty paragraphs, the minimum required). Furthermore, Slovakia has formulated several reservations to key provisions of this Charter:
Article 3, paragraph 1, dealing with the right and ability of the local authorities to manage a substantial share of public affairs (actually, the core definition of local self-government).
Article 4, paragraph 3, enshrining the principle of subsidiarity.
Article 4, paragraph 5 (delegated powers).
Article 6, paragraph 2 (conditions of service of local government employees).
Article 9, paragraphs 1, 5, 6 and 7, dealing with the key issue of local governments´ financial sufficiency, equalisation schemes, consultation in redistribution of resources, and allocation of grants).
Article 10, paragraphs 2 and 3, dealing with the right of local authorities to belong to associations, even international ones, and with transfrontier cooperation).
During the visit, the delegation was informed on the reasons for these important reservations. The explanations were grounded on several considerations, of legal, economic and political nature. For instance, the reluctance to be bound by articles 3,1 and 4,3 is based on the consideration that, from a realistic point of view, local self-governments are not currently the bodies that are managing a substantial share of public affairs; these are handled by the District offices. Nor do they exercise responsibilities in preference to other authorities, for the same reason.
In general, the position of the Slovak Republic vis-à-vis the Charter is two-fold: first, the point is to ratify the parts of the ECLSG that the country can comply with under the current situation, even if the result is a de minimis ratification; second, the Slovak Government expects to expand the commitments, following the future decentralisation efforts. In the next years, it is planned to be in a situation to comply with more articles of the ECLSG. For example, under the Government Decree No. 663 (concept for training in Public Administration, of 23 August 2000) the Government pledged to submit a proposal for accepting to be bound by art. 6.2 of the ECLSG. Additional commitments would, however, call for previous alterations of domestic legislation.
On the other hand, the ratification of Slovakia has a praiseworthy aspect: unlike other countries, Slovakia has not limited the scope of the Charter to a part of its territory or to a certain kind of territorial units.
1.1.3. Main domestic legislation
The most relevant pieces of Slovak legislation dealing with local self-government are the following: (a) Act 369/1990, on the municipal establishment, as amended; (b)Act 346/1990, on municipal authority elections, as amended; (c) Act 138/1991 on municipal property; (d) Act 226/1996, on the territorial and administrative organisation of the Slovak Republic; and (e) Act 253/1994, on the legal status and remuneration of mayors of communities and towns, as amended.
It seems that, there is a comprehensive set of legislation on local affairs in the Slovak Republic, grounded on the Constitution, which expressly recognises local self-government. The law provides for the legal protection of local self-government.
1.2. Current features of local democracy
The local layer of government of the Slovak Republic is composed of 2871 local authorities or « communities », of which 136 have the status of « cities ». After the different meetings and interviews carried out, it is possible to point out the following features of the current situation:
1.2.1. Structure and working of local authorities
The structure and working of local authorities stem directly from the laws that have been passed since 1990. The key elements may be pointed out as follows1:
- The municipal council is the body for debate and decision-making, and its members are directly elected by the citizen of the municipalities. The number of the council members is proportional to the town’s population.
- The mayor (starosta) is the top executive authority of the municipality, and is also elected directly by the citizens for a four-year term.
- In both cases, the electoral law is based on a majority system, under which the elected members of the council or the mayor of the community are those candidates who get the highest number of valid votes in their respective constituency. Following a Constitutional Law judgment, the law on municipal elections was amended in 1998. The local elections took place on 18 and 19 December 1998 and did not suffer from any major problems concerning their fairness.
- The institutional profile of Slovak municipalities, their competences and sources of revenue is the same independently from their population.
- Citizens’ participation: in addition to the regular voting rights in local elections, citizens may vote on important questions of municipal life (local referenda), and participate in the regular meetings of local bodies and assemblies. They may also file motions and complaints against local authorities. Citizens’ participation is generally regarded as fairly appropriate.
- In addition, the law devotes specific provisions for Bratislava and Kosice, the two biggest cities in the country. As far as Bratislava is concerned, special provisions are adapted to the specificity of the city, which is not only the capital of the country, but by and large the most important city from the political, economic and social perspective. However, its sources of funding are the same as in the average city, and so are its competences, with a slight increase (fire-fighting, road-maintenance, etc.).
- The institutional structure of Bratislava is different from the other towns, due to historical reasons, since, like other large European capitals, the historic centre expanded over the centuries and eventually embraced the surrounding boroughs. Currently, the internal organization is two-fold. At the « central » level, there is a Mayor (Lord Mayor) and a Council (composed of 80 members), but there is also a second level: the town is divided into 17 districts, and in each one the above mentioned dual structure is reproduced: an executive organ (mayor) and a deliberative, decision-making organ (council, whose members range from 9 to 40). From a legal point of view, the districts of Bratislava are also considered to be local authorities and their representatives are also elected by general, direct elections. As a consequence, each citizen of Bratislava votes in the municipal elections for four representatives in the different local government bodies: (a) Lord Mayor of Greater Bratislava; (b) Mayor of the district; (c) members of the city council; and (d) members of his district. The relations between the Lord Mayor and the Mayors of the several districts are regulated by the law on Bratislava and by internal statutes. There is also a city board, comprised of 28 members. At the « central », municipal level, all local officials perform their duties without receiving a specific or regular compensation or allowance for it, with the exception of the four deputy-mayors, and the Lord Mayor. The same applies to the different districts, where the non-professional officer is the rule.
- Each district has its own budget, which is separated from the general budget of the city, and manages it in an autonomous way. The territory of Bratislava is also the seat for State administration offices, since five District offices and one Regional office can be found.
1.2.2. Realm of self-government: own and delegated powers
Under the current state of law, local authorities manage autonomously several matters. Among others:
- management of movable property and real estate owned by the municipality, or transferred temporarily by the State.
- discussion and approval of their own budgets
- administration of local taxes and fees
- supervision of economic activities
- approval of economic plans
- protection of the environment
- some aspects of education, culture and sports
- kindergarten and nurseries
- housing and town planning
- water supply, sewage, and heating
- refuse collection and disposal
- cemeteries and consumer protection
- parks and open spaces
Although local self-government is recognised in the Slovak constitution, the overall feeling that was expressed to the delegation was that the depth and width of local autonomy is still weak and insufficient. As a matter of fact, the reservations of the country to some key provisions of the ECLSG are an eloquent confirmation of that perception.
The substantial share of public affairs is clearly managed by the districts, which discharge the duties and competences of the state administration. They perform responsibilities which, according to the subsidiarity principle, should be allocated to the local authorities.
Concerning the powers delegated by the state to the local authorities, this is not an usual practice. Neither regional nor district offices usually transfer competences and duties to local self-governments.
On the other hand, the Slovak system lacks a residual powers clause in favour of local authorities. The rule is precisely the reverse, since it is provided that if a certain competence or responsibility is not expressly allocated to the municipal level of government, the power is understood to be allocated to the State administration.
1.2.3. Local authorities and the State administration
At present, the territory of the Republic of Slovakia is divided into the following layers of government: (a) the central, state administration; (b) deconcentrated administrative territorial units of the State administration: 8 regions (kraj) and 79 districts (okres); and (c) the local level. Regional and district offices discharge the duties and competences that the law allocates to the State.
The control of the State over local authorities seems to be very slack, if it exists at all. The only supervision comes not directly from the state administration (apart from a few matters, such as police and civil defence), but from the public prosecutor (prokuratura), who is a civil servant, an independent body, dependent of the Ministry of Justice. It takes care that the law is observed by individuals and public bodies. The prosecutor may « protest » in respect to decisions taken by local authorities, and bring a lawsuit before the competent court. Litigation in this field, however, is not very usual (it only happens three or four times a year). It seems that local decrees and decisions are usually drafted with care from the legal point of view, and sometimes the prosecutor himself is consulted on a preliminary basis.
Concerning the vitality of inter-administrative cooperation, it was difficult for the delegation to get a clear picture, for it heard contradictory versions. Some people complained about the lack of communication between central government and local authorities, while others stressed the existence of a comprehensive and important cooperation between the local and the regional instances. In any case, an interesting feature of the Slovak system is that, contrary to what happens in some western countries, it is possible for someone to be at the same time both a local politician and a top official of the state administration, as was the case of one of our hosts.
1.2.4. Associations of Local authorities
Local self-government bodies are entitled to freely associate with others and thus form regional or national associations. The most important association of local authorities is the « Association of towns and villages of Slovakia » (Zdrudenie Miesta a Obcí Slovenska, ZMOS). The foundation of the association dates back to January 1990, well before the creation of the new independent Slovak state. Based on the principle of voluntary adherence, ZMOS members currently include 96% of all towns in Slovakia: as 31 January 2000, out of 2917 local authorities in the country (including 136 towns and 39 city quarters of Bratislava and Kosice) 2758 local authorities were members of ZMOS (including 128 towns and 31 city quarters).
Today, ZMOS is regarded as a non-partisan organisation that defends and represents the interests of local authorities, acts as a local interlocutor with the government, and lobbies in favour of vigorous territorial decentralisation in the country.
Besides ZMOS itself, member towns and villages have created several regional associations with voluntary membership, each one having at least one representative in the council of ZMOS. The financial sources of ZMOS come from the contribution of its members.
Political negotiations and talks with the national Government are a common and important feature of ZMOS activities. According to their own sources2 the first bilateral negotiations between ZMOS and the government dates back to 1994, while in 1999 there were some forty bilateral negotiations on the highest level. That year, ZMOS was even given the right of member participation in the legislative council of the Government of the Slovak Republic.
On the other hand, the assistance provided by ZMOS was instrumental in the conception, organisation and development of the visit, and the representatives provided a warm and friendly assistance to the delegation.
The delegation drew the clear conclusion that ZMOS is the most qualified organized pressure group for representing and advancing the interests of the local authorities in the Slovak Republic, and that their managers were strongly in favour both of a full development of the ECLSG and of the establishment of a regional level of government.
1.2.5. Transfrontier co-operation
Transfrontier co-operation between local authorities is a delicate political issue in the Slovak Republic. On the one hand, individual towns and cities may establish partnerships with towns in other countries, on a voluntary basis and on the grounds of a partnership agreement. Such agreements are de facto well developed with Poland and, for obvious reasons, with the Czech Republic.
On the other hand, the country is reluctant to be bound by a comprehensive international scheme of transfrontier co-operation with specific countries. One of the reasons seems to be that this scheme could open the door to intensive transfrontier co-operation between southern Slovak municipalities and Hungarian towns. That could trigger a relevant weight of Hungarians in local matters, something which is perceived with fear from important political and popular sectors of the country. Nevertheless, this fear should not be an obstacle for the development of transfrontier co-operation. As stated above, Slovakia made a reservation to article 10, paragraphs 2 and 3 of the ECLSG. So, the local authorities do not have right to participate in European and international associations, which affects seriously their autonomy. On the other hand, however, it has signed and ratified the European Framework Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation, as well as the Amendment Protocol N°1 to this agreement (which came into force on 2 May 2000).
1.2.6. Local finances and property. Human Resources
As in many other European countries (whether western or eastern), finances are perceived by local politicians as one of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the current situation.
The main sources of income3 include, apart from non-fiscal income: exclusive local taxes and shared taxes. Namely, local authorities are entitled to the following:
Local authorities share some state taxes, such as personal income tax, corporate tax and road tax. Each city is entitled to a proportion of the revenue of some central taxes, which amounts to a guaranteed minimum level. For example, for a city of approximately 10.000 inhabitants, that amount would be approximately 16 million Slovak crowns
Subsidies and financial transfers from the state budget to local budgets. Subsidies and transfers from the central budget go to the local authorities budgets under several forms: on the one hand, there is a general purpose subsidy, but most of these transfers get the form of « earmarked » grants and purpose-oriented subsidies: special grants, subsidies for the completion of housing construction, subsidies to supplement revenues of housing management companies, investment in urban public transport, investments for development programmes, as well as other extraordinary investments. This broad category would amount to a kind of vertical equalisation.
Real estate taxes, local fees and levies
(d) exploitation of their own assets and economic activities.
(e) borrowing, which local authorities are entitled to raise without (in general) the consent or approval of the State administration.
In addition, the right to own land and real estate property is fully recognised to local authorities, and they manage them in a free way.
The current situation was diagnosed by local politicians as unsatisfactory, as far as the flexibility and sufficiency of financial resources is concerned. First, a great part of the money still comes from the state; second, there is an absence of a comprehensive system of local taxes, although they can charge fees; third, the total amount of disposable resources is not enough; fourth, the spending power of local authorities is still very small if compared to the state: local self-government handles approximately 6% of the total public expenditures, a level that is overall perceived as insufficient.
It has to be remembered that the Slovak Republic is not bound by several paragraphs of article 9 of the ECLSG, which deals with local finances.
Concerning the human resources of local authorities, each community is supposed to have its own office, consisting of administrative officials who are responsible for discharging the instructions of the mayor and other municipal bodies. In large municipalities, the municipal office is sometimes run by a “principal”, appointed by the municipal assembly, responsible to the mayor. In general, Slovak local authorities do not have enough qualified personnel. The salaries are low, and the work usually unattractive for young, qualified people.
1.2.7. Number and size of local authorities
As said above, the current number of local authorities reaches the figure of 2871, of which some 136 have the status of « city ». However, the average population of municipalities is 847 inhabitants, (the total population of Slovakia is approximately 5,4 million people) and over two-thirds of the total number of local authorities have fewer than one thousand inhabitants4.
The situation is deemed to be negative: too many local authorities, and too small, which has a negative impact on the operations and working of these bodies. Our hosts were fully aware of this situation, but there is no clear idea on how to solve the problem. They mentioned the possibility of merging several small municipalities in order to form bigger ones, more solvent and operationally fit, as well as the promotion of intermunicipal agreements and co-operation in order to share resources.
However, merging small municipalities always faces political and popular resistance from the affected constituencies. Furthermore, the total number of local authorities actually is actually increasing slightly over the years, since the splitting of municipalities is not unusual.
2. REGIONAL DEMOCRACY
As said above, for the time being there is no regional layer of government in the Republic of Slovakia. Still a unitary country, the only structures performing tasks and public services at the supra-local sphere are the deconcentrated units of the State administration. However, this situation should not last too much, in the light of the promising developments that are taking place in this field, which are explained in more detail below.
REFORMS IN PROGRESS OR FORESEEABLE
Territorial decentralisation is currently one of the most important headings on the political agenda in the Slovak Republic. Many efforts, declarations and programmes that have taken place over the last two years seem to have accelerated developments, and the existence of a full legislative agenda seems to be the best evidence that time is right.
Decentralisation is seen as part of the reform of public administration, an overall effort to re-think the executive power, to streamline the Government in order prepare it for the challenges of the coming years, especially in view of meeting definitely western political standards and to advance successfully in the super-challenge of accession to the European Union.5
From that perspective, the whole process should not be viewed as the outcome of a bottom-up political pressure, or a nation-wide popular claim. On the contrary, the external perception is that it is a somehow technocratic essay, whose final crystallisation seems unfortunately hampered by the political struggle and unpredictability inherent in any multi-colour political coalition, such as the one ruling the country. Different perceptions on the pace, depth and intensity of such decentralisation, mixed with some fears of national dismemberment, the inertia of the past and a changing political scene, prepare the path for likely, albeit uncertain tangible results in the short-term.
The Government in power has clearly defined and set out its intentions in a strategic political document, called the “Concept for decentralisation and modernisation of public administration”, supported by all the parties in the Cabinet and approved by a resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Slovakia (n° 230, 11 April 2000). Most of the foreseeable developments are anchored in that strategy.
Namely, there are plenty of legislative proposals on the political agenda. Two ministers play a key role in the formulation of the appropriate bills: the Ministry of the Interior is scheduled to prepare seven bills, while the Ministry of Finance is charged to present four bills. Apparently, those bills are inspired by the ECLSG.
Public administration reform involves two steps:
- transfer of competences from the central level to the local one, which, according to the persons interviewed, is progressing well;
- territorial, regional division, which is still delayed, and on a stand-by situation.
Today, about 90 % of the competences are discharged by the central government, which controls about 94% of the public expenditures. The objective is that 50-55% of competences should stay in the Central government, while 40% should be devolved to the regional and local government. The state would only keep supervisory powers.
An overall across-the-board change should then take place in the coming months in the Slovak Republic: the creation of a new territorial layer of government, the restructuring of the deconcentrated units of state administration, the deepening of local government autonomy, new financial relations between the state on the one hand, and regions and local authorities, on the other, etc.
1. Recent constitutional amendments
The visit of the CLRAE delegation coincided with the parliamentary discussion of an important set of constitutional amendments. Unfortunately, as the parliamentary debates were in progress during the visit to the Parliament premises, and new changes and proposals were introduced during the debates, it was not possible for the delegation to have an English version of any definite text.
Before the final vote actually took place, we were told that the reform did not affect local self-government. These amendments were more aimed at reproducing at the regional level the elements on competences and safeguards that the constitution already establishes for local government. Consequently, the delegation could not get more than an overall general description of the amendments proposed.
After the visit itself, it was possible, through English-speaking electronic news services, to have a somewhat clearer (although partial) understanding of the proposal that finally succeeded: the Parliament actually passed the revision on 23 February, after three weeks of intensive discussions. According to the amendments, the division of powers will be more effective; the Supreme Audit Office, which checks the executive branch for law violations, will have more powers; the improved constitution would grant more and better human rights for the citizens; the function of an Ombudsman has been created, who will be involved in protecting human and personal rights. The constitutional changes affect several other subjects (parliamentary immunity, the role of the central bank, etc.) but it is difficult, at least for the moment, to know exactly how the constitutional amendments would have an impact on local and regional democracy.
It can only be said that the changes were generally regarded as a means of ensuring further decentralisation, both at the local and the regional level. This assumption could be borne out by one of the few political statements dealing explicitly with this issue that has been reproduced by the electronic service, made by the Chairman of the Party of the Democratic Left, who after the final vote apparently declared not to be very happy with the amendments increasing the power of local self-government, since this wanted to keep the current dual system where all important local decisions had to be passed by a local branch of the central Government (that is, districts and regional offices).
The final result of the voting shows a radical split opinion: out of 148 people present, 90 (the required minimum) voted for the amendments, 57 against and one abstained. The governing coalition, which had 92 MPs after the last general election, lost only two votes, but the opposition, namely the Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS), voted against the amendments. The President of the Republic signed the revision on the Slovak constitution on March the 8th, 2001.
According to the media, after the constitutional changes, it seems that the top political leaders have resumed talks and negotiations in order to speed up the process of administrative reform.6 However, little or no substantial agreement has been reached for the moment.
2. Reforms in the area of local democracy
During the visit, the Slovak hosts informed the delegation that several bills had been prepared by the government to cover the different aspects of public administration reform related to local authorities: several legislative proposals in the fields of local government property and assets were mentioned, as well as a new set of budgetary rules. However, the delegation was unable to obtain precise information on these issues.
3. Reforms in the area of regional democracy
Regionalisation is a hot issue on the political agenda, and seems to be an inevitable development. The legal ground for this crucial political process is formed by the following elements:
Article 64 of the Slovak constitution foresees the existence of “higher territorial units”, whose self-administration and bodies “will be established by the Law”.
The resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Slovakia on the “Concept for decentralisation and modernisation of public administration” (n° 230, 11 April 2000) planned the drafting of several Acts on this matter.
While the consensus on the general idea seems to be unanimous, strong disagreement arises when it comes to details, and many decisions still have to be taken: the number, size, profile and boundaries of the regions, the electoral system, whether the system will be symmetric or asymmetric, and how the process will be coordinated. The idea is to have twelve regions with an average population of 450.000 inhabitants, but this idea seems to be far from being upheld by all of the coalition parties.
For the most part, regions are conceived in a rather technocratic way, and emphasis is put on the compliance with statistical requirements of the regional and cohesion policy of the European Union. This is why the debate is constantly pervaded by technical terminology (NUTS, average population and territory, etc.). It seems then that the idea of having twelve regions is more connected with Eurostat guidelines than with real political, cultural and historical background and demands. As a matter of fact, the technical data and considerations are worked out on a permanent basis with the European Commission. The delegation got the impression that the Slovak authorities give too much weight to the statistical technocratic requirements of the regional policy of the European Union to which the country would be eligible if it became member of the Union. Nevertheless, these features render the whole regionalisation process a bit technocratic and cold. A good example is the name chosen for those bodies: “Higher Territorial Units” (HTU), instead of using “Regions” or any of the names that the regional instance has had in Slovak history.
The fact is that so far, the only legal document that has come to some tangible form in this field is the draft bill on the higher territorial units, which deserves specific consideration.
By resolution n° 736, of 20 September 2000, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Slovakia asked the Minister of the Interior to submit a draft Law on the decentralised administration of the higher territorial units before 31 March 2001. Consequently, by the end of the year 2000, the Minister sent a Draft Bill on the self-government of the higher territorial units (hereinafter,“DBHTU »). In the format sent to the Cabinet, the Bill had only two articles. The first was the longest and more complex. In its 25 sections, it laid down the substantive rules governing the organisation, competences, powers, staff and resources of the Higher Territorial Units (hereinafter, “HTU”). The second article was a very short one, for it consisted of amendments and derogations triggered by the Act.
A positive aspect of the Draft Bill was that it was the outcome of what happened to be a well worked out governmental plan. On the one hand, both the “strategy of public administration reform in the Slovak Republic” and the “Concept on decentralisation and modernisation” foresaw the elaboration of a set of pieces of laws during the year 2000, and the draft bill was one of them. Another positive aspect of the draft bill is that it was directly inspired by western standards and traditions, thus showing a political will to be in harmony with the principles shared by the countries that Slovakia wishes to join the European Union.
With regard to the Regions (Higher Territorial Units, HTU), the Draft Bill depicted them as legal, moral entities:(a) endowed with directly elected organs: an assembly (art. 1, sect.11) and a president (art.1, sect.14), thus complying with article 12 of the Draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government (DECRSG); (b) enjoy “autonomy” in the disposition of their affairs (art. 1, sect.1, indent number 2), thus respecting article 3, section 1, of the DECRSG; (c) have their own competences (art. 1, sect. 4), thus fulfilling art. 4 of the DECRSG; (d) possess some kind of resources (art. 1, sect.10), an aspect which is dealt with by articles 14 and 15 of the DECRSG; (d) are endowed with rule-making power (art. 1, sect.8) thus respecting article 4, section 3, of the DECRSG; (e) can develop strong trans-frontier cooperation, by the subscription of the appropriate agreements, and even become a part of international associations (art.1, sect.6) thus fulfilling article 8 of the DECRSG (and even going beyond the Charter, which does not provide anything about the Regions being capable of joining international associations); (f) might be delegated the discharge of duties corresponding to state administration (art 1, section 5), in line with the provisions of article 5 of the DECRSG, (g) have their own administration (articles 17, 18 and 19), consequently following the requirements of art 13 of the DECRSG.
At first sight, and without prejudice to the remarks expressed below, the document seemed to establish a set of autonomous regional entities whose legal regime complies with most of the key principles of the DECRSG. However, the Draft Bill in no way consisted in a comprehensive “code” of regional government. Instead, its scope was very limited, laying down the basic elements of the institutional profile of the regions. In many key features of the Regions’ institutional regime, it referred to other Acts that would be eventually enacted during the year 2001: the Act on the property of the HTU, the Act on the elections of organs of the HTU, the Act on the allowances and pay of the presidents of the HTU are quoted in footnotes in the documents.
Moreover, the Draft Bill was absolutely silent on essential aspects of regional autonomy, either referring entirely to forthcoming pieces of legislation, or simply leaving the issue unresolved. The bill failed to specify many important features of the creation and identity of the regions, such as: their number, the constitutional process, their names and their capitals, the role or participation of the cities and villages in that process; their sources of revenues; their control by the State; or their participation in national and international affairs.
Basically, the Draft Bill on the Higher Territorial Units constituted a valuable and praiseworthy step towards the setting up of a decentralised country, especially concerning the regional level, although it had to be enriched during the parliamentary discussions. The delegation learned about the bill at the colloquy on decentralisation in December 2000 and heard pledges and promises that it would be dealt with quickly and efficiently, but when the delegation returned to Bratislava in February 2001, it was informed that the government had not even discussed it yet. However, a decision is expected after the approval of the constitutional amendments.
- Over the last years, the Slovak Republic has set up a comprehensive project of global reform of public administration, of which decentralisation is a key element. The final target is to have a streamlined government, territorially divided into three layers: (a) state administration, with a central organisation and a deconcentrated one; (b) the regional layer; and (c) the local authorities.
- These internal efforts mirror the steps which the country has taken at international level by the country on these issues: the Slovak Republic signed the ECLSG in 1999 and ratified it in the year 2000. Moreover, the country has also signed and ratified other relevant conventions.
- With regard to local self-government, it may be said that in the light of Slovakia’s recent history (especially the post-war period), taking into consideration the political and social context of the country and with due attention to Slovakia’s size, population and current political priorities, the Slovak system deserves both positive and negative assessment.
- On the positive side, local self-government is already installed as a stable, transparent and healthy element of the political landscape. Local authorities decide freely and autonomously within the domain of their responsibilities. The democratic principle is respected at a very high level, even higher than many western European countries, since both the mayors and the members of local councils are elected through different general, direct and specific elections. Furthermore, state administration is not entitled to carry out an intensive supervision or expediency control of local authorities, since the system of control is purely juridical, triggered (on rare occasions) by the public prosecutor.
- On the negative side, the realm of self-government is still small, and the set of competences and responsibilities of local authorities seems unsatisfactory to almost everyone. Local authorities do not handle a substantial share of public affairs. Furthermore, the financial resources of local governments are insufficient and are too dependent on the state transfers and aid.
- The process of administrative reform is perceived as slow and uncertain, and faces several obstacles which hamper any significant and efficient progress.
- So far, no government has been able to obtain enough power to pass decentralisation laws. It seems that almost everyone agrees on the necessity of regionalisation. However, there is limited agreement on the number, shape, profile and competences of those bodies, the future regions.
The Slovak Republic should be encouraged:
- to keep up the progress and initiatives taken so far, in order to consolidate local and regional democracy.
- to follow the legislative efforts that have been made so far, aiming at the actual establishment of regions endowed with real powers.
- to increase the competences of local authorities.
- to enhance both the financial and human resources of the local authorities.
Finally, the Slovak Republic should be encouraged to restrict the extent of the reservations made to the ECLSG.
The visit took place in two parts. First, the CLRAE delegation attended the “Colloquy on Regionalisation in the Slovak Republic”, which was held in Bratislava on the 4 and 5 December 2000. Second, the delegation made an official visit to Bratislava on 22 and 23 February 2001.
1. Colloquy on Regionalisation
The Colloquy was organised by the CLRAE in co-operation with the Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia (ZMOS). The colloquy was attended by Mr. Miljenko Doric (member of the Chamber of Regions and Rapporteur on the situation of regional democracy in the Slovak Republic), Prof. Angel-Manuel Moreno, independent expert of the Congress, Mr. Günter Mudrich (Secretary of the CLRAE Chamber of Regions) and Mrs. Artemiza Chisca (deputy-Secretary of the CLRAE Chamber of Regions), as well as Ms. Nathalie Schell (Assistant to the CLRAE Chamber of Regions) who assured the secretariat. The participation in this colloquy provided the delegation with an opportunity to obtain first- hand information on key issues in the field of regional democracy in the Slovak Republic7.
2. The official visit
The official visit took place in Bratislava on 22 and 23 February 2001. The CLRAE delegation was composed of: Mr. Miljenko Doric, Croatia (member of the Chamber of the Regions and Rapporteur), Mr. Anders Knape, Sweden (member of the Chamber of local authorities and Rapporteur on the situation of local democracy), Mr. Günter Mudrich (Secretary of the CLRAE Chamber of Regions), Ms. Irina Blonina (Deputy-Secretary of the Institutional Committee of the Chamber of Regions) and Prof. Angel-Manuel Moreno, independent expert of the Congress. During the two days, the delegation held several interviews and meetings.
PROGRAMME OF MEETINGS1 For an in-depth analysis on the structure and workings of the local self-governments in Slovakia, see: Structure and operation of local and regional democracy. Slovak Republic, situation in 1998 (report adopted by the Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy in December 1998). Council of Europe publishing. April 1999, ISBN 92-871-. See also: Nemec, J.; Bercik, P. and Kuklis, P.: Local Government in Slovakia, chapter 7 of the collective work: Decentralisation: experiments and reforms. Publs: Open Society Institute, 1999, pp. 301-342.
2 See the institutional work: 10 years of ZMOS, 2000
3 For a deeper analysis of the financial side of Slovak self-government, see: I. Miklos, Viktor Niznanský and E. Zárska: A new system of funding local government institutions, MESA 10, Bratislava, 1996. See also: Structure and operation of local and regional democracy…op, cit., pp. 25-29.
4 See some statistical data in: Structure and operation of local and regional democracy. Slovak Republic, situation in 1998 (report adopted by the Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy in December 1998). Council of Europe publishing. April 1999, ISBN 92-871, page 7.
5 For instance, at a special session on Sunday, 4 March, the Cabinet approved a draft law on state service, which would eventually come into force on January the 1st, 2002.
6 For instance, the Board of the Christian Democratic Movement has called on its MPs and Cabinet members to appeal to coalition partners to focus on immediate discussions regarding public administration reform. According to this party, the approval of the revised constitution has created conditions for the start of the reform process. Such a process and the approval of relevant bills would receive similar support within the coalition as was the case with the Constitutional Amendment (see: Slovensko.com, February the 26th, 2001)
7 For a full description of the aims, contributions, participants and conclusions of this colloquy, see: CLRAE, Chamber of Regions: Colloquy on regionalisation in the Slovak Republic (CPR/Bratislava (2000)8). Strasbourg, January 2001.