International Comparative Research on Local Autonomy


Africa : ZA / America: US, CA / South America : AR, CL, CO, MX / Australia : AU / Asia : IL, JP, KR


Local autonomy is a highly valued feature of good governance. The continuous attempts of many countries to strengthen the autonomy of local government shows the importance given to decentralisation and reinforcing competences at the lowest level of a state. This project is an extension and update of the “Self-rule index for local authorities in the EU, 1990-2014”, applying the comprehensive methodology to 57 countries over 30 years (1990-2020), including almost all EU, CoE and OECD member states. A network of experts on local government assessed the local autonomy of their respective countries based on a common code book, which has been updated to include more precise measures of local autonomy. We also collected supplementary data to better understand the determinants and implications of local autonomy. The eleven variables measured are located on seven dimensions and can be combined to a “Local Autonomy Index” (LAI). The data shows an increase of local autonomy between 1990 and 2020, especially in the Central and Eastern European countries. Countries with a high degree of local autonomy include the Nordic countries, Switzerland, France, Portugal and the USA.

The Project


LAI 1.0 Project

From October 2014 to November 2015, an initial project, entitled “Self-rule index for local authorities in the EU, 1990-2014” (LAI 1.0) and procured by the European Commission through contract No 2014.CE.16.BAT.031, was carried out by the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP), University of Lausanne, Switzerland. The mandate aimed at creating a comprehensive measure of local autonomy for European countries covering the period from 1990 to 2014. The project analysed 39 European countries and reported changes between 1990 and 2014, and the eleven variables measured were located on seven dimensions and combined to a “Local Autonomy Index” (LAI).

Ladner A., Keuffer N., Baldersheim H. (2015). Final report. Publications Office of the European Union.

The value of the results and of the data gathered within this fruitful collaborative research conducted across Europe was recognised by both practitioners and academic scholars. The LAI has been used to test the effects of local autonomy on local democracy/efficiency, to develop typologies of local government systems, or to serve as a conceptual model to assess local autonomy at subnational levels.

Ladner, A., Keuffer, N., Baldersheim, B., Hlepas, N., Swianiewicz, P., Steyvers, K. and Navarro, C. (2019). Patterns of Local Autonomy in Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


LAI 2.0 Project

A second project, which we named “LAI 2.0”, aimed at following up the comparative analyses of local autonomy, its developments over time, causes, and effects. Conducted from 2020, it has also been supported by the European Commission (call for tender 2019CE16BAT176).

The aim of the mandate was to: update and refine the existing data, from 1990 up to 2020; increase the number of countries covered, by including the European Union (EU) Member States as well as those of the Council of Europe (CoE), and of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); include additional variables to measure possible effects of local autonomy and to assess multilevel governance.

As the methodology of the first study has proved to be relevant, valid and usable, we have re-conducted a similar organisation and have relied on the same coding scheme as in the LAI Release 1.0, with some adaptations. It has been conducted once again by the IDHEAP as the Leading House and by relying on a broad network of local government specialists, which makes such a demanding study possible and guarantees the quality of the deliverables.

The tender specifications of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG Regio) requested the country profiles and datasets as well as a final report in which the methodology and the main results were to be presented.

Ladner A., Keuffer N., Bastianen A. (2021), Local Autonomy Index in the EU, Council of Europe and OECD countries (1990-2020). Release 2.0. European Commission.

Experts Involved

Project leaders


Prof. Andreas Ladner

Dr. Nicolas Keuffer


Alexander Bastianen