Andżelika Mirska, University of Warsaw
Relevance of the Practice
Communes (gminas) are called ‘little homelands’ or ‘schools of democracy’. The Polish Constitutions states that the residents of communes may make decisions considering their community in a local referendum. Polish law also provides for an obligation to consult residents. In addition, various forms of citizens co-decision have proliferated recently, e.g. participatory budgets under the participatory administration model.
The question arises whether the change of the commune (gmina) borders belongs to such decisions in which the residents should be authorized to make them. The issue of changing the borders of communes, such as merging, dividing and liquidating communes, has become a very controversial and emotional topic in recent years.
No comprehensive, top-down territorial reform concerning communes, e.g. merging communes to obtain territorially larger units, has been carried out since 1989/1990, since the beginning of the systemic transformation and the restoration of local government in communes. However, the adjustments of communes’ borders are made every year. The incorporation of some areas of rural communes such as individualvillages (solectwos) into the neighboring large cities is the specific type of adjustments. Obtaining land for cities development and investments is the aim of such a procedure. It leads to a conflict of interests emerging between rural communes (rural gminas) and cities (urban gminas).
Rural communes (rural gminas) refer to the principle of communes’ identity and territorial stability of communes. The Association of Rural Communes, a national organization representing the rural communes’ interests, has repeatedly expressed its disapproval and an urgent objection to the expansion of urban areas at the expense of rural communes. The Association of Rural Communes indicates the issue of spatial urban sprawl that causes cities to strive for capturing territories surrounded by communes. It is supposed to be a panacea for the problems of urban depopulation.
Rural communes support the decision that residents should always decide about border changes and their opinion should be binding as opposed to consultations which are not binding. Rural local governments do not agree to deprive them of a part of their territory for economic reasons in order to increase the area and the urban’s wealth.
On the other hand, cities indicate the necessity to expand their area and incorporate suburbs to the cities, as suburban residents work and study in the city, use the urban infrastructure and pay taxes to the commune’s budget of the place of residence.
Description of the Practice
The decision to change the borders of individual communes in Poland is made by the central government (Council of Ministers). The Act of 8 March 1990 on Gmina Self-Government in Article 4 provides that ‘establishing and changing the communes (gminas) borders are made in a way that ensures the commune’s territory as consistent as possible with regard to the settlement and spatial layout, taking into account social, economic and cultural bonds, and ensuring the ability to perform public tasks’.
The act also states that in the process of border changing, it is necessary to consult the residents of both municipalities, and a local referendum may also be held. Such a referendum can only be initiated by residents. Importantly,consultations may be conducted in a part of the commune’s territory, e.g. in one village (solectwo). The referendum is held in the entire commune.
Moreover, the European Charter of Local Self-Government states that ‘changes in local authority boundaries shall not be made without prior consultation of the local communities concerned, possibly by means of a referendum where this is permitted by statute’.
In the study regarding changes in the communes’ borders in Poland, it was calculated that, for instance, in the years 2009-2018 the Polish Government issued a total of 183 decisions to change the borders of local government units, of which 137 concerned the incorporation of the commune territory or its parts, most frequently a village (solectwo) into the neighboring city.
The intensive efforts of the City of Rzeszow to expand its territory are a special case. Rzeszow, a city (urban commune) with county (powiat) rights, is the capital and central city of one of the 16 voivodeships. It is located in south-eastern Poland. In 1990, the population of residents was 153,000, in 2005 it was 158,000, and in 2020 it was 197,000. It is currently the 17th largest city concerning population in Poland.
Since 2005, the authorities of the City of Rzeszow have been taking very intensive actions to enlarge the city area. An application is submitted every year to the Council of Ministers (central government) to include neighboring communes or their parts (of villages/solectwos). For example, in the 2016 request, there were as many as 12 villages (solectwos) that Rzeszow wanted to incorporate. In 2011-2016, the government did not agree to any of Rzeszow’s requests. Rzeszow has tried repeatedly to incorporate some villages. Such an example is the Matysowka solectwo incorporated into Rzeszow in 2019. Rzeszow unsuccessfully applied for the incorporation of this solectwo in 2005, 2007, 2011, and 2017.
|Name of solectwo/village||Consultation results with residents||Area|
|2006||Slocina (Słocina) – solectwo in the rural Commune of Krasne||80.4% of the residents of solectwo Slocina against the incorporation into Rzeszow||9.16 km2|
|2006||Zaleze (Załęże) – solectwo in the rural Commune of Krasne||78% of the residents of solectwo Zaleze against the incorporation into Rzeszow||5.20 km2|
|2007||A part of Przybyszowka (Przybyszówka) – solectwo in the rural Commune of Swilcza (Świlcza)||2004: 81.4% of the residents of solectwo Przybyszowka against the incorporation into Rzeszow 2005: 75.92% of the residents of sołectwo Przybyszowka against the incorporation into Rzeszow||9.25 km2|
|2008||The remaining part of Przybyszowka – solectwo in the rural Commune of Swilcza||Approx. 80% of the residents of Przybyszowka in favor of the incorporation into Rzeszow No data available on the website of Swilcza commune||7 km2|
|2008||Zwieczyca (Zwięczyca) – solectwo in the urban-rural Commune of Boguchwala (Boguchwała)||2004: 91.49% of the residents of the entire commune against the incorporation into Rzeszow||7.2 km2|
|2009||A part of the village Biala (Biała) from the urban-rural Commune of Tyczyn||59.8% of the residents of the entire commune against the incorporation into Rzeszow 61% of the residents of Biala in favor of the incorporation into Rzeszow||6.1 km2|
|2010||A part of Milocin (Miłocin) from the urban-rural Commune of Glogow Malopolski (Głogów Małopolski)||No data||1.24 km2|
|2010||Budziwoj (Budziwój) from the urban-rural Commune of Tyczyn)||55% of the residents of the entire commune against the incorporation into Rzeszow. 58% of the residents of the village of Budziwoj in favor of the incorporation into Rzeszow||17.5 km2|
|2017||Bzianka (solectwo in the rural Commune of Swilcza)||65.29% of the solectwo of Bzianka in favor of the incorporation into Rzeszow. (498 people were entitled to vote. 244 people participated in the consultation)||4.04 km2|
|2019||Matysowka (Matysówka), a part of the urban-rural Commune of Tyczyn||52.57% of the residents of the entire commune against the incorporation into Rzeszow. 63% of the residents of Matysowka in favor of the incorporation into Rzeszow||5.3 km2|
|2019||The second part of Milocin – from the urban-rural Commune of Glogow Malopolski||68.62% of the residents of the entire commune against the incorporation into Rzeszow The residents of the solectwo of Milocin: voting at a village meeting, 62 out of 80 voting were in favor of the incorporation into Rzeszow||0.9 km2|
|2021||Podgwizdow Nowy (Pogwizdów Nowy) – Głogow Malopolski||2018: 68.62% of the residents of the entire commune against the incorporation into Rzeszow. 2019: 92.84% of the entire commune against the incorporation into Rzeszow. 82.2% of the residents of the solectwo in favor of the incorporation (402 people) ||2.4 km2|
The incorporation of the neighboring areas in 2005–2021 resulted in an increase in the Rzeszów city’s area by 75.27 km2 (from 53.7 km2 to 128.97 km2) and the population by 35,000 (from 158,000 to 197,000).
Rzeszów is still leading up to strengthen its position as a metropolitan center in south-eastern Poland. The goal is intended to be achieved by successive incorporation of other communes neighboring with Rzeszów and increasing its territory and population.
The City of Rzeszow is planning further requests for the incorporation of further villages (solectwos): a part of the area of the solectwo of Raclawowka (Racławówka) from the Boguchwala (Boguchwała) commune, the area of the solectwo of Zaczernie and Nowa Wies (Nowa Wieś) and a part of the area of the solectwo of Jasionka from the Trzebownisko commune and the incorporation with the entire Commune of Swilcza (Świlcza). In the consultations, the residents of all these areas were against incorporating them into the city. There is an international airport (14 km from the center of Rzeszow) and the Podkarpackie Science and Technology Park Aeropolis in the area of the solectwo of Jasionka. In consultations in 2015, 96.41 per cent of the residents of Jesionka were against the incorporation into Rzeszow.
After analyzing the data on the incorporation into Rzeszow of some villages (solectwos) in 2005-2021, it can be noticed that:
- in most cases, residents of rural communes were against losing a part of the territory to the City of Rzeszow;
- consultations are non-binding and according to the examples, the borders of rural communes have often changed against the will of the residents.
However, there is a question considering whether the decision should be made by the residents of the entire rural commune or only the residents of a particular area (of a solectwo/village). For example, consultations conducted in the Tyczyn commune in 2016 showed the problem. Tyczyn commune is an urban-rural commune, consisting of the town of Tyczyn and four solectwos. The consultations were conducted in the entire commune: in total 57.3 per cent of the residents were against the fact that one solectwo (Matysowka) should be taken from the Tyczyn commune and incorporated into Rzeszow. However, in the area of this solectwo, 66.6 per cent of the residents were in favor of being incorporated into Rzeszow.
A similar situation was in the Glogow Malopolski commune in 2019. The consultations concerned the loss of the village of Pogwizdow Nowy (Pogwizdów Nowy) to Rzeszow. 93 per cent of the residents of the entire commune were against the separation of this village from the commune. Nevertheless, the residents of this village conducted their separate consultations and claimed that 489 residents took part in them which amount to 39 per cent of the village residents. 402 people, representing 82.2 per cent of voters, supported the incorporation of the village into Rzeszow.
Provided that consultations are non-binding and may be conducted in a part of the commune area, e.g. in one village (solectwo), a local referendum may be conducted only in the area of the entire commune.
The case of the Krasne commune:
- first, there were consultations;
- then, a local referendum was held in 2016 in the entire commune. High attendance: 56 per cent.
The first question concerned the incorporation of the entire Krasne commune into Rzeszow: approximately 62 per cent of the commune’s residents were against the incorporation. The second question was about the incorporation of one part of the Krasne commune (Malawa solectwo). However, the residents of the entire commune voted. 1,771 people voted for the incorporation of Malawa into Rzeszow, and 2,810 people against it. Malawa was the only solectwo where the majority of residents voted to incorporate into Rzeszow. 515 people were in favor of incorporating into Rzeszow, and 494 people against it.
Considering consultations with the residents of the City of Rzeszow, they are held very often and therefore little interest is aroused: about 1.36 per cent – 5 per cent of the residents participate in the vote. Nevertheless, about 90 per cent of voters support the expansion of the city borders. Moreover, there are also critical voices claiming that the city is investing mainly in newly acquired areas, building a school, and not in the city center.
Assessment of the Practice
Changing the borders of communes is associated with many problems. Rzeszow is not the only example. Other cities are also making efforts to increase their territory at the expense of neighboring communes. In terms of the compulsory consultation with residents, the following problem areas should be identified:
- how to solve the issue of consultations with residents, how and where to conduct them diligently;
- whether a referendum should be obligatory instead of non-binding consultations. Currently, the referendum is not obligatory. Nevertheless, at the residents request, it may be mandatory. The referendum is conducted according to the general procedure under the Act of 15 September 2000 on the local referendum;
- the problem of financing consultations and referendums. Residents do not want to submit a request for a referendum because they have to participate in the costs of holding a referendum;
- changing borders is a way to enlarge cities that want to build their central position in the region. This is how cities can build their positions as metropolis in the region. This is a problem of managing metropolitan regions. There is a question considering the necessity of another top-down way to build metropolitan territorial units. However, the most common model in Poland is based on voluntary cooperation between local government units in the functional areas of cities (including metropolitan areas);
- rural communes and urban-rural communes complain that they are losing attractive areas, as well as budget revenues. Residents of rural communes are afraid of higher taxes in the city;
- whether the inhabitants of rural communes should be asked for their opinion at all, because it inhibits the development of cities.
References to Scientific and Non‐Scientific Publications
Kociuba D, ‘Zmiany granic administracyjnych miast w Polsce – efekty przestrzenne i społeczno-ekonomiczne [Changes in the Administrative Boundaries of Cities in Poland – Spatial and Socio-Economic Effects]’ (2019) 33 Studia Miejskie 99 < https://doi.org/10.25167>
Bilska-Bałchank A, ‘Kształtowanie granic jednostek zasadniczego podziału terytorialnego państwa na przykładzie miasta Rzeszowa [Shaping the Boundaries of Units of the Basic Territorial Division of the Country on the Example of the City of Rzeszów]’ (Student scientific conference no 3, University of Warsaw) <http://m.wspia.eu/dzialalnosc-naukowa/konferencje-naukowe/studenckie-konferencje-naukowe/5460,studencka-konferencja-naukowa-nr-3.html>
 Art 170 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland of 1997 and the Act of 15 September 2000 on the local referendum (Dz.U. 2019 poz. 741).
 Art 4(a), 5(a) of the Act of 8 March 1990 on Gmina Self-Government, Art 3(a), 3(d) of the Act of 5 June 1998 on Powiat Self-Government, Art 10(a) of the Act of 5 June 1998 on Voivodeship Self-Government.
 A solectwo (sołęctwo) is an auxiliary unit of the commune (gmina) that does not have the status of local government unit and legal personality. The solectwo are established, transformed and liquidated independently by the commune. The solectwo operate in the area of rural communes and rural-urban communes.
 For the website of the Association of Rural Communes, see <http://www.zgwrp.pl/>.
 Position of the XVII Congress of Polish Rural Communes of October 20, 2017 on changes to the law regarding the division and changes of the communes borders, <http://www.zgwrp.pl/attachments/article/1227/ws.%20ochrony%20granic%20gmin.pdf> accessed 15 March 2021.
 Position of the XXXII General Assembly of the Association of Rural Communes of the Polish Republic of June 19, 2018 on changes to the law regarding the division and changes to the borders of communes, <http://www.zgwrp.pl/attachments/article/1354/XXXIIZO_stanowisko_granice.pdf> accessed 15 March 2021.
 Article 5 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, ratified by Poland in full in 1993.
 Dagmara Kociuba, ‘Zmiany granic administracyjnych miast w Polsce – efekty przestrzenne i społeczno-ekonomiczne [Changes in the Administrative Boundaries of Cities in Poland – Spatial and Socio-Economic Effects]’ (2019) 33 Studia Miejskie 99 < https://doi.org/10.25167>.
 Aleksandra Bilska-Bałchank, ‘Kształtowanie granic jednostek zasadniczego podziału terytorialnego państwa na przykładzie miasta Rzeszowa [Shaping the Boundaries of Units of the Basic Territorial Division of the Country on the Example of the City of Rzeszów]’ (Student scientific conference no 3, University of Warsaw) <http://m.wspia.eu/dzialalnosc-naukowa/konferencje-naukowe/studenckie-konferencje-naukowe/5460,studencka-konferencja-naukowa-nr-3.html> accessed 15 March 2021.
 Quarterly Journal of Commune of Swilcza, Trzcionka (no 32, 2004/2005 winter edition) <https://www.swilcza.com.pl/images/trzcionka/Trzcionka_032.pdf> accessed 15 March 2021; Notice by Head of the Swilcza commune from the 8 November 2004 on the official results of consultations on the change of the boundaries of the Swilcza Commune, conducted on 7 November 2004 <http://www.swilcza.i-gmina.pl/files/3255_Obwieszczenia_-_konsultacje.pdf> accessed 15 March 2021.
 Notice by Head of the Swilcza commune of 2 February 2005 on the official results of consultations on the change of the boundaries of the Swilcza Commune held from 20 to 31 January 2005 <www.swilcza.i-gmina.pl/files/3602_Obwieszczenia_-_konsultacje2.pdf> accessed 15 March 2021.
 ‘Zmiana granica – zmiana zdania?’ (Super Nowości, 18 May 2017) <http://supernowosci24.pl/zmiana-granica-zmiana-zdania/> accessed 15 March 2021.
 Protocol no XXIII/2004 of the Boguchwała Commune Council held on November 4, 2004 <https://www.bip.boguchwala.pl/183,24706,187/187/art1543.html> accessed 15 March 2021.
 ‘Biała i Budziwój chcą do Rzeszowa’ (nowiny 24, 31 January 2008) <https://nowiny24.pl/tyczyn-biala-i-budziwoj-chca-do-rzeszowa/ar/5997873> accessed 15 March 2021.
 <https://bip.tyczyn.pl/?c=mdTresc-cmPokazTresc-11-420> accessed 15 March 2021.
 ‘Results of the Consultations in the Commune of Tyczyn of 1 February 2009’ (Urząd Miejski w Tyczynie, 4 February 2009) <https://rzeszow.wyborcza.pl/rzeszow/1,34962,19861425,powiekszenie-rzeszowa-niedziela-w-bziance-z-tadeuszem-ferencem.html> accessed 15 March 2021.
 Justification to the Regulation of the Council of Ministers of 25 July 2018 on establishing the borders of some communes and cities and granting the city status to some localities. Opinion of the Podkarpackie Voivode of 27/04/2018 regarding the application for a change in the territorial division regarding the incorporation of some communes to Rzeszów City: Tyczyn, Boguchwała, Głogów Małopolski and Trzebownisko <https://bip.rzeszow.uw.gov.pl/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/solectwa.pdf> accessed 20 March 2021.
 Ordinance of the Council of Ministers of 31 July 2020 RM-110-109-20 in the case of establishing the borders of some municipalities of cities, granting some localities the status of a city, changing the name of the municipality and the seat of the municipal authorities <http://urbnews.pl/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/dokument457287.pdf> accessed 20 March 2021.
 ‘How our City Grew’ (City of Rzeszow, undated) <https://www.erzeszow.pl/692-rozszerzenie-granic-rzeszowa/13520-jak-roslo-nasze-miasto.html> accessed 16 March 2021.
 ‘Zmiana granica – zmiana zdania?’ (Super Nowości, 18 May 2017) <http://supernowosci24.pl/zmiana-granica-zmiana-zdania/> accessed 15 March 2021.
 ‘Wyniki konsultacji przyłączenia Matysówki do Rzeszowa’ (Gmina Matysówka, 22 February 2016) <http://www.matysowka.pl/ogloszenia/wyniki-konsultacji> accessed 15 March 2021.
 <https://bip.rzeszow.uw.gov.pl/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/opinia.pdf> accessed 15 March 2021.
 Protocol of establishing the result of the local referendum on the voluntary merger of the Krasne commune with the City of Rzeszów and the incorporation of the Malawa commune into Rzeszów of 23 October 2016. <https://www.gminakrasne.pl/biuletyn-informacji-publicznej/wybory/referendum-gminne-2016/> accessed 16 March 2021.
 The inhabitants of the Krasne commune do not want to go to Rzeszów. Full results of the referendum on the ‘Rzeszów News – Information portal’, <https://rzeszow-news.pl/mieszkancy-gminy-krasne-nie-chca-do-rzeszowa-wyniki-referendum/> accessed 16 March 2021.
 Joanna Pasterczyk, ‘Gmina Krasne przeciwko połączeniu Malawy z Rzeszowem. Radni zagłosowali na nadzwyczajnej sesji, mieszkańcy są oburzeni’ (Wyborcza.pl, 8 February 2019) <https://rzeszow.wyborcza.pl/rzeszow/7,34962,24440970,gmina-krasne-przeciwko-polaczeniu-malawy-z-rzeszowem-radni.html> accessed 16 March 2021.
 ‘Public Consultations on the Change of the Borders of the City of Rzeszów’ (Bulletin of Public Information of Rzeszów, undated) <https://bip.erzeszow.pl/107-wyszukiwarka/2182-wyniki-wyszukiwania.html?srch-term=wyniki+konsultacji&srch-muid=w+ca%C5%82ym+serwisie> accessed 16 March 2021.
 For further information, see <https://bip.rzeszow.uw.gov.pl/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/solectwa.pdf> accessed 16 March 2021.
 See report section 4 on local government structure and the example of establishing the Upper Silesian and Zagłębie Metropolis [Górnośląsko-Zagłębiowska Metropolia] as the first territorial unit of a metropolitan quality in Poland, report section 4.3.