A new typology of local government systems

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Pawel Swianiewicz Typologies of the European systems of local government are important and frequent point of reference for many scholars. But the trouble for scholars from my part of Europe is that the most popular classifications concentrate on Western part of the continent, totally disregarding the post-communist Central and Eastern Europe. After 25 years from the political turn-over and from the fall of the Berlin Wall, the numerous attempts to include the whole of Europe usually end up with putting the whole of Eastern Europe into one basket of democratizing and decentralizing societies. Such an approach could be justified in the 1990s, i.e. in the early stages of political and economic transformation, when the new local government systems were in flux, and it was difficult to find any stable patterns. But after more than 20 years, and after over decade since a group of those countries have joined the European Union, such an approach seems to be much anachronistic. Nevertheless, even relatively recent works on Heinelt and Hlepas (2006) or Loughlin et al. (2010) sustain the scheme of treating the whole group of East European countries as one, a relatively homogeneous cluster, which is considered separate from the rest of European local governments. They argue that “they are considered as a distinct group because of their historical background and in particular recent radical decentralization in these countries” (Heinelt and Hlepas) or that the group “Shares a common experience of communist dictatorship… they also share a common experience of the transition to democracy and preparation for, and accession into, the European Union [their analysis ignored countries of Eastern Europe other than those who became new member states of the EU in the 2004-2007 period – P.S.] … The legacy of that period was political systems marked by high levels of centralization and uniformity” (Loughlin et. al. 2010). My recent article “Empirical Typologies of Local Government Systems in Eastern Europe” demonstrates the weaknesses of such approach. It shows the diversified universe of the eastern part of the continent in regards to their territorial arrangements and decentralization strategies. The variation is probably not smaller than among West European countries, covered by classic typologies of Page and Goldsmith (1987) or Hesse and Sharpe (1991). The article develops a new typology of local government systems in Eastern Europe. Obviously, it is just a first step towards the integration of our knowledge on local governments across the whole Europe. The next step would be to bridge a gap between typologies covering both parts of continent, and to paint a single, coherent landscape of decentralized Europe. One may expect that this next step will be made relatively soon, and the article is one such contribution efforts of re-unification of academic research on local government studies across the whole of Europe. Pawel Swianiewicz Pawel Swianiewicz is a professor of economics at University of Warsaw, Head of the Department of Local Development and Policy at the Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies. His research and teaching concentrates on local government finance, local politics as well as territorial and decentralization reforms in Central and Eastern Europe. Adviser on local government issues to the President of Poland since 2010. Between 2005 and 2010 – President of the European Urban Research Association.

Professor Swianiewicz’s prize winning article related to this post is published in Local Government Studies 

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