Local Government in Hungary

Author:Angel-Manuel Moreno

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1. Brief historical evolution

After a long tradition of autonomy of the royal counties and «free royal municipalities» rooted in the medieval ages, the idea of modern local and regional self-government appeared in Hungary before the civic revolution of 1848, when the feudal monarchy came to an end. Nevertheless, the first local government laws were passed only after the so-called Compromise of 1867, which [c48][c56][c57][c44][c45][c4f][c4c][c56][c4b][c48][c47][c03] [c57][c4b][c48][c03] [c47][c58][c44][c4f][c4c][c56][c57][c03] [c50][c52][c51][c44][c55][c46][c4b][c5c][c03] [c52][c49][c03] [c24][c58][c56][c57][c55][c4c][c44][cef][c2b][c58][c51][c4a][c44][c55][c5c][c03] [c44][c51][c47][c03] [c53][c55][c52][c59][c4c][c47][c48][c47][c03] [c53][c52][c4f][c4c][c57][c4c][c46][c44][c4f][c03] autonomy for Hungary in her inner government. Act No. XLII of 1870 founded municipal and county self-governments with elected councils. Another act of Parliament also recognised the self-government of communities for smaller settlements.1

These pieces of legislation basically established a two-tiered system of local government in which the municipalities, depending upon their size and capacity, had the different legal statuses of boroughs and communities, while county governments (63 since 1886) existed at the regional level. This dual-level structure of local government2was retained during the existence of [c24][c58][c56][c57][c55][c4c][c44][cef][c2b][c58][c51][c4a][c44][c55][c5c][c03][c0b][c14]???[c10][c14]?[c14]?[c0c][c0f][c03][c4a][c55][c44][c47][c58][c44][c4f][c4f][c5c][c03][c48][c5b][c57][c48][c51][c47][c4c][c51][c4a][c03][c57][c4b][c48][c03][c56][c46][c52][c53][c48][c03][c52][c49][c03][c4f][c52][c46][c44][c4f][c03][c44][c51][c47][c03] regional administration and, through these organisations, the role of government.

After World War I, the territory of the country was dismembered to a great extent by the Peace Agreement of 1919. But, in spite of the tremendous loss of territory, through which the number of counties was reduced from 63 to 25, the actual borders of the remaining counties were not changed, waiting for their

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reunification. The county system was rationalised only in 1950, when the Communist regime introduced a Soviet-type council system changing the borders of the restructured 19 counties. The new arrangement of regional and local administration consisted of a highly centralised, two-and-a-half-tier system. At the basic level, local councils possessed the general competence of public administration. Their number was gradually reduced, as in the 1960’s and 1970’s a great number of municipalities (usually small villages) were merged into larger units, thereby losing their own councils.

The traditional counties, as territorial self-governments, were also transformed, with the creation of the county council also modelled on the Soviet pattern. The 19 county councils were the extended arm of central departments at the regional level, mediating the central government’s policy towards the local councils.

From 1950 to 1971, between the local and the county councils, approxi-[c50][c44][c57][c48][c4f][c5c][c03] [c14][c17][c13][cef][c14]?[c13][c03] [c56][c52][c10][c46][c44][c4f][c4f][c48][c47][c03] [c47][c4c][c56][c57][c55][c4c][c46][c57][c03] [c46][c52][c58][c51][c46][c4c][c4f][c56]3([c4d][c69][c55][c69][c56][c4c][c03] [c57][c44][c51][c69][c46][c56][c52][c4e]) existed to perform specialised administrative functions. Although they also had elected councils, the whole system could not be regarded as three-tiered, since after 1954 only the communes were subordinate to them. In 1971, the district councils were transformed into State administrative units and were deprived of their elected councils (these offices were eventually abolished in 1983).

The basic principle of the Soviet-type local administration was that of so-called «democratic centralism». This euphemistic phrase meant the strong subordination of all local and regional councils to the central government. The whole system was uniform, with the municipal and the county councils built into a unified state administration, with no substantive local autonomy. In theory, the directly-elected council was in charge of the major functions at both the local and the county level. In practice, «council elections» were directed by the Communist party, which informally delegated the members of the councils.

During the period of transition to democracy, there was a wide consensus to abolish the old, Soviet-type local councils and to establish democratic local governments, instead. To counteract the earlier forced amalgamations of municipalities, all communes and towns, including the smallest villages, were given the right to establish a separate local self-government with general competence. Another basic change was that the hierarchical relationship between the local and county councils came to an end and, although the two-tiered system was maintained, the scope of responsibility of the new county governments was greatly reduced. The former middle-level powers and functions were transferred partly to the municipalities and partly to new public authorities organ-

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ized under the higher level of central government. More than 40 different State administrative units were set up, mostly as successors of the old county administration. As a result of the constitutional revision and the fundamental changes of 1989-90, regional and local administration doubled, producing a unified and hierarchical sphere of State administration, along with a relatively independent and intact system of local and county self-governments providing wide-ranging autonomy for the local authorities.

2. Basic facts and figures

According to the Hungarian Constitution, «the territory of the Republic of Hungary consists of administrative units including the Capital, the counties, cities, towns and villages». In reality, these numerous types of units constitute a two-tiered system consisting of municipal and county governments. At the basic level, municipalities are classified into several different local government categories.

2.1. Municipalities

The first two «municipal-type» bodies are «communes» ([c4e][c7c][c5d][c56][c70][c4a][c48][c4e]) and «large communes» ([c51][c44][c4a][c5c][c4e][c7c][c5d][c56][c70][c4a][c48][c4e]) and show only tiny differences: those municipalities which have at least 300 inhabitants and a separate territory and are able to administer local public matters may have their own self-governments. It is to be noted that these minimum requirements were laid down only in 1994, so smaller villages which had maintained their own local government since 1990 (when no such requirements were in effect) were able to retain their autonomy. This fragmentation can be explained by the fact that more than half of local human settlements have fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, and roughly one-third of the municipalities do not have even 500 citizens (see Table 1.). Even the 100 smallest villages, which have fewer than 100 inhabitants, have separate local governments.4Large «communes» are those municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants. The total number of «communes» and «large communes» in Hungary is 2,846, constituting approximately 90% of all local authorities. Of the total population, 30.56% lives in these municipalities.

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Table 1

Population sizes in municipal governments (2009)

Number of inhabitants Number of municipalities % of municipalities
1,074 34.07
?[c13][c13][cef]??? 677 21.48
[c14][c0f][c13][c13][c13][cef][c14][c0f]??? 634 20.11
2,000–4,999 490 15.54
?[c0f][c13][c13][c13][cef]?[c0f]??? 133 4.22
10,000–19,999 83 2.63
[c15][c13][c0f][c13][c13][c13][cef][c17]?[c0f]??? 41 1.30
?[c13][c0f][c13][c13][c13][cef]??[c0f]??? 11 0.35
[c14][c13][c13][c0f][c13][c13][c13][cef]???[c0f]??? 8 0.25
>1,000,000 1
Total 3,152 ~100.00

Source: Hungarian Central Statistical Office

2.2. Administrative status of towns, towns with county rights and the capital city

Despite the aforementioned requirements related to the size of population, these do not provide strict distinctions between «communes» and «towns» ([c59][c69][c55][c52][c56][c52][c4e]): some of the latter have fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. Because the status of «city» does not require such a condition, any large local entity that is sufficiently developed, has proper public service institutions and also performs some functions for its vicinity may apply for this administrative rank. In reality, the whole process of granting city status to the suitable applicant «communes» is greatly influenced by party...

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