Report on Regional Democracy in Hungary - CPR (9) 2 Part II
Rapporteur: Jan OLBRYCHT (Poland)
1. Introductory Note
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is proceeding to an analysis of member countries on local and regional democracy. The Chamber of Regions of the Congress in particular is monitoring the state of regional democracy in member countries. The competent Committee of the Chamber of Regions, the Institutional Committee, charged Mr Olbrycht, President of the Committee, to be Rapporteur for a report on regional democracy in Hungary.
The objective of this analysis is to bring together facts concerning the present state of regional democracy in the country, to evaluate the functioning and to propose conclusions for future developments in this field.
The report describes in the first part the functioning of the system with its different components. It proceeds to an evaluation of the system in a second part and drafts Recommendations for future actions in the conclusions.
2. Basic information
The report was prepared on the basis of information put at the disposal of the Rapporteur by Hungarian authorities, governmental and non governmental, information gathered by the Secretariat, discussions with the competent authorities in the country and an analytical study prepared by Prof. Balducci, University of Florence1. The third part was drafted with the assistance of Prof. Hans Otto Jörgensen, Denmark The starting point was a seminar on regionalisation organised jointly by the Congress and the Hungarian authorities on 8-9 May 2001. A series of interviews took place with representatives of the central Government, with members of the Parliament and representatives of Associations of local authorities (see appended list of contacts of the two missions, 9-10 May 2001 and 7-8 March 2002). A certain number of legal texts were at the disposal of the Rapporteur in English translation.
The relevant legislation concerning self-government and regional development are the following:
Art. 44/A, Para.1, (e) and (h), according to which the elected Local council has the authority to determine autonomously, within the limits of the law, its organization and the authority to issue decrees; elected local councils enjoy the right of associations.
Art. 40, Para. 3, according to which the government has the authority to control every branch of State administration.
Act LXV of 1990 on Local Governments amended by Act LXIII of 1994 concerning the intermediate level of local government, the county level; to which are assigned tasks concerning public services; the intermediate level of government has no hierarchical authority over the municipal level;
Act LXIV of 1990 on the Election of Local Self-Government Representatives and Mayors (amended by Act LXII of 1994);
Act C of 1997 on the Electoral Procedure;
Act LXXVII of 1993 on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities;
Act XXI of 1996 and amended by Act XCII of 1999 on Regional Territorial Development and Regional-Territorial Planning, establishing “Regional development councils” for territorial development;
Act XXV of 1996 on Municipal Debt Adjustment;
Act CXXXV of 1997 on Associations and Co-operation of Local Self-Governments;
Act XLI 1999 on Measures (Rules) of Procedure Altering Area Borders.
Act XCII 1999 establishing seven administrative Statistical Units.
3. General information on the country
The Hungarian State covers an area of 93.030 km² and has a population of 10.043.000 inhabitants. The capital city is Budapest with 1 812 000 inhabitants. (i.e. almost 1/5 of the total population of the country). Central Hungary (Budapest and Pest county) is the smallest area and most density populated with 2.844.000 inhabitants.
According to estimates available on the government’s official web site, in Hungary ethnic minorities account for about 10% of the total population (around 400.000/600.000 gypsies, 200.000/220.000 ethnic Germans, 110.000 Slovaks, 80.000 Croats, 25.000 Romanians, 10.000/15.000 Poles, significant minorities of Slovenes, Greek, Armenians and Bulgarians).
Hungary is characterised by a settlement structure dominated by small municipalities :
Number of Municipalities Inhabitants
103 under 100
473 100 – 300
462 300 – 500
683 500 – 1000
1721 1000 and more
Hungary is a Republic whose constitution was adopted in 1949 and essentially modified in 1989, which means that a practical new Constitution was then adopted. Hungary was the first ex communist country to join the Council of Europe in 1990; it ratified the European Charter of Local Self-government on 21 March 1994, with a declaration which was withdrawn on 8 March 2002 following the legislation on direct election of the County Assemblies.
Hungary has ratified:
The Outline Convention on transfrontier co-operation between territorial communities or authorities with declarations on Article 2 § 2 and Article 3 § 5, on 21 March 1994
The Charter of Regional and Minority Languages with a declaration concerning articles 8-14, on 26 April 1995
The Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities, on 25 September 1995
PART I: DESCRIPTION OF THE SYSTEM
4. Territorial subdivisions
The territory of the Republic of Hungary consists of administrative units including the capital, the counties, cities/towns and villages. The Capital is divided into districts. Districts may also be formed in other cities. The citizens of the villages, towns, of the Capital city and its districts, as well as of the Counties, are entitled to have local self-government. Local self-government means autonomous and democratic management of local affairs by the communities concerned and the exercise of local public authority in the interest of the population.
The Parliament may, at the request of the Body of Representatives (BR) concerned, declare a town with the population of more then 50 000 inhabitants, town/city of county rank. A town, which is county seat, is a city of county rank. A city of county rank functions as a settlement local government, but it can, within its own jurisdiction also fulfil the responsibilities and exercise the jurisdiction of the county self-government in its territory. (In a city of County rank, its General Assembly can create districts and set-up district offices).
5. Structures of local authorities
Although the report studies the functioning of regional democracy, it is necessary for the better understanding of the whole governmental system to give some basic information on local self-government in Hungary.
Local governments act independently in the public affairs of local interest belonging to their sphere of duties and jurisdiction. The settlement local governments are the local governments of the village, of the town, of the Capital and its districts. County local governments are the territorial local governments of the County and have different ranges of duties and jurisdiction then the local governments of the settlements. There is no dependence between the county and the settlement local governments. The number of self-governments in the year 2000 were:
at territorial level :
- Capital (Budapest) 1
- Counties 19
- Cities with county status 22
at local level :
- Towns 236
- Districts of Budapest 23
- Villages 2898
The local government of the Capital is a two tier local government: the Capital and the metropolitan districts are local governments with separate responsibilities and authorities as defined by law.
6. Decision-making system of local authorities
The deliberative bodies of local authorities are the bodies of representatives (or local councils). They hold sessions as needed, but at least 6 times a year, in principle in public. The Council has jurisdiction over the municipal competencies and adopts municipal decisions, regulates and administers matters that belong to the competence of the local authority. The Council can frame decrees within its competence, which however must not be in conflict with legal provisions of a higher level. The Local Council can create interest organisations with other local authorities and can within its competence, co-operate with local authorities in other countries, form associations and affiliate to international organisations of local governments. It can establish municipal institutions, enterprises, other organisations with the purpose of providing public services belonging to its range of tasks. It can also set up economic associations. The local government is a legal entity. The Council of a city of county rank and the Capital’s council are called General Assemblies. The mayor is the President of the local representative body. A part from his duties and responsibilities in local government, the mayor may exceptionally, on the basis of law or legal authorisation, perform duties of state administration and authority. The mayor is the political head and the executive body of the local authority. The Council appoints a Notary who heads the mayors’ office and takes care of the implementation of the tasks connected with the functioning of the local government. He decides in matters referred to his jurisdiction. The Office of the General Assembly of the Capital is headed by the Notary-in-Chief. The Notary exercises the employers’ rights in respect of the civil servants of the municipal office.
The Parliament regulates the legal status, mandatory tasks and functions, mandatory organs, financial resources, basic rules of assets management, legal status of the local governmental representative, procedures of elections and the rights and obligations of local governments. The Parliament determines the territorial division of the country after soliciting the opinions of the local governments involve regarding the union, separation, changing of boundaries, name and seat of counties, recognition of a city with county rights, and of the designation of the districts of the Capital. The President of the Republic, on the initiative of a local government, can decide on the granting of city status as well as on the name of a city or a community and a union, separation, changing of boundaries, of villages and towns. The Ministry of Interior prepares decisions on territorial arrangements that are within the competence of the Parliament and the President and can initiate procedures at the request of the government to dissolve local representative bodies that have acted unconstitutionally. The Ministry of Interior co-ordinates governmental tasks of municipal self-government development. The Prime Minister nominates the Heads of Offices of Public Administration of the Capital and of the Counties and supervises their activities through the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry for Agriculture and rural development is in charge of the co-ordination of territorial development planning. It is represented in the responsible territorial development bodies at the level of the development regions and at county level (Regional development Councils, County territorial development Councils).
7. National associations
The complexity of the system and the diversity of the interests of the different components are reflected in the large number of national associations of local and county authorities. Local and county authorities have the right to form associations. The national associations in this field are the following:
Hungarian National Association of Local Authorities
Association of Hungarian Local Governments
Association of Hungarian Villages
Association of Local Governments of small Municipalities
National Association of small Town local Governments
Association of Towns with County Rights
National Association of County Local Governments
No co-ordination body has been created until now, despite some attempts which have been undertaken in the past in this direction. One umbrella association exists in form of the Hungarian partnership of Local Government Associations.
8. The Regional level
The Upper-tier of local government are the counties and cities with counties status. There are 19 counties and 22 cities with county status. Beside these structures, which have a 1000 years old tradition of existence, there were created seven planning-statistical regions which are the followings:
West Trans-Danubia (Gyor-Moson Sopron, Vas, Zala counties),
Central Trans-Danubia (Veszprem, Fejer, Komarom-Esztergom counties),
South Trans-Danubia (Baranya, Domogy, Tolna counties),
Central Hungary (Budapest Capital and Pest county),
North-Hungary (Heves, Nograd, Borsod-Abauj-Zemplen counties),
North Great-Plain (Jasz-Nagykun, Hajdu-Bihar, Szabolcs-Szatmar-Bereg counties),
South Great-Plain (Bacs-Kiskun, Bekes, Csongrad counties).
County regional-territorial development Councils are the basic pillars of the regional system. The Parliamentary Act N° XXI on regional development and regional planning of 1996 allowed the County regional-territorial development Councils to set up on a voluntary basis larger, Regional development Councils. The Act modification of 1999 disposed an obligatory setting-up of the 7 Regional development Councils. The County regional development Councils and the Regional development Councils can establish Area development councils for the purpose of fulfilling certain regional development duties extending beyond the borders of the county or of the region (for example: the Balaton lake development Council).
Parliamentary Resolution n° 35 of 1998 accepted the administrative borders of the 7 planning statistical regions. The administrative border of a planning-statistical region is composed on the basis of the territory of its member counties.
The Parliament passed the Act N° XXI of 1996 on Regional Development and Regional Planning in the interest of promoting the well-balanced regional development of the country, as well as the social, economic and cultural development of its regions. The Act also aims at implementing a comprehensive regional development policy and co-ordinating the national and regional duties related to regional development and regional planning, also taking into account the regional policy of the European Union, as well as the requirements of joining its basic principles, means and institutions.
The purpose of the Act is to establish the fundamental objectives and rules of regional development and regional planning and to set up its institutional system.
This Act established two types of regional institutions :
a. Planning-statistical region
covering the territory of more counties (that of the capital), bounded with the administrative border of the counties involved, uniform planning, respectively statistic territorial unit
b. Development region
territorial unit that covers the territory of a certain number of counties (or the Capital), or a defined area of their territories to be handled as one uniform unit with respect to social, economic or environmental aspects. It must be established through free association. The associating Counties create a common organ : the Regional Development Council.
Planning-statistical regions and Development regions do not necessarily have the same territory. Institutions playing an important role in the present so-called regional system in Hungary can be derived from the Act N° XXI of 1996 on Regional Development and Regional Planning. There are the County General Assembly, the County Regional (Territorial) Development Councils and the Regional Development Councils.
The duties related to regional development and regional planning are fulfilled by the State bodies, local governments, natural persons and their organisations, business organisations, organisations safeguarding various interests and other institutions in co-operation with each other.
The Bodies of Representatives of settlement local governments can also establish, on the basis of an agreement, a “regional” (territorial) development associations operating as an independent legal entity for the co-ordinated development of communities, the creation of joint “regional” development programmes and a joint fund serving its implementation.
The association of local governments prepares the regional development conception and programme for regional development, which can be approved by the association after receiving the opinion of the Regional development Council of the county concerned.
The County General Assembly
takes a stand on the long-term regional development conception of the county, following the part of the decision of the County regional development Council which concerns the local government;
approves the regional plans of the county taking into account the opinions of the settlement local governments concerned;
expresses its opinion on the plans concerning its area of jurisdiction.
The County Regional Development Council
is a legal entity seated in the county town;
operates in the county to co-ordinate the regional development duties;
fulfils its duties related to employment policy in co-ordination with the County Labour Council;
co-operates with the settlement local governments, the regional administrative agencies which participate in the development of the county directly and indirectly, the public and professional organisations concerned and with the county labour council;
co-ordinates, in the territory of the county, the development conceptions of the Government, the local governments and their associations for regional development, within the framework thereof, it prepares and approves the long-term regional development conception of the county and prepares the financial plan for the implementation of the development programmes and concludes agreements with the ministries concerned on the financing of the individual county development programmes;
decides on the use of funds delegated to its competence and on the implementation of development policies within the framework of a competitive system, taking into account the regional development conception of the county.
The County Regional Development Council establish, with the participation of its members and of those who are directly affected and on the basis of its own decision or the proposal of a Minister, a Committee for the management of the social and economic crises in certain regions.
The members of the County Regional Development Council are:
The Chairman of the County General Assembly;
The Mayor(s) of the town(s) of county rank located in the territory of the county;
A representative of the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development;
Three representatives of local governments associations for regional development operating in the county;
The leader of the Agriculture Office of the county;
The leader of the Regional Committee for Tourism.
The Chairman of the General Assembly of the County assures the chairmanship of the County Regional Development Council.
The representatives of the Regional administrative Agencies concerned by regional development and regional planning, the regional chambers of economy as well as the Head of the Public Administration Office of the County is invited to the meetings of the County Regional Development Council on a permanent basis.
The Regional Development Council
The elaboration of the regional development conception as well as other tasks regarding regional development in the planning-statistical regions are fulfilled by the Regional Development Council.
The County Regional Development Councils and the Regional Development Councils can establish Area Development Council for the purpose of fulfilling certain regional development duties extending beyond the borders of the county or of the region (for the Balaton lake area).
The Regional Development Council as well as the Area Development Council are legal entities.
The County Regional Development Councils concerned or the Metropolitan local government have to agree on the scope of duties to be fulfilled by the Regional Development Council, on the way to cover its operating costs, on its seats and its detailed activities. They also fix together the financing of development programmes.
Members of the Regional Development Council are:
The Chairmen of the County Regional Development Councils operating in the area of jurisdiction of the Council;
Representatives of the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ministers of the Interior, Environmental Protection, Economic Affairs, Transportation, Communications and Water Management, Social and Family Affairs, Health, Education, Youth and Sport, and the Minister for Finances;
Representatives of the Associations of local governments for regional development concerned (one from each county);
Mayors of the cities of county rank;
President of the Regional Committee for Tourism responsible in the region.
The representatives of the Associations of local governments for regional development can speak in the Regional Development Council but only one per association has the right to vote in the course of negotiating the development programmes affecting their regions. Certain members of the Government can participate in the council’s work with the right to speak but without a vote.
The territorial authorities of the State can participate in the execution and control of implementation of the governmental duties related to regional development and regional planning, as well as in the co-ordination of regional development and regional planning by providing professional assistance and information and carry out official inspection.
Supervision of Local and Regional Administration
Fundamental regulations regarding the investigations of local self-governments are included in the Constitution and the Act on Self-governments.
The Public Administration Office
The Government is following and controlling the lawfulness of local self-governments through the 20 Public Administration Offices, in the Capital and in the Counties, with the assistance of the Minister of Interior.
Public Administration Offices are budgetary organs that perform State administrative functions in four main areas
supervision of legal regulation,
assignment of state administrative tasks in the first instance,
appellate functions in the second instance,
co-ordination of the activities of local governments and of administrative organs subordinated to the central government.
The Head of the Public Administration Office acts as an appellate body in administrative cases if the first stage of appeals has been completed through the Mayor, the Lord Mayor, the President of the County Assembly, the Head of Office of the district of a city with country rights, the Notary or the Notary-in-chief if the case does not require the authority of another particular state administrative organ.
If an illegal decision is taken by a local or regional authority, the Head of the Public Administration Office asks the authority in question to take measures to observe the law within the specified time limit. If the authority fails to terminate the violation of the law, the Head of the public administration office can:
call the representative body’s meeting to take measures to change the decision;
bring the decision to court (if the decision is a resolution);
initiate an investigation to identify the responsible persons in this issue;
apply to the Constitutional Court (if the decision is a decree) and request to examine and nullify the decision if the constitutional provisions have not been observed.
Only Courts can nullify the decisions of the municipalities.
By express provision, the principle of self-government does not apply to delegated powers, which are exercised not by elected local authorities but by an official, the Notary, who takes decisions in such matters without the municipal council having any right to intervene. An appeal against decisions by the Notary in matters coming under the State’s own authority lies to the Head of the Public Administration Office (the state supervisory authority), who is empowered to annul, modify or reconsider such decision.
The State Audit Office
Not the legality but the financial management of local self-government is audited by the State Audit Office.
The Act N° XXXVIII of 1992 on Public Finances stipulates that the Office regulates the utilisation and accounting of normative budgetary contributions, aid allocated for specific objective, consigned funding and other allocations deriving from public finances.
The local government looks after the financial supervision of its own institutions and also provides for the internal control of its economic management through a controller with qualifications specified in a legal provision. The financial committee has to play an important role in economic control. The local government of the counties, towns of county rank, the Capital and the districts of the Capital can commission an auditor and have to publish their annual report.
The Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court protects the rights of self-government, oversees the legality of local authority activities and exercises constitutional control over local government decrees at the request of the public administration office. The Constitutional Court has the right to abolish decrees that do not comply with the constitution.
A Court can rule on the findings of supervision of lawfulness regarding any violation of law. (The Public Administration Office is not entitled to declare the decision of a self-government void or to amend it). The local representative body violating the law can be dissolved by the Parliament.
Local Territorial Finances
The local government offers public services. It disposes of its own property and manages its budgetary revenues and expenses independently.
The local governments budget is part of the national public finance system. It is distinct from the State budget, but is linked to it with State subsidies and other budgetary ties.
Local governments provide the means of fulfilling their duties from own revenues, from assigned central taxes, from revenues taken over from other economic organisations, from the normative/trend setting contributions of the central budget, as well as from State subsidies.
The most important local governments own revenues are:
local taxes/rates assessed and levied by the settlement’s local government, in a way laid down in an Act;
profits, dividends, interest and rents resulting from its own activities, from undertakings and from the yield of the local government property,
duties, in accordance with the provisions of a specific Act;
transferred funds received;
a proportion – set in a separate legal provision – of the fines for violating environmental protection and monument protection rules imposed on the territory of the local government,
revenues from the sale of hunting licences in the administrative territory of the local government.
Pursuant to the authorisation and provisions of the Act n° C of 1990 on Local Taxes, the settlement Body of Representatives may, within its area of jurisdiction, introduce local taxes by way of a decree.
The City Council of Budapest can issue decrees on the introduction of local taxes, with due consideration of the opinion of the representative bodies of the 23 districts.
Settlement local governments are entitled to introduce by way of a decree:
taxes levied on property,
communal taxes and,
local business taxes.
A settlement local government can issue a local tax decree to regulate procedural matters, which are not regulated by the Act on the Rules of Taxation. Local taxes are collected through the local tax office.
The Act on Local Government and the Act on Local Taxes do not entitle the Counties to levy a local tax.
PART II: EVALUATION
The Hungarian system of local self-government is characterised by the following elements:
1. Local self-government is organised in a two tiers structure. A strong local and a weak county level without any hierarchical relations between the two. Local government has inquired a status with a very high degree of autonomy, disposing a large range of self-government competencies. Local government can provide any public service, which is not confirmed by law explicitly for other institutions. It has mandatory as well as voluntary tasks. Mandatory tasks concern all local public affairs, such as water supply, basic education, health and social services. Tasks can also be transferred by central government. Municipalities can define which services they want to perform and which not. Those, which they do not want to assure, must be taken over by the counties.
The question can be put if local governments have too much power. They can keep tasks and activities, which are financially well founded and leave tasks without an appropriate financial framework to the counties.
2. It seems that Counties’ exclusive tasks are not all defined by law, but some of them are defined in the Act of Local Self-Government of 1990 (§ 70). Generally, the counties assure services for a larger area then the municipality. It can be stated that rights and obligations have been asymmetrically defined for municipalities and counties. The Counties have to transfer competences to the municipalities if they ask for it in conformity to legislation. On the other side, Counties have to assure a task if the municipality does not want to assure it. This regulation has caused serious financial difficulties for the Counties, which are obliged to assure inefficient and costly facilities or tasks.
Since 1994, specific mandatory – but not exclusive – tasks have been defined for Counties, which are spatial and environmental planning and information systems as well as the promotion of tourism. The self-government structures at County level are weak: the competences are restricted to secondary functions. The 22 Towns with County status are completely independent from the surrounding county, taken out from their political sphere of influence. Although the County General Assembly is directly elected since 1994 (and the President is elected from among its members), the self-government competencies, facilities and administrative structures are not of convincing character.
Counties are considered as important elements of the Hungarian history and its identity. The reduction of their importance after the transition in 1990 weakened their role. Their existence however should be considered as an important factor in the discussion on setting up strong regional self-government structures.
3. Beside the two types of local government, the municipalities and the counties, there is in full evolution the third level of governmental action, the level of the Development and Planning Regions. County development Councils exist in each region, allocating important financial means to development projects.
Following the preparations of Hungary for EU membership, the County level has been considered as too small and was classified as NUTS III units. For planning, programming, financing and supervising of EU funded regional development policies, it was considered necessary to have larger units replying to mechanisms of the EU Structural Funds support. Therefore, 7 larger Development regions have been created, which coincide with the Planning-statistical regions.
As the coincidence of EU eligible regions with regional self-government structures is not obligatory, these Development and planning regions are dominated by central government structures. The experience has shown however that EU support by Structural Funds has been the most efficient in regions with government or self-government structures.
The 7 NUTS II regions in Hungary form the basis for co-operation structures between central government and local/county self-government representatives. Since 1999, Regional development Councils for the 7 regions are mandatory and their rights and competencies are strengthened since then. Regional and County development Councils are corporative bodies, the members of which are delegated representatives of central government ministries and agencies, of local authorities and of economic organisations. Central government influence is considered to be strong in these development councils.
Strong central state representation
Central State Administration is present at all levels. Not only exist 19 Public Administrative Offices at county level, but there are also a great number of deconcentrated administrative units of the different national ministries represented at local, at County level as at the level of territorial planning regions. This makes decision-making process heavy and the administration costly.
Present discussion on the establishing of regions
The present discussion on the creation of regions and regional self-government structures can be characterised by the following approaches:
1. Strengthening of the 7 development planning regions based on counties, as public administrative units. As these regions will be the basic elements for regional development policies in Hungary and the management of EU Structural Funds, the question will come up in what way the planning regions will have to be further developed and if they could be equipped in the long run with self-government competencies and appropriate resources. Recent decisions have shown that there is a tendency to strengthen these units.
Development regions exist and they are operational as far as regional planning is concerned. They became necessary since structures for the management of European Union regional development funds had to be created. As there were no other operational structures at the appropriate level, the State undertook to organise these planning regions. These structures represent today a platform of effective co-operation and co-ordination between the local and county self-government structures and the State and other competent non governmental bodies concerned with regional planning and territorial development. As the EU requirements for operational planning regions do not include the creation of democratic self-government structures for their management, it was the State which organised these structures having automatically a strong position in the decision-making process.
It seems that the Regional development Council is an effective operating body for regional planning and development. But it is not representing the people. It has no control mechanism set up by an elected responsible body. The creation of development regions strengthened the role of the State in the field of regional planning. Developing this level would mean to create democratic structures for the seven planning regions to define clearly their competencies, to allocate appropriate financial means and resources and to reduce the influence of the central government bodies by delegating competencies to self-government authorities.
2. The second approach in the discussions is the strengthening of the existing Counties with their regional identity and history (of more than 1000 years) and to transfer to them all competencies for regional planning. This structure however would need the organisation of a strong and efficient inter-County co-operation. In this case, it would be necessary to further develop the fields of competencies of the Counties to clearly define their relationship with the local authorities and the State and to assure the necessary budgetary resources so that the County authorities could exercise their functions and responsibilities independently from State subsidies. As the number of 19 Counties seems to be quite high for a country of this size, a regrouping of counties could be envisaged. With the necessary incentives offered by the State it could be possible to bring several counties together to form a larger unit of a new county so that the final structure of this level could approach the number of the existing planning regions.
The question was also brought up if Hungary needs the development of a third (supplementary) administrative level, based on NUTS II planning regions or if the country could organise its development programme conform to EU Structural Funds standards on the basis of NUTS III County units.
3. A third alternative has been mentioned : the creation of a new regional level based on the regrouping of counties in larger units united with the Towns with county status. The 22 cities with county status have to be integrated into the process of setting-up new regional structures for the country. It seems that they feel at present quite independent excepting just the control of the Parliament. It seems also that the number was progressing in the past as this status is attractive for a city to reach. The co-operation of these cities in a reform project is necessary. They could be integrated into the regrouped and reduced number of counties with self-government structures equipped with proper financial resources and regional development competencies. A certain number of these cities could become the seat of the future county government institutions.
The major question for the future will be if the regional level will become a third administrative level on the top of the existing municipalities, cities and counties or if a “regional” level will have to be further developed with the view to replace the existing counties. Hungary, as a relatively small country, can hardly have efficient administrative structures or four levels.
A decision on the number of administrative tiers will have to be taken in future. Can the functions of the Counties be transferred to the larger Development and planning regions or shall the Counties be built up for assuring regional development tasks. In this case, a possible regrouping and combining of a limited number of counties with the same development objectives would be necessary.
From the point of view of the promotion of self-government, both structures could be further developed in this respect. The counties however dispose already self-government structures and competencies while the Development and planning regions would need considerable further reforms to come closer to those structures.
In the long-term programme of the government, the idea of the political regionalisation of the country was included. However it is not foreseeable that the present government will go forward in this field before the next elections in April 2002.
It should also be recalled that any governmental reform project will need a large political support and consensus between the political parties represented in the national Parliament as certain decisions will need for some of the reform projects at least a 2/3 majority in Parliament.
The Congress can therefore formulate its Recommendations in the perspective of giving guidelines to the next government, which, as the Rapporteur hopes, will then envisage a basic administrative reform to set up operational self-governmental regions in a rational and effective organised administrative national structure. Hungary will have to follow with this exercise the successful regional and administrative reforms undertaken in other European countries.
PART III: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
At present, regional democracy in Hungary does not seem to be fully developed to a level corresponding to the situation in a number of other European countries which approximately – regarding population and size – can be compared to Hungary.
This situation seems to be the result especially of the following conditions:
Regional tasks and competences ( “regional” widely understood ) are spread between a considerable number of authorities, i.e. first the Counties, secondly the Cities with county status, thirdly the 7 planning regions and fourthly a number of deconcentrated national authorities. Only the first 2 of these are governed by elected representatives with a regional or local mandate from the voters in the respective area while the others represent national interests or act as national-regional coordination institutions.
The present Counties, which are indisputably governed by elected representatives, have a weak position. This is partly due to the fact that none of their tasks are defined as exclusive but at any time can be taken over by local authorities (both Cities with county status and even municipalities) and partly because their competence areas do not include the 22 cities which have been granted county status. Finally, because a number of tasks of a regional kind today are managed by national (deconcentrated) authorities/agencies.
It seems reasonable to assume that the situation can result in the loss of administrative efficiency, unnecessary bureaucracy and, in a number of cases, unclear competence demarcations and overlapping performance of tasks.
From a (regional) democratic point of view, it can also be asserted that the situation does not harmonise with at least some of the principles in the European Charter of local self-government and the draft Charter of regional self-government, in particular the included subsidiarity principle.
In the rapporteur´s opinion the Congress should therefore draw the attention of the Hungarian authorities to the following viewpoints and suggestions:
The need for a democratic revitalisation of regional government in Hungary should be considered seriously in the light of the evaluations and conclusions in this report. It should be fundamental principles in this regard that a substantial part of public regional tasks are governed by elected assemblies, which are directly politically responsible to the voters in the respective areas, that their tasks moreover are clearly defined, and that they can dispose of sufficient (preferably own) resources concerning the performance of their tasks.
There seems to be 2 alternative structural possibilities to carry out such a revitalisation, i.e.:
Either a maintenance of the present counties or at least the major part of these as the basis for future regional democracy in the country, but possibly so that certain limited tasks, including possibly the implementation of EU financed infrastructure programmes, can be performed by associations of Counties or the like which are pertaining to public law and governed by representatives elected by the councils of the participating Counties among their members.
Or a more comprehensive structural reform that reduces the present number of counties considerably, e.g. corresponding to the 7 present planning regions.
Irrespective of which structures mentioned under b) are chosen, at the same time it should be considered – also to strengthen the financial and administrative capacity of the regional authorities – in the legislation to define a number of regional tasks as being both mandatory and exclusive and to assign the cities with county status (or at least some of them) to the jurisdiction of the regional authorities.
It should also be considered which of the tasks and competences that today are performed by deconcentrated national authorities could in the future be performed by regional or even municipal authorities.
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1 See doc CPR/INST (8) 7