Partner Institution: Eurac Research, Institute for Comparative Federalism
The System of Local Government in Italy
Greta Klotz and Karl Kössler, Eurac Research
In Italy, there are three main types of local governments which are recognized under Article 114 of the Constitution as making up, together with the 20 regions and the State, the Italian Republic. These are the municipalities (comuni), 14 metropolitan cities (città metropolitane) and 83 provinces (province). The basic units of local government throughout the country are the 7,914 municipalities (comuni). However, in order to facilitate the social and economic integration of urban agglomerations, there are the metropolitan cities (città metropolitane). While their establishment had been discussed time and again at least since the 1950s, fierce resistance, especially from the regions, had made their actual creation impossible. Only the constitutional reform of 2001 introduced the metropolitan cities into the Constitution. Then it took over a decade to clarify how they would actually operate and to overcome resistance from other government levels. The Ordinary Law no 56/2014 (‘Delrio Law’) finally established the metropolitan cities. The third type of local governments that is recognized under Article 114 as a constituent unit of the Italian Republic are the provinces. They are umbrella entities between the regions and municipalities. Similar to second-tier local governments in other countries the main function of the provinces is the coordination of policies and public services.
Apart from these three main types enshrined in the Constitution, the Legislative Decree no 267/2000 mentioned some more types of local governments. The unions of municipalities (unioni di comuni) are composed of two or more municipalities and are an institutional form of cooperation in order to jointly exercise certain functions. A similar rationale is behind specific local government entities for particular geographical areas, namely the mountain communities (comunità montane) and the island communities (comunità isolane).
According to the above-mentioned Article 114 of the Constitution, ‘[t]he Republic is composed of the Municipalities, the Provinces, the metropolitan cities, the Regions and the State. Municipalities, provinces, metropolitan cities and regions are autonomous entities having their own statutes, powers and functions in accordance with the principles laid down in the Constitution’. Even if this provision seems to suggest that the constituent parts of the Italian Republic are on an equal footing, the Constitutional Court soon emphasized the special role of the state vis-à-vis the other government levels. While Article 114 ensures that the three main types of local government enjoy autonomy within constitutional principles, it does not go any further in regulating them.
Article 117(2)(p), however, determines that national government shall establish the rules regarding the ‘electoral legislation, governing bodies and fundamental functions of the municipalities, provinces and metropolitan cities’. The relevant law consolidating pre-existing rules is the above-mentioned Legislative Decree no 267/2000. The regional legislator can only become active in a complementary manner on the basis of the residuary power under Article 117(6). This is true, however, only for the 15 regions with ordinary statute (hereinafter, ordinary regions). The five regions with special statute (hereinafter special regions) are allowed to regulate their local governments in their autonomy statutes (e.g. Article 4(3) and Article 61-65 of the Statute of Trentino-South Tyrol) and, more in details, through ordinary regional legislation.
There are certain types of local government with special status that take into account different realities in urban and rural areas, like the above-mentioned metropolitan cities, unions of municipalities, mountain communities and island communities. Certain variations follow from Italy’s system of asymmetrical regionalism, more concretely, from the different regulatory regimes concerning ordinary regions and each of the five special regions.
Nonetheless, the local government system is quite symmetrical. This is because the system is rooted in ideas of municipal organization from the French Revolution and Napoleonic times. These ideas were supported by the House of Savoy and after their founding of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 extended to the whole country by enacting the laws of administrative unification in 1865. This explains adherence, in principle, to the French model of uniform municipalities, which are supposed to carry out the same functions irrespective of territorial size, demography, economic power, as well as urban or rural character.
The political situation at the national government level and, to a lesser extent, in the regions has in recent years witnessed profound changes of the party system. At the national level, a coalition government formed by the Five Star Movement and the League came to power in 2018 and was replaced by a coalition between the Five Star Movement and the Social Democratic Party (PD) in 2019. As for the regions, candidates from the League over the last decade have been elected Presidents in Veneto, Lombardy and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, while Brothers of Italy, another right-wing party, took power in the Abruzzo region in 2019. At the local level, there is a similar tendency. When about half of Italy’s municipalities were called to vote in 2019, the center-right block led by the League won, from among those with over 15,000 inhabitants, in 75 municipalities (up from 36).
A good indicator for the social and demographic context of local governments is the OECD definition of functional urban areas as composed of a densely inhabited city and a surrounding area (commuting zone) whose labor market is highly integrated with the city. Following this definition, only 30 per cent of Italy’s population live in metropolitan areas (more than 500,000 inhabitants), 20 per cent in small- and medium-sized urban agglomerations (50,000 to 500,000 inhabitants), compared to an OECD average of 49 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively.
As for the structure of municipalities, only 144 of them have more than 50,000 inhabitants, while 70 per cent have less than 5,000 inhabitants and are thus, according to the Italian classification, ‘small municipalities’. The average population size is 7,653. But this, of course, says little in view of an extremely wide spectrum ranging from Rome’s almost 2.9 million inhabitants to 33 in the municipality of Morterone in the Region of Lombardy.
Boggero G, ‘The Establishment of Metropolitan Cities in Italy: An Advance or a Setback for Italian Regionalism?’ (2016) 8 Perspectives on Federalism E-1
Bolgherini S, Navigando a vista. Governi locali in Europa tra crisi e riforme (Il Mulino 2015)
Vandelli L, ‘Local Government in Italy’ in Ángel M Moreno (ed), Local Government in the Member States of European Union: A Comparative Legal Perspective (INAP 2012)
Wienen D and Dickson S, ‘Local and Regional Democracy in Italy’ (Report for the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Council of Europe 2017)
Woelk J, ‘Italien: auf der ständigen Suche nach Gleichgewicht’ in Elisabeth Alber and Carolin Zwilling (eds), Gemeinden im Europäischen Mehrebenensystem: Herausforderungen im 21. Jahrhundert (Nomos 2014)
 There are 15 regions with ordinary statute and five regions with special statute, recognized under Article 116 of the Constitution, namely Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-South Tyrol, Aosta Valley and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
 Giovanni Boggero, ‘The Establishment of Metropolitan Cities in Italy: An Advance or a Setback for Italian Regionalism?’ (2016) 8 Perspectives on Federalism E-1, E-5.
 Italian Constitutional Court, Judgment no 50/2015.
 Italian Constitutional Court, Judgment no 274/2003.
Local Responsibilities and Public Services in Italy: An Introduction
Annika Kress and Elisabeth Alber, Eurac Research
According to Article 5 of the Italian Constitution, ‘[the Republic] implements the fullest measure of administrative decentralization in those services which depend on the State’. Article 118, indeed, attributes all administrative functions to the most decentralized level of government, i.e. the municipalities, ‘unless they are attributed to the provinces, metropolitan cities and regions or to the State, pursuant to the principles of subsidiarity, differentiation and proportionality’. Furthermore, according to Article 117, the fundamental functions of Italian local government (i.e. municipalities, provinces and metropolitan cities) are to be determined by the State, that has exclusive legislative powers in this matter.
The Fiscal Federalism Law no 42/2009 gives the most comprehensive overview over these fundamental functions assigned by the State. Accordingly, it considers municipalities to be in charge of their own general administration, management and control; local police; public education (including early childhood education and care from 0-3 years, educational support, meals, and construction); transport and roads; territorial and environmental management; and social services (Article 21(3)). According to Law no 56/2014 ‘Delrio’, the provinces are in charge of, among others, territorial planning and environmental protection; provincial public transport and provincial streets; the provincial school network and the management of school buildings; providing technical-administrative assistance to local entities; the promotion of equal opportunity, their own strategic development and institutional relations with other territorial entities (Articles 85-86).
On top of these provincial functions, the state has assigned additional tasks to the relatively young metropolitan cities, most of which are linked to specific urban challenges, such as adopting a strategic plan for the metropolitan territory; general spatial planning including infrastructure and communication networks; the structuring and coordination of metropolitan public services; mobility and roads, especially ensuring the compatibility and coherence of municipal urban planning on the metropolitan territory; economic and social development; as well as the promotion and coordination of digitalization and information technologies (Law no 56/2014 ‘Delrio’).
As the regions have (concurrent) legislative powers in many matters (e.g. social welfare, education, culture, town planning, housing, regional transport, maintenance of roads and the public transport net, economic development, commerce, waste management, policing; Article 117 of the Italian Constitution), they may also attribute functions to the local entities on their territory. Because of certain historical legacies, size or political cultures, some regions might favor greater administrative decentralization than others and recent structural reforms have led to the up-scaling of formerly provincial functions to the regional level. Overall, this leads to a highly differentiated, complex and evolving picture of local – i.e. municipal, provincial and metropolitan – functions in Italy.
Overall, the fragmented legislation regarding municipal functions has led to strong bottom-up dynamics in the interpretation of municipal responsibilities and instruments for service delivery. Indeed, Italian municipalities can revert to a wide variety of instruments for the delivery of their services, which range from public institutions entirely dependent on the municipality to public companies that are simultaneously employed by multiple municipalities to private non-profit organizations or public-private partnerships.
Bolgherini S, Lippi A and Maset S, ‘In mezzo al guado: La governance subregionale tra “vecchie” province e “nuove” aree vaste’ (2016) 3 Rivista Italiana di Politiche Pubbliche 341
Lippi A and Profeti S, ‘Where is Politics in Corporatisation? Local Public Services from Policy to Politics in Continental Europe’ (2014) 1 Rivista Italiana di Politiche Pubbliche 5
 For an overview over how the 15 regions with ordinary statute have re-allocated provincial functions, see Tab. 2 of Silvia Bolgherini, Andrea Lippi and Sergio Maset, ‘In mezzo al guado: La governance subregionale tra “vecchie” province e “nuove” aree vaste’ (2016) 3 Rivista Italiana di Politiche Pubbliche 341, 39. 4
 Andrea Lippi and Stefania Profeti, ‘Where is Politics in Corporatisation? Local Public Services from Policy to Politics in Continental Europe’ (2014) 1 Rivista Italiana di Politiche Pubbliche 5, 14f.
Local Financial Arrangements in Italy: An Introduction
Alice Valdesalici, Eurac Research
According to the legal framework resulting from the 2001 constitutional reform – and progressively entering into force – local authorities, i.e., municipalities, provinces and metropolitan cities – shall be financed by means of own tax sources, shared taxes, not-earmarked equalization transfers, plus additional transfers provided for exceptional cases (Article 119 Constitution). However, over the last decade (2010-2020) local finance has witnessed a structural metamorphosis marked by an overall increase of local taxes and a correspondent decrease (-32 per cent) of state transfers altogether considered. At present, local financing is mostly based on taxes, which are created and regulated in their foundations by the central level of government (so-called devolved taxes).
Having specific regard to municipalities, they are vested with a tax varying power and/or are entitled to the revenue generated within their territory. In 2018, the share of local taxes compared to overall local revenues was 46 per cent and this figure has been increasing. This is the result of frequent revisions adopted by national legislation from 2012 onwards. Since 2014 one of the major municipal tax sources is the Imposta Unica Comunale (literally, Single Municipal Tax), composed of a local tax on property of housing (IMU), a local tax on waste (TARI) and a local tax for general public services provided by the municipalities (TASI). Local taxes also include a surtax on individual income (IRPEF), consisting of a fixed tax rate defined by national law, which resembles a shared tax, and an optional tax rate which can be determined by each municipality within an upper limit of 0,8 per cent. Tax benefits can be set within the limits provided by the national legislation. Autonomous own tax sources represent an exception to this scheme. The tourist tax is one example: a national law entitles municipalities to impose a tourist tax to be applied within the upper limit set by the state (Legislative Decree no 23/2011).
In order to remedy inter-municipal imbalances, the state has set up an equalization fund providing for non-earmarked transfers. Since the constitutional reform of 2001, the overall system of equalization is undergoing a comprehensive reform. According to Article 119(4) of the Constitution, a state law shall establish a non-earmarked equalization fund, to be assigned to entities with lower fiscal capacity per-capita. At the same time, the state holds the exclusive legislative power over the equalization system and over the determination of the fundamental functions of local entities to be ensured in a uniform manner across the country (Article 117(2) Constitution).
This framework was implemented partly by Law no 42/2009, partly by a number of governmental decrees. In particular, Law no 42/2009 requires the gradual overcoming of the funding system, which links the transfers to the resources spent in the previous financial years (so-called historic spending). The new calculation of the funding shall be based on objective and pre-defined parameters to be applied uniformly to all entities (so-called standard costs and needs). Pursuant to Article 11, two equalization mechanisms shall be established on the basis of a twofold classification of the decentralized functions. A first scheme has to ensure the funding of fundamental functions (around 80 per cent of local spending), while a second one is envisaged for the other residual (non-fundamental) functions (20 per cent of local spending). The impact of equalization differs between the two groups: a full financing is foreseen for fundamental functions, while only a partial equalization is prescribed for all others. A second differentiation consists in the financing parameter: equalization transfers are calculated applying the standard costs and needs criteria to the first group only, while for non-fundamental functions equalization is related to the per-capita fiscal capacity.
The regulation of these equalization mechanisms (methodology and definition of parameters) has been left to governmental decrees (e.g., Law Decree no 216/2010 as later modified and integrated), while a public-private company (SOSE) is in charge of calculating the standard costs and needs. These have to be calculated for each fundamental function taking into consideration the peculiarities of the single function and each category of entity (e.g. the size of municipalities).
Within this complex legal framework, the Stability Law 2013 (Law no 228/2012) has finally set up the Fund of Municipal Solidarity, as later modified by the Stability Law 2014 (Law no 147/2013, paragraph 729). However, the transition towards the new system started only in 2015. The Fund is financed through a share of the revenue generated from the local tax on properties – IMU (accounting for 38.23 per cent in 2015 and for 24.43 per cent in 2016) and only a selection of local tax revenues is taken as benchmark, in order to determine who is entitled to benefit from it. In 2016, the resources of the equalization fund that were distributed on the basis of the new standardized parameters amounted to only 30 per cent, while the rest was allocated taking into account historic spending (the old parameter). The share is progressively increasing, and the new system should enter fully into force in 2021.
Starting from 2015, spending autonomy of local entities has expanded significantly. The Internal Stability Pact has been abandoned and a new system based on the principle of balanced budget is in place. The impact of the principle of ‘balanced budget’ for local authorities has been specified by Article 9 of Law no 243/2012, as later modified by Law no 164/2016. It prescribes the achievement (paragraph 1) of a non-negative value – on accrual basis – in the balance between final revenues and final expenditures. The new legal framework imposes limits to deficits and to the possibility to incur debts and, at the same time, it sets strict limitations to overspending. Deviations from the equilibrium could occur after agreement reached at the regional level or at the national level, among all territorial entities and/or with the State. These allow for compensatory measures, potentially releasing space to single entities for investment spending. It is not by chance, then, that in the last few years the use of other sources of funding, such as the use of public-private partnerships (project finance, leasing) or EU resources, has increased.
All in all, municipalities do not receive other transfers, with minor exceptions. One example consists in the measures in favor of tiny municipalities with less than 5,000 inhabitants. In 2017 the Fund for Structural, Economic and Social Development has been set up and it is distributed on the basis of parameters that serve to safeguard of the environment and the cultural heritage, as well as the economic, social and infrastructural development of small municipalities. In addition, to cope with the challenge of increasingly depopulated small municipalities forms of reduced taxation have been introduced, for foreigners that move their residence in small municipalities of the south.
Also the financing of provinces and metropolitan cities, the system is based on the same type of sources, i.e., devolved and shared taxes, plus transfers from the experimental fund for financial consolidation of provinces. However, the legal framework is even more complex and uncertain. As to the provinces, this is the result of the austerity measures that have progressively reduced the transfers, on the one hand, and of the undergoing process of territorial reorganization regarding in particular the (reduction of) functions allocated to the provincial level. As to metropolitan cities, the situation is even more uncertain: they have been finally established by Law no 56/2014, but their system of financing remains undefined. The result is that the provincial scheme with reduced resources still applies to them entailing problems of underfunded mandates.
Notwithstanding the discrepancies among the single local entities in terms of population size and density, territorial and socio-economic characteristics, all local entities of a certain type are vested with the same competences and the same system of financing applies. However, the system described above applies to local entities within ordinary regions. For special regions, the rules are different. First, the general financial rules do not directly apply to them, but they have been asked to reform their systems according to the same basic principles. The specific regulations have to be agreed between each special region and the state in bilateral negotiations. In sum, special regions enjoy a higher degree of financial autonomy, but they differ one from the other to a great extent. Second, some special regions are in charge of local finance, whereas in others this remains a state competence. But it is the responsibility of all regions (special and ordinary) to ensure the respect of the balanced budget principle taking into account all territorial entities within the regional territory of reference.
Bernabei G, ‘Tributi propri e autonomie locali: un percorso incompiuto’ (2016) 1 Le Istituzioni del federalismo 191
Cogno R and others, ‘La finanza territoriale. Rapporto 2016’ (Franco Angeli 2016)
IFEL Dipartimento Finanza Locale, ‘La finanza comunale in sintesi. Rapporto 2019’ (IFEL 2019) <https://www.fondazioneifel.it/documenti-e-pubblicazioni/item/download/3410_1784abea3a086d86f6363eaf17c6d78f>
Research Department of the Chamber of Deputies, ‘Le entrate delle regioni e degli enti locali’ (Chamber of Deputies 2020) <https://www.camera.it/temiap/documentazione/temi/pdf/1104594.pdf?_1584481496426>
 All data in the text are taken from: IFEL Dipartimento Finanza Locale, ‘La finanza comunale in sintesi. Rapporto 2019’ (IFEL 2019) <https://www.fondazioneifel.it/documenti-e-pubblicazioni/item/download/3410_1784abea3a086d86f6363eaf17c6d78f>.
 In this respect, see also report section 3.2. on Investment Spending of Local Entities.
 Commissione Parlamentare per l’Attuazione del Federalismo Fiscale, ‘Resoconto Stenografico’ (Audizione 99, 23 February 2017) 5 <https://documenti.camera.it/leg17/resoconti/commissioni/stenografici/pdf/62/audiz2/audizione/2017/02/23/leg.17.stencomm.data20170223.U1.com62.audiz2.audizione.0099.pdf> accessed 28 February 2020.
The Structure of Local Government in Italy
Elisabeth Alber, Eurac Research
When it comes to inter-municipal cooperation and the rationalization of local government, any associative form today goes beyond the mere wish to more efficiently deliver services. Managing local services cooperatively is becoming a condition for the survival of (small or remote) municipalities, not only in Italy. In addition, regional strategies in terms of inter-municipal cooperation are strongly influenced by the different political regional cultures and their legacies of the past.
As for the legal framework, the Italian Constitution specifies the role of the regions as to the number, changes in territorial boundaries and mergers of municipalities. Article 133 of the Constitution says that ‘[c]hanges in provincial boundaries and the institution of new provinces within a region are regulated by the laws of the Republic, on the initiative of the municipalities, after consultation with the region. The region, after consultation with the populations involved, may establish through its laws new municipalities within its own territory and modify their districts and names.’ However, the number and the size of local entities has always been a controversial feature in Italy. As of 1 January 2019, 5,498 out of 7,914 municipalities have less than 5,000 inhabitants (that is 69.5 per cent) and more than 700 have less than 500 inhabitants. This has historical reasons. The practice of establishing a municipality for each territorial community dates back to the 19th century (Administrative Unification Laws 1865).
As second-tier local entities, the provinces in their current form also date back to the years 1859-1865 (with bodies being firstly elected in 1860). Today, their very existence is put into question (apart from the two autonomous provinces of Bolzano/Bozen and Trento that together form the special region Trentino-South Tyrol). Under the most important reform in recent times concerning associative forms of local government, metropolitan cities and provinces, the Ordinary Law no 56/2014 (‘Delrio Law’), a province shall no longer be considered as a representative entity, but as a territorial entity of wide area (area vasta). In terms of functions, a province should have a coordination role and focus on strategic planning and management issues of the concerned territory. In practice, a province shall represent the interests of the mayors of the municipalities belonging to its territory. The central state aimed to completely abolish the province as a layer of intermediate local entity, but the Constitutional Reform foreseeing the removal of the provinces was voted down in a referendum on 4 December 2016. In practice, only some regions have reduced the number of the provinces and, as a rule, the functions provinces were vested with were either transferred to the regional or to the municipal level. The Constitution in its Article 114 stills reads that ‘The Republic is composed of the municipalities, the provinces, the metropolitan cities, the regions and the State. Municipalities, provinces, metropolitan cities, and regions are autonomous entities having their own statutes, powers, and functions (…). Rome is the capital of the Republic. Its status is regulated by State Law.’
Like the provinces, the metropolitan cities are a structural layer in the local government design of Italy that is placed between the municipalities and the regions. They are designed to replace some of the provinces and, in part, vested with functions like the ones of provinces such as strategic planning and coordination of the concerned territory, also regarding the provision of public services. While the metropolitan cities in the ordinary regions are regulated by the Ordinary Law no 56/2014, for the ones in the special regions different regulations may apply. Metropolitan cities were already introduced by the 2001 constitutional reform (Constitutional Law no 3/2001), but they were only established with the Ordinary Law no 56/2014. As of 01/01/2020, there are 14 metropolitan cities and not all of them are so far fully operational. The organs of the metropolitan cities are neither directly, nor indirectly elected. The main organs of the metropolitan cities are the metropolitan mayor, the metropolitan council, as well as the metropolitan conference comprising the mayors of all municipalities belonging to the metropolitan city. It is worth mentioning that the metropolitan mayor – contrary to the president of the provinces – is not elected by the mayors and the members of the councils of the municipalities in the metropolitan city. As a rule, the mayor of the capital of the former province becomes the metropolitan mayor.
Rome enjoys a special autonomy and is specifically referred to in different laws (for example, the Fiscal Federalism Law no 42/2009). Rome has its own internal by-laws and, in a nutshell, has a twofold organization with an upper level (mayor and appointed councilors) and a lower level with the bodies of the ten municipalities into which Rome is subdivided (mayors and members of the councils). The Mayor of Rome is also the mayor of the Metropolitan City of Rome.
Taking reforms at national and regional level into account, as of 01/01/2020, Italy consists of the following divisions:
- 20 regions (fifteen ordinary and five special ones, with varying degrees of autonomy from one to another):
- 7,904 municipalities;
- 14 metropolitan cities (ranked by population size in decreasing order they are: Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin, Palermo, Bari, Catania, Florence, Bologna, Genoa, Venice, Messina, Reggio Calabria, Cagliari);
- 83 provinces;
- 6 free consortia of municipalities;
- 4 non-administrative units (corresponding to the former provinces of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region).
Several forms of inter-municipal cooperation complete Italy’s administrative territorial organization. They are now analyzed in a more detailed manner.
The challenge of having overall too many and too small municipalities differently affects regions and has led to the elaboration of several reform packages, at national, but also regional level, in recent times, but also earlier on. Two are the solutions envisaged in Italy to address the challenges linked to the need to rationalize the number and size of municipalities due to financial, socio-economic and demographic trends: associative forms of (incentivized) inter-municipal cooperation or mergers of municipalities.
There are three types of associative forms (forme associative) of local government: the conventions (convenzioni), the consortia (consorzi) and the unions of municipalities (unioni di comuni). The conventions are agreements between two or more municipalities for the delivery of a service or the fulfillment of a task (regulated to a certain extent under Article 30 of the Unified Law on Local Entities no 267/2000 and in subsequent legislation).
Municipalities shall form a convention for at least three years. For the exercise of fundamental functions in the form of a convention, Law no 56/2014 establishes a minimum demographic limit of 10,000 inhabitants or of 3,000 inhabitants if the municipalities belonged to or still belong to mountain communities (if the regional legislator that holds exclusive powers on associative forms of local government has not foreseen any exceptions to these parameters due to particular territorial conditions). Conventions in general represent a flexible, adaptable tool as to associative forms of service delivery. They can be of ‘closed’ type (with a fixed and predetermined number of members) or of ‘open’ type (with the possibility for others to join at a later stage, prior the consent of all municipalities that cooperate in the convention). Conventions do not foresee the establishment of further bodies. As a rule, one municipality part of the convention is identified as the coordinator of all parties in the convention.
Unlike the conventions, consortia are fully recognized as local entities, with the necessity to be organized in an assembly and a management board (Article 31 of the Unified Law on Local Entities no 267/2000). Municipalities and other entities form a consortium if they intend to manage one or more public services together.
The unions of municipalities are composed of two or more municipalities for the associative exercise of their functions, being also recognized as local entities (Article 32 of the Unified Law on Local Entities no 267/2000), with own by-laws and organs. Unions of municipalities are normally exercising an array of functions and services, unlike consortia. The minimum demographic limits are the same ones as for a convention (with exceptions that can be set by the region). Among the most prominent provisions of Article 32 of the Unified Law on Local Entities no 267/2000, attention should be given to paragraph 5 that states that the resources invested in the personnel of a union of municipalities shall not exceed the sum of staff costs previously incurred by each municipality (that now is part of the union of municipalities). Once fully operational, progressive savings must, instead, be the aim regarding personnel costs. In addition, the role of secretary of the union of municipalities shall be carried out by a secretary of a municipality belonging to the union, thus without incurring in further costs. Unions of municipalities are often viewed – or have so been interpreted by the central government – as a precursor of the merger of municipalities.
Especially from 2009-2010 onwards, austerity legislation not only affected financial intergovernmental relations at the expense of subnational entities, but also structural aspects in local government.
One example are the provisions enshrined in the Decree Law no 78/2010 (converted into Law no 122/2010). On the one side, they, in various forms, heavily impact financial resources available to local government bodies. On the other side they call for new rules as to the associative exercise of administrative functions in the six so-called fundamental competence areas of municipalities (in short, general administration and management; early childhood education and care as well as schooling and schools; local mobility, transport and roads; land management and environmental development; social services). At this stage it shall also be noted that the portfolio of functions to be exercised in an associative form of inter-municipal cooperation has been further defined in details and augmented in subsequent national legislation (for example, Decree Law no 95/2012, converted in Law no 135/2012). With the exception of single-municipal islands and the enclave municipality of Campione d’Italia, municipalities up to 5,000 inhabitants or municipalities up to 3,000 inhabitants (if they belonged to or still belong to a mountainous community [comunità montana]) have to exercise basic functions in an associative form, by a convention or by a union, in a gradual manner starting by jointly exercising three functions. The same function cannot be carried out by more than one associative form.
Another example are the provisions enshrined in Decree Law no 138/2011 (converted in Law no 148/2011). They provide a reduction in the number of members in local government bodies and a merger of administrative functions in the case of small municipalities. Accordingly, municipalities with a population of less than 1,000 inhabitants have to carry out their functions in an associative form. It has to be noted that the possibility of exercising functions in an inter-municipal cooperation has already been prescribed for in 1990 (by the Law no 142/1990). Thus, the new aspect in legislation on associative forms at local government level in the period 2009-2012 lies in its compulsory nature (from which the national legislator again refrained from with regard to certain categories of municipalities in subsequent legislation that modified the legislation and by-laws on associative forms of cooperation at local level).
One of the shortcomings of the first provisions on associative forms of inter-municipal cooperation was the lack of sanctions for entities that did not foresee them at all or for those that would do so beyond the deadlines enshrined in legislation (deadlines that were extended several times and last extended until 1 December 2020 by Decree Law no 8/2020 converted in Law no 40/2020). This lack was filled by Article 14 of Decree Law no 78/2010, which provides that the prefect of the province, the representative of the central state, shall give the defaulting municipalities a peremptory deadline within which to act. Once this deadline has expired, Article 8 of Law no 131/2003 would provide the commissariamento (administration by an external commissioner) in line with the provisions laid down in Article 120 of the Constitution; they read as follows: ‘The Government can act for bodies of the (…) and municipalities if the latter fail to comply with international rules and treaties or EU legislation, or in the case of grave danger for public safety and security, or whenever such action is necessary to preserve legal or economic unity and in particular to guarantee the basic level of benefits relating to civil and social entitlements, regardless of the geographic borders of local authorities. The law shall lay down the procedures to ensure that subsidiary powers are exercised in compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and loyal co-operation.’
Many pieces of the national legislation from the financial-economic crisis onwards do not only offer and impose formulas of associative forms to municipalities, but they also increase conflicts over competences. The formulas are very complex and, most importantly, the implementation of associative forms of inter-municipal cooperation has been desultory from the very beginning. In Italy, the region has exclusive the power on forms of inter-municipal cooperation. Regardless of that, the Constitutional Court has legitimized interference resulting from centrally imposed schemes because of exceptional times and the need of spending reviews. According to the rulings of the Constitutional Court, inter-municipal cooperation is instrumental to the rationalization of public finance and any State’s austerity legislation (containing, among others, forced inter-municipal cooperation) is considered legitimate as it falls into the competence ‘coordination of public finance’ (Article 117(3) of the Constitution), a concurrent (State-Region) competence. By very extensively interpreting the principles of coordination of public finance, the Constitutional Court nullified the regional space for maneuvering on inter-municipal cooperation (among others, see Constitutional Court judgments no 237/2009, no 68/2011, no 108/2011, no 182/2011; no 77/2013). However, the Constitutional Court most recently has ruled (judgment no 33/2019) that requiring municipalities with less than 5,000 inhabitants (and less than 3,000 inhabitants in case of mountain municipalities) to perform their basic functions cooperatively is unconstitutional, if it does not allow municipalities to demonstrate that the management by means of associative forms does not favor the economies of scale or ameliorate the delivery of public services to the concerned population. According to the Court, forcing small municipalities to cooperatively manage fundamental functions is excessively rigid and does not stand the proportionality test. The rigidity does not allow to consider all those situations in which, due to the geographical location and demographic and socio-environmental issues, the convention or the union of municipalities are not suitable to achieve cost savings.
Regarding the different associative forms of inter-municipal cooperation, the regional governments may provide for (financial) support or any other incentives. In practice, regions do so to a very different extent (favoring one or the other form). Incentives are also provided by central state legislation in the form of contributions and facilitations.
Mergers of municipalities have been encouraged by the national legislator since the 1990s with little success. Between 1995 and 2011 only nine mergers were successful. In the following years more mergers were undertaken (in 2019, 31 mergers for a total of 65 municipalities in seven ordinary and one in a special region), but the solution of merging municipalities remains the proverbial drop in the ocean when it comes to finding solutions to the hyper-fragmentation and rationalization of very small municipalities (so-called comuni polvere) in Italy. However, positive examples are to be found in the Italian panorama. For example, in the Autonomous Province of Trento the number of municipalities has been reduced by more than one third through mergers.
At national level, financial incentives are foreseen for the merger of municipalities, and, to very different extent, regions do also establish them. The situation as to incentives is again different in special regions as they regulate the matter of local entities in their respective autonomy statutes and as they also enjoy a great extent of financial autonomy.
The merger of municipalities is a bottom-up process in the sense that a referendum involving the citizens of the affected municipalities is obligatory. As earlier mentioned, Article 133 of the Constitution reads that ‘The region, after consultation with the populations involved, may establish through its laws new municipalities within its own territory and modify their districts and names.’). Put simply, if the referendum is positive, the merger is approved by the regional legislation. However, there are many differences (and some innovative approaches) when it comes to the details in the procedures and in the interpretation of the result of the consultative referendum. Regions may apply a ‘dirigist’ role or be a mere executor of the popular will regarding mergers of municipalities.
Law no 56/2014 (‘Delrio Law’) provides many facilitating measures for the merger of municipalities (paragraph 116ff). Most importantly, it establishes that in municipalities that are the result of a merger the by-law of the new local authority may lay down special cooperation forms between all municipalities involved in the merger. The by-law of the new local authority may be approved as a provisional one by all municipal councils that initiated the merger before the new municipality is established. In addition, it is foreseen that it is the by-law of the new municipality and no longer regional legislation that lays down appropriate detailed measures that ensure the participation of all the peoples of the former independent local authorities, and the effectiveness of decentralized service provision throughout the new municipal territory.
The Ordinary Law no 56/2014 also expressly speaks of ‘merger by incorporation’ and of ‘aggregations of municipalities by incorporation’ in Article 130. However, with regard to the merger strictu sensu (which results in the abolition of the existing municipalities and the establishment of a new municipality), the incorporation does not establish a new municipality. It results in the abolition of the incorporated municipality, which formally becomes part of an already existing municipality.
At this stage, it should also be recalled that in order to facilitate the merger of municipalities, Article 15(3) of the Unified Law of Local Entities no 267/2000 provides that the central state shall make special contributions for the ten years from the merger itself. To this end, the rule provides that each year, by an administrative act issued by the Minister of the interior, after hearing the Standing Conference State-Cities and local entities, the modalities of allocation of the contribution shall be defined.
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—— Governance transfrontaliera e vicinanza ai cittadini: Il ruolo dei comuni di confine nell’Euregio Tirolo-Alto Adige-Trentino (Eurac Research 2019) <https://bia.unibz.it/handle/10863/11197>
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Fabbrizzi F, La provincia. Analisi dell’ente locale più discussa (Jovene 2012)
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Galbersanini C, ‘L’Istituzione della città metropolitana nella legge Delrio’ (Centro Studi del Federalismo 2014)
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National Statistical Institute Istat, ‘Codici statistici delle unità amministrative territoriali: comuni, città metropolitane, province e regioni – Novità per l’anno 2020’ (Istat 2020) <https://www.istat.it/it/archivio/6789>
Poggi A, ‘Unione e fusione di Comuni’ in Federica Fabrizzi and Giulio M Salerno (eds), La riforma delle autonomie territoriali nella legge Delrio (Jovene Editore 2014)
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Saitta A, ‘Città metropolitane e consorzi di comuni in Sicilia. Sette note sulla L.R. N.8 del 2014’ (2014) 12 Federalismi.it
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 See details below in report section 4.3. on Mergers of Municipalities.
Intergovernmental Relations of Local Governments in Italy: An Introduction
Greta Klotz, Eurac Research
When it comes to intergovernmental relations with the national government, local government associations are the main actors. The National Association of Italian Municipalities (Associazione dei Comuni Italiani – ANCI) has a long-established tradition, as it was founded in 1901 as a non-profit organization active throughout the national territory. It is not recognized by the Italian Constitution, but as the main representative organization of local authorities, it is institutionally anchored in the system of the multilateral cooperation mechanisms with the national government. Not all Italian municipalities are members of the ANCI. As of July 2019, it had 7,041 members from among 7,914 Italian municipalities and represents approx. 90 per cent of the Italian population. The main goal of ANCI is to represent the interests of municipalities and metropolitan cities vis-à-vis the national and regional governments. It is also a facilitator of international cooperation and even a shareholder of some companies for service provision.
ANCI’s assembly, bringing together all members, meets once a year, but the organization has 17 permanent commissions on different policy fields, ranging from local finances and social welfare to immigration and integration policies. Furthermore, ANCI comprises within its structure several special interest bodies. Among others, there is a National Council of Small Municipalities (Consulta Nazionale dei Piccoli Comuni). This institution represents all ANCI municipalities with a population of less than 5,000 inhabitants and has the aim to secure and promote the coordination of initiatives, which support small municipalities and to promote initiatives with regard to inter-municipal cooperation. Apart from this council, there is within ANCI also a Coordination Body of Metropolitan Cities’ (Coordinamento delle Città Metropolitane). Similar to the aim of the above-mentioned council, the task of this coordination body is to support specific initiatives with regard to the metropolitan realities. The mayors of the 14 metropolitan cities as well as the coordinator of the Council of Small Municipalities, also the coordinators of regional councils of small municipalities, are members of the important National Council (Consiglio nazionale) of ANCI. This body is important because it determines above all the strategic direction of the association. As in addition to the mayors of the metropolitan cities those of all regional and provincial capitals participate as well, there seems to be a certain imbalance of representation in favor of urban areas.
ANCI is complemented by the National Association of the Italian Provinces (Unione delle Province d’Italia – UPI) as well as the National Union of Mountain Towns and Communities (Unione Nazionale Comuni, Comunità ed Enti Montani – UNCEM).
In terms of local government councils at the regional level, it should be pointed out that ANCI has branches in all of the 20 Italian regions. In the Autonomous Provinces of Bolzano and Trento, the ANCI is represented by particular provincial associations of local authorities, i.e. the Consorzio dei Comuni della Provincia di Bolzano-Südtiroler Gemeindenverband and the Consorzio dei Comuni della Provincia di Trento.
Apart from the regional branches of ANCI, an important body of intergovernmental relations between the regions and local entities was established by the constitutional reform in 2001. According to Article 123 of the Italian Constitution, regions with ordinary statute have to foresee and regulate in their statute a so-called Council of Local Authorities (Consiglio delle Autonomie Locali – CAL), an organ ensuring consultation between regions and local authorities. All 20 regions have established this institution. Although the five regions with special statute (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-South Tyrol and Val d’Aosta) enjoy autonomous competences regarding the organization and functioning of local authorities and are, following the Constitutional Court decision no 370/2006, not obliged to establish this institution, all of them have also set up such an advisory body. The main task of a CAL is consultation and sometimes their advice during the legislative process is compulsory. The councils of local authorities of some regions established in 2012 a Permanent Coordination Body of CALs in order to promote inter-regional collaboration between these institutions, as well as to exchange experiences and best practices among each other. According to a recent study, the CALs in the regions with ordinary statute have so far only played a marginal role of influence in regional decision-making, with the lacking implementation of the principle of subsidiarity being a main reason.
As for mechanisms of supervision, it is important to note that the constitutional reform in 2001 cancelled Article 130 of the Constitution, which had foreseen, according to the principle of hierarchy between levels of government, a regional preventive control of acts of local authorities. Before this change the regions had tightly controlled the provinces and municipalities and had been controlled, in turn, by the national government. However, there is still a system of internal administrative monitoring, auditing and the extraordinary substitution power under Article 120 of the Constitution.
According to this provision, ‘[t]he Government can act for bodies of the regions, metropolitan cities, provinces and municipalities if the latter fail to comply with international rules and treaties or EU legislation, or in the case of grave danger for public safety and security, or whenever such action is necessary to preserve legal or economic unity and in particular to guarantee the basic level of benefits relating to civil and social entitlements, regardless of the geographic borders of local authorities. The law shall lay down the procedures to ensure that subsidiary powers are exercised in compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and loyal co-operation’. This power of the national government to intervene is only for the exceptional circumstances explicitly mentioned in the cited provision and measures must observe the principle of proportionality. Only those measures may be taken that are necessary to achieve, to the benefit of citizens, a swift return to normality and legality. Financial supervision is exercised by the Court of Auditors and its regional branches. Law no 131/2003 strengthened control powers of these courts. But this supervision does not concern the political assessment of measures taken by local governments. It controls the compliance of local government actions with budget legislation and other rules and policies from the regional, national and EU levels, especially regarding financial mismanagement and balanced budget requirements.
The most important mechanisms for intergovernmental cooperation between the national government, regions and local authorities are the following two conferences: the Conference of the State, Cities and Local Autonomies (hereinafter CSCLA) and the Unified Conference, which brings together the CSCLA with the Conference of the State, Regions and Autonomous Provinces. The latter conference therefore comprises three levels of government (national, subnational and local). The CSCLA was introduced with the Decree of the President of the Council of Ministers on 2 July 1996 and was reformed by the Legislative Decree no 281/1997. The same legislative decree also created the Unified Conference.
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 Elena di Carpegna Brivio, ‘Il CAL tra sogno e realtà. Problemi attuali delle istituzioni di raccordo nel sistema regionale delle fonti’ (2018) 5 Federalismi.it <http://www.consigliautonomielocali.it/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Inserire.pdf>.
People’s Participation in Local Decision-Making in Italy: An Introduction
Martina Trettel, Eurac Research
In recent years, representative democracy has been experiencing a crisis in relation to all levels of government: local, provincial, regional, national and supranational. The most striking evidence of this crisis are the low turnout at the polls and the widespread disinterest in issues linked to society and citizenship. Although it is recognized that the instruments of representative democracy, elections in particular, are still the method that allows modern systems to be governed democratically, a new phenomenon is slowly taking hold: that of ‘participatory democracy’.
‘Participatory democracy’ can be intended as the synthesis of practices, devices and procedures that create ways for citizens to be actively and effectively involved in decision-making processes of public administrations. In other words, these are ‘processes or institutions, that are new to a policy issue, policy role, or level of governance, and developed to reimagine and deepen the role of citizens in governance processes by increasing opportunities for participation, deliberation and influence’. The purpose of this innovative policy-making tools is to enhance the legitimacy of political decisions, to improve the quality of democratic policymaking, and, finally, to increase their level of effectiveness.
In recent years, in particular at local level, a growing interest in the instruments of participatory democracy can be witnessed. In line with this tendency, also many Italian municipalities are employing more and more frequently decision-making tools that are intended to involve common citizens in the traditional (representative) decision-making structures. The Italian constitutional structure allows municipalities, even if not explicitly, to adopt regulations that introduce consultative participatory procedures. This has been also confirmed by the Italian Constitutional Court.
The Italian Constitution does not contain any explicit reference to participatory democracy and its democratic nature is based on Article 1 (particularly paragraph 2) which regulates the principle of popular sovereignty. The democratic principle is concretely implemented through instruments of representative and direct democracy, explicitly provided for by the constitutional text. Nonetheless, a constitutional connection to participatory democracy can be identified in Article 3 paragraph 2 of the Constitution, which provides for ‘…(the) effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organization of the Country’. In addition, Article 118 paragraph 4 of the Constitution stipulates that ‘State, Regions, metropolitan Cities, Provinces and Municipalities encourage the autonomous initiative of citizens, individuals and associates, for the conduct of general interest activities, based upon the principle of subsidiarity’. This is the principle of horizontal subsidiarity that paves the way for forms of collaboration between citizens and administrations as part of the management of material and concrete activities, rather than the development of general legislative acts.
With particular regard to the local system, the ways in which citizens can participate in decision-making processes are, to one extent, traditional instruments of representative democracy, in particular elections of the local council, and that of direct democracy, like consultative referenda; on the other hand, municipalities can adopt regulations for promoting the participation of citizens in local decision-making, as stated by Article 8 of the Consolidated Law on Local Authorities. This norm represents the legislative translation of Article 3(2) of the Constitution. The provision stipulates that the municipalities must promote organizations of participation in the local administration, by way of the introduction in their statutes of ‘forms of consultation of the population as well as procedures for the admission of requests, petitions and proposals of individual or associated citizens aimed at promoting interventions for the best protection of collective interests’. The Consolidated Law on Local Authorities is the source that underpins formal legitimacy and the extent of the municipal regulatory competence in terms of adoption of institutes of participatory democracy.
According to Valastro, about a third of the Italian municipalities have equipped themselves, over time, with one or more regulations that in various ways regulate participatory democracy procedures. Looking at the ca. 8,000 Italian municipalities almost 3,000 regulations can be identified: a rather high number if we consider that the first ones have begun to be approved at the beginning of the 1980s. With regard to the geographical distribution, the regulations are spread all over the country with a prevalence to be identified in the northeastern regions that are characterized by a high density of municipalities.
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