The Project

This report presents the methodology, the data gathered and some first results of the project “Self-rule Index for Local Authorities” (Tender No 2014.CE.16.BAT.031). Conducted from October 2014 to November 2015, this study aimed at creating a “Local Autonomy Index” (LAI) to analyse and report changes in the extent of decentralisation in countries of the European Union. The measure of decentralisation had to go beyond recording the share of funds managed by local authorities and should capture the extent to which local authorities also have a say in how these funds are spent.

The 39 countries covered are all 28 EU member states together with the three European Economic Area (EEA) countries (Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein) plus Switzerland, member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Additionally, Albania, Macedonia, Moldova, Georgia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine have been included. The years covered are 1990 to 2014.

The overall challenge of the project was to produce reliable and comparable data in a relatively limited period of time. In some countries, for example, it was not self-evident which state level to take into account, and in some countries not all local units enjoy the same degree of autonomy. To accomplish the task, we brought together a team of researchers familiar with the situation in the respective countries. Collaboration with the COST action IS1207 Local Public Sector Reform allowed us to access the necessary network of experts.

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 (see "The Experts involved"). The code book draws upon theoretical considerations, empirical studies as well as basic ideas of the European Charter of Local-Self-Government. The coding was also expected to follow as far as possible the methodology of the Regional Authority Index (RAI) by Hooghe/Marks and Schakel (2010). The code book contains 11 variables: institutional depth (ID), policy scope (PS), effective political discretion (EPD), fiscal autonomy (FA), financial transfer system (FTS), financial self-reliance (FSR), borrowing autonomy (BA), organisational autonomy (OA), legal protection (LP), administrative supervision (AS) and central or regional access (CRA). The former eight variables are subsumed under the term self-rule (SR), the latter three under the term interactive rule (IR). Two variables (PS and EPD) consist of 12 components.

The consistency of the coding was checked in three steps: for each country whether the variables fit into the overall pattern of the country, within groups of countries whether the countries fit into the overall pattern of the country groups and for all countries for outliers on each variable and for the total value. Furthermore, several meetings have been organised in order to improve and to clarify the coding procedure and discuss preliminary results. The final results were reviewed by two external experts.

This report presents the data and first findings of the project. In a first part (section 5.1), 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). In general, we concentrate on the overall trend (mean values for all countries) over time and selected years for all countries. The variables provide insights into specific aspects of local autonomy and variations across countries and over time. These variables can be used for further research in their own right. In a second part (section 5.2) we reduce – on grounds of theoretical and empirical considerations – the complexity measured by the eleven variables to seven dimensions of local autonomy: legal autonomy (D_LA), policy scope (D_PS), effective political discretion (D_EPD), financial autonomy (D_FA), organisational autonomy (D_OA), central or regional control (D_CRC) and vertical influence (D_VI). On the basis of these seven dimensions we then suggest the construction of an index of local autonomy (D_LAI) which takes into account that not all of these dimensions are of equal importance. In two final sections (5.3 and 5.4) we combine the Local Autonomy Index with the Regional Authority Index and confront our index and the different dimensions with other indices of decentralisation.

We see this report and the concomitant datasets as a platform for further research, not as a final product. For example, some of the coding of some of the countries might lead to discussions and modifications. New countries may be added and further updates may follow. Furthermore, the selection of dimensions of local autonomy and the construction of an overall index of local autonomy may be refined in the light of new research. We therefore prefer to denote this version of the report including the data base as a ”first release”. The index shall be referred to as “Local Autonomy Index, Release 1.0”.