The present book seeks to provide a general overview of local government across the European Union (EU). It does not pretend to perform an in-depth or comprehensive analysis of all dimensions of local authorities, as such an attempt would entail an encyclopaedic effort. The purpose of this collective book is more limited and humble: to present the basic and structural lines of local government, following the conceptual thread of self-government or local autonomy.
Therefore, this book is designed primarily for those who wish to have a clear and synthetic presentation of the legal scheme governing local government in the present 27 EU member states. Heavy or too sophisticated dogmatic questions are intentionally avoided, not only for lack of space, but also because the purpose of the book is different and it is conceived as a sourcebook rather than as a treatise.
The perspective of the book is a legal one, although references are made, where needed, to historical or political factors, which will help the reader in understanding better the regulations in place within each country. As a matter of fact, the Law is never an abstract entity, but the concretisation of several historical, political and sociological elements.
The legal situation of local government in each of the current 27 member states of the EU is presented in a short, up-to-date and synthetic manner, thus providing a quick overview of the foremost elements in the legal scheme governing local authorities across Europe. Moreover, for each country sources of additional information (specialised bibliography, landmark court cases, useful internet resources) are provided for the reader who would like to go further in the study of this exciting subject.
This is a comparative legal analysis whose geographical scope is limited to the EU. The reason for this selection is two-fold: on the one hand, covering the whole group of «European» countries (a murky notion anyway) would have entailed much more time, money and effort for this project. On the other hand,
the member states of the EU form a constitutional-political union in which literally all major features of the public sector and governmental organisation become more and more intertwined. The fact that the EU is a union of States (eine Staatverbund, in German terminology) does not mean that the whole integration process is indifferent to the «lower» layers of territorial government. Quite the opposite is true: local government plays a significant role within the EU (e.g., in the implementation of many European legal rules), a structure that proclaims subsidiarity as one of its key conceptual pillars.
Moreover, the Union projects a long shadow over almost every aspect of the day-to-day lives of thousands of local authorities around Europe, as legal scholars have already well analysed and documented. Just to mention some of these repercussions, it is worth noting, to begin with, that local authorities are the real (and sometimes only) addressees of many European directives and regulations, in fields such as transport, environmental protection or public procurement, among others. Second, they have a specific voice in the decision-making process of the EU, namely through the Committee of the Regions and through some European Parliament special committees. Third, local authorities play a key role in the implementation of several cohesion and structural funds, of which they are some of the most important recipients.
Finally and most importantly, the deep financial and budgetary crisis that is sweeping Europe is already triggering dramatic changes in the number, size and types of local authorities, in a desperate need to control the deficit and provide more efficient governmental structures. Fusions, mergers and amalgamations of various sorts, the deepening of inter-municipal cooperation, etc. are in the front line of political discussions and on the front page of every European newspaper, on a daily basis. All these elements are now taking place as consequences of the current fate that the EU is currently facing, so the «Brussels problems», at the end of the day, end up affecting our little villages in the mountains, or the human and financial resources of our massive city districts. This is why each chapter includes a specific section aimed at analysing the relationship between the local authorities and the EU.
The reasons behind the publication of this collective book are clear and...