Executive Summary

The final report of the LAI 2.0 project presents the methodology, the data gathered and some first results of the project “Self-rule index for local authorities in the EU, Council of Europe and OECD countries, 1990-2020” (Tender 2019CE16BAT176). The aim of the present mandate, which is named “LAI 2.0”, is to update and refine the existing data, from 1990 up to 2020, increase the number of countries covered, by including the European Union (UE) Member States as well as those of the Council of Europe (CoE), and of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and to include additional variables to measure possible effects of local autonomy and to assess multilevel governance.

The 57 countries covered are all 27 EU member states together with 44 CoE member states (missing are Azerbaijan, Monaco and San Marino) as well as 36 OECD member states (New Zealand is missing, as is Costa Rica who joined the OECD in May 2021 when the project was already ongoing). Additionally, Argentina, Belarus as well as Kosovo and South Africa have been included. The years covered are 1990 to 2020.

To accomplish the task, we brought together a team of researchers familiar with the situation in the respective countries. The experts were requested to code their countries on the basis of a coding scheme which was developed by the project leaders and the country group coordinators. The code book draws upon theoretical considerations, empirical studies as well as basic ideas of the European Charter of Local-Self-Government. The final results were reviewed by two external experts.
This report presents the data and first findings of the project. First, it presents the results for the eleven variables as well as simple additive measures of self-rule (SR), interactive rule (IR) and local autonomy (LA) for the years 2015-2020. These variables can be used for further research in their own right. Second, we reduce complexity measured by the eleven variables to seven dimensions of local autonomy and look at the overall developments of said dimensions and the LAI for all 57 countries across 30 years (1990-2020). Finally, we look at the determinants and implications of the LAI by observing correlations between the LAI and size and number of local governments, their affiliations to the EU, CoE and OECD, as well as grouping them according their politico-administrative systems. We also examine the relationship between Local Autonomy Index and the Regional Authority Index and confront our index and the different dimensions with other indices of decentralisation.

When we look at the individual LAI scores per country, on the average level, there has not been much evolution in the past six years (2015-2020). The biggest increases are Portugal and Norway, whereas the biggest decreases are to be found in Austria and Poland. The Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland belong to the highest scoring group together with Switzerland, France and Liechtenstein. There is also a group of countries in which local autonomy is very low. The countries here are Cyprus, Malta, Israel, Belarus, the Russian Federation and Moldova.

Regarding the development over 30 years of all 57 covered countries, there has been a general and progressive increase across all dimensions. When looking at the development of the LAI itself, we can observe a higher increase in the first decade, gradually slowing down and stabilising towards 2020. Over thirty years, the LAI has increased around 7-8%, that is +7.92 for 39 countries and +6.77 for the total of 57 countries.

When considering population, size and number of local governments, we find no correlations between this data and the LAI. We do observe a difference in scores for the various dimensions and the LAI depending on the affiliation of countries to the EU, CoE and OECD. The former two groups show a stronger increase over time but the OECD member states as a group remain the highest scorers. Federalist countries do not seem to have more autonomous municipalities. Compared to non-federalist countries they have a little bit more financial and organisational autonomy but less legal autonomy.

On the implication side, based on the supplementary data we collected, we see that local autonomy could have a positive impact on citizen’s satisfaction with services and democracy as well as on their political trust. We also observe a correlation between local autonomy and the implication of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. There are also slight correlations of the LAI (N=39) with the RAI self-rule index. The LAI somewhat correlates with the part of local governments’ own tax in percent of general government tax income but does not correlate quite as much with the percentage of non-central government spending, at least not at a significant level. Financial autonomy correlates with both of the fiscal decentralisation indicators we used, as was expected.

Although this LAI 2.0 projects led to these interesting results, some limits emphasised by the external control should be mentioned, concerning the units of analysis, the units of aggregation, the overall index and the coding process. Despite these remarks, which are interesting avenues to take into account to further improve the results in future releases, the external experts reached the conclusions that the methodology is solid, the comprehensive set of variables, indicators and dimensions are relevant to measure the local autonomy, and the results plausible. The conceptualisation and operationalisation of local autonomy proved to travel well beyond the European continent. Additionally, the detailed country reports (in Appendix) are an additional and strong value added to the codification process.

We hope that the local autonomy index, which now includes a large number of new countries on five continents and a development over thirty years, will be a springboard to academics and policy-makers for a more comprehensive and empirically based understanding of local autonomy and its development over time.