Summary: English author
compares the local governments of Canada, Austria, Belgium, Finland,
France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and
government around the world
By Matthew Tempest
Monday June 16, 2003
As John Prescott announces
referendums on the creation of three new regional assemblies for
England - with powers to be specified at a later date - for the
north-east, the north-west and Yorkshire and Humber, here is how
some of our European neighbours and transatlantic friends govern
With a federal system created by a UK act of
parliament in 1867, Canada may prove a particularly relevant example
to Mr Prescott. Although central government can officially overrule
the 10 provinces' laws, this has not happened in 50 years, and over
the past 80 years the number of provinces, and their competencies,
have grown. Provinces now raise their own taxes, control 41% of
total public expenditure, and look after health, education, social
security, prisons, law, justice, and the police.
has a tier of regional government known as the Lander, each of which
has its own constitution, parliament (Landtag) and executive, with
the second chamber of the national government consisting of Land
Despite this powerful-sounding set up, the Austrian system is
weaker than it appears. Although all competencies outside the direct
constitutional remit of the central government revert back to the
nine Lander, in practice this only covers planning law, agriculture,
youth welfare, theatre, sport and tourism.
languages, Belgium has a history of regionalism which was only
constituted into federal form in 1993. The country runs an extremely
complex form of "cooperative federalism", with three "language
communities" (French, German and Flemish), and three economic
regions (Brussels, Flanders, Walloon). The communities exercise
power over "individual" policy - health, culture, education, media,
welfare - while the regions govern economic issues and housing,
transport, planning, foreign trade and the enviˆ±ronment.
Finland is one of the few European countries with no tier of
Although the French prime minister,
Jean Pierre Raffarin, is currently trying to devolve further power
down to France's 22 regions, at present the power of the bodies,
created by President Mitterand in 1982, is limited. The "conseils
regionaux" cannot legislate, and only control around 2% of public
spending raised through minor incomes such as motor tax. Although
members are directly elected by proportional representation, each
region has a Prefet whose job is to represent the prime minister.
Probably the most devolved state in Europe. After
reunification, West Germany's 11 Lander were joined by 5 from the
former East Germany. Each has its own constitution, parliament and
executive, members are elected by additional member system, and,
perhaps most importantly, the national second chamber (Bundesrat),
which has a power of veto over the Bundestag, consists entirely of
Landers have their own judicial systems, their own
powers of primary legislation and tax raising powers, are
responsible for education, culture, safety, law & order and
ultimately control nearly 40% of public expenditure.
the most devolved governmental systems in Europe, Spain's 17 elected
and autonomous regions grew up following constitutional changes in
the late 1970s after the death of Franco. Each of these
"communidades autonomic" has its own president, executive,
parliament and high court of justice, although some have more powers
(eg tax systems, police) than the standard portfolio of education,
health, urban planning, culture, agriculture and social services.
Perhaps predictably, Italy's situation is a little chaotic -
although for a country which was only unified 130 years ago, and
still has political parties calling for reseparation, this may not
be surprising. There are 20 "regioni" (5 special, 15 ordinary).
Although they have no tax raising powers, members are elected every
five years by a list system and have responsibility for heath,
welfare, town planning, tourism, culture and agriculture.
The Dutch have 12 provinces with responsibility
primarily for traffic, public transport, town planning and the
environment. They do not have legislative powers, and raise revenue
through motor vehicle tax.
The Poles have 16 "voivodships",
created in the post-communist 1990s. Each has a directly elected
parliament, but with no tax raising powers or legislative powers.
And with a centrally-appointed governor in each acting as a
representative of the prime minister, there is little leeway beyond
strategic thinking on regional economic development.
Effectively, Portugal does not have regional government, although
the offshore territories of Azores and Madeira do have a form of autonomy.