First Territorial Unit of Metropolitan Nature in Poland: The Metropolitan Union ‘Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis’

Andżelika Mirska and Karolina Zbytniewska, University of Warsaw

Relevance of the Practice

After many unsuccessful attempts to solve the problem of governance in metropolitan areas in Poland in a top-down manner, the establishment of a new territorial unit of metropolitan nature in 2018 was certainly an important event in Poland. Of course, this is only the first step in a territorial reform. However, the success (or failure) of the ‘Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis’ will determine the objectives for further reforms in this area.

Description of the Practice

The first metropolitan union in Poland established pursuant to an act of parliament was created on 1 January 2018 within a territory of one voivodeship – the Śląskie voivodeship which is the most highly urbanized and most populated in Poland. Moreover, it is a polycentric type of metropolitan area, i.e. an urban settlement system consisting of many highly urbanized territorial areas.[1]

Firstly, the development of metallurgy and mining, mainly of hard coal was the factor that has resulted in the emergence of a polycentric structure (conurbation) in Upper Silesia from the 19th century. The region is established by a dozen or so highly urbanized cities with a comparable population and economic potential. The special features of Upper Silesia are: a very high population density and build-up intensity, an extensive road infrastructure network and public transport connections, large daily migration between the agglomeration cities. The natural environment degradation related to the industry development and the mineral deposits exploitation as well as the post-industrial areas revitalization is a significant challenge

The metropolitan union ‘Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis’ comprised 41 territorial units: 13 cities with powiat status and 28 gminas. (The entire Śląskie voivodeship consists of 19 cities with powiat status, 17 powiats and 167 gminas). The area of the union is 2.553 sq kmwhich constitutes approximately 20 per cent of the area of the Śląskie voivodeship. The union is inhabited by over 2.3 million residents, i.e. the half of population of the whole Śląsie voivodeship. The heavy concentration of people within the union is also reflected by the population density in the amount of 893 persons per sq km (For the Śląsk voivodeship it is 370 persons per sq km, national average for Poland  -123 per sq km).[2] The degree of urbanization is very high and amounts to 94 per cent (the average for the Śląsk voivodeship is 78 per cent, for Poland – 60 per cent in 2016).[3]

The concept of formation of a metropolitan union in Poland is based on cooperation between local government units, state authorities and – most importantly – inhabitants. The process of formation of Metropolitan Union ‘Upper Silesian and Zagłębie Metropolis’ included three stages:

First, adoption of the Act of 9 March 2017 on the Metropolitan Union in the Śląskie Voivodeship which set forth the procedure for the establishment of a metropolitan union.

Second, preparation of a motion for the establishment of the metropolitan union by gminas involved. Formally, the motion was submitted by the city council of Katowice, the largest city in that region (300 thousand inhabitants).

Third, the issuance of the regulation by the Polish government on the establishment of the metropolitan union.[4] The regulation became effective as of 1 July 2017. The issuance of the regulation involved obtaining an opinion from:

  • councils of gminas which were to be included in the metropolitan union after having consulted inhabitants;
  • sejmik [regional assembly] of the Śląskie voivoideship (it is a legislative body of the local government of the Śląskie voivodeship);
  • Silesian voivode (a representative of the Polish government in the Śląskie voivodeship).

One of the obligatory elements of the procedure for the establishment of the metropolitan union regulated by the Act of 9 March 2017 on the Metropolitan Union in the Śląskie Voivodeship was the application of a participatory democracy instrument. In all gminas included in the motion it was required to hold consultations with inhabitants about the inclusion of a given gmina in the metropolitan union to be formed within the Śląskie voivodeship. They were held from 11 April to 11 May 2017 – for the period of minimum 2 weeks in each of the gminas. Opinions could be submitted through various means: by post, e-mail, dedicated boxes in gmina’s offices, cultural centers, libraries etc. and, in some gminas, through electronic means via websites or through pollsters. In total, 12.5 thousand inhabitants participated in the consultations. 90 per cent of them was in favor of the formation of the metropolitan union, 5 per cent was against, and 5 per cent cast invalid votes.[5]

Consultations with residents were only advisory and non-binding (not a form of local referendum). However, they were evidently considered by the individual communes’ councils voted for joining the Metropolitan Union ‘Upper Silesian and Zagłębie Metropolis’. Separate consultations with residents were organized by each of the communes in their areas. Nevertheless, the question raised was similar in all communes: ‘Are you in favor of your commune joining the Metropolitan Union “Upper Silesian and Zagłębie Metropolis”?’[6]

As regards the opinions of councils of gminas included in the metropolitan union, all 41 councils opted for the formation of a new territorial unit. It should be stressed, however, that in accordance with the act, at least 70 per cent of gminas must be in favor for the regulation on the establishment of the metropolitan union to be adopted.[7]

The Metropolitan Union ‘Upper Silesian and Zagłębie Metropolis’ owns its systemic and legal position to the act and regulation, namely a decision made by the central Polish authorities (the Parliament of Poland and the Council of Ministers). This new unit in the territorial structure of Poland gained a legal status similar to that of local government units. The Act of 9 March 2017 on the Metropolitan Union in the Śląskie Voivodeship stated that ‘the metropolitan union shall perform public tasks on its own behalf and responsibility, have legal personality and the independence of the metropolitan union is legally protected’. (This legal principle has been applied to local government units: gminas, powiats and voivodeships). Additionally, the act set out the scope of operation and tasks, authorities (bodies) of the metropolitan union, the procedure for their appointment and scope of competences.[8] The determination of financial independence principle and guaranteed sources of financing the activities of the union was also of major significance.

The metropolitan union constitutes a new organizational and legal form in the Polish political and government system, combining the elements of the classic, voluntary unions between gminas and local government units. It cannot, however, be qualified as a local government unit, as it fails to meet the obligation imposed by the Constitution of the Republic of Poland according to which a decision-making body must be appointed at a general election.[9]

The decision-making body (the Metropolis Assembly) is the regulatory and inspecting authority of the Metropolitan Union ‘Upper Silesian and Zagłębie Metropolis’. It consists of delegates from the communes forming a part of the union which is one from each commune. Voits, mayors or presidents of cities (i.e. commune executive authorities) are these delegates or persons authorized by them. The assembly election method established in the act was criticized by scientists.[10] The charge was the lack of democratic procedures.

The management board is the executive authority of the Metropolitan Union ‘Upper Silesian and Zagłębie Metropolis’, and consists of 5 members, including the chairman. The management board is elected by the meeting of the union in a secret ballot. Firstly, the board chairman is elected and then the remaining members of the board at the chairman request. 

The metropolitan union assembly resolutions are passed in a special way, i.e. by a double majority of votes (the majority of communes included in the union and such a number of communes that their residents constitute the majority of the population living in the metropolitan area).

The legal personality was granted by the Metropolitan Union ‘Upper Silesian and Zagłębie Metropolis’. However, the residents were not made the union’s authority operator. Residents do not have the right to elect the union authorities or the right to a referendum on union’s matters.

Conversely, the metropolitan union has the remaining three features of local government, i.e.:

  • the subject – established in order to perform public tasks – like local government units;
  • the tasks – the act uses the term ‘own tasks’ of the union – like local government units;
  • review over the activity – the union was subject to review – like local government units.

Only communes can be members of a metropolitan union. 

The solutions provided for in the act are aimed at the formation of institutionalized ‘metropolitan governance system’ with the elements of a ‘metropolitan government’ indicated by the fact of public taxes constituting the source of income and statutory competences of the metropolitan union.

Not only the establishment of the metropolitan union but also the modification of its boundaries remains at the discretion of the central government. The modification is carried out through the same procedure which is applied for the formation of the union, however, the modification may only involve the expansion of the union area by inclusion of additional gminas. Therefore, it is not possible to leave the metropolitan union.

The Metropolitan Union performs public services that include shaping of the spatial order, social and economic development, public transport, metropolitan passenger mobility, co-operation on delineating national and regional roads within the metropolitan limits, and promoting of the metropolis externally. Setting up an umbrella metropolitan union allows to coordinate planning and implementation of these services better and at a lower cost in sum. This also benefits its citizens, who – apart from comfortability of these solutions, also save money on coherent ticket systems for example, but also who can identify more with a broader metropolitan entity.[11]

Assessment of the Practice

The first year of the existence of the Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis showed that it is fairly difficult to reconcile the interests of the many entities that form the metropolitan union. The source of financing for  the ‘Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis’ are, inter alia, payments made by the communes. It is a very difficult and arduous negotiation process to establish the mechanism for calculating the contribution. The major problem constitutes constant reconciliation of the amount of the contribution paid by the communes to the joint budget. It should be emphasized  that the communes making up  the ‘Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis’ had never cooperated with each other(except for the strict center of the union). For example, one commune planned the construction of a housing estate, and neighboring commune planned the construction of a landfill next to it. Thus, the activities of  the ‘Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis’ constitute an attempt to coordinate the activities of the member communes.[12] Although the union performs its tasks (e.g. creates new public transport lines), the conflict between the Law and Justice party and the Civic Platform party, which has been brought from the central politics level, has a great influence on its activity. It hinders the decision-making process, however the parties are aware of the need to cooperate for the benefit of the inhabitants. Apart from that, there is a historical conflict between two geographical regions (‘Silesia’ and ‘Zagłębie’) which now form part of a single territorial unit.

A bottom-up cooperation of local government units functioned as a metropolitan union in the Upper Silesian-Zagłębie ‘Metropolis’ area before its establishment in 2018 (pursuant to the act of the Polish Parliament and the Council of Ministers Regulation). A voluntary bottom-up intercommunal union called ‘Upper Silesian Metropolitan Union’ was established in 2007. It was created by 12 cities with county rights, and then 2 more cities with county rights joined to it. The activities of the Upper Silesian Metropolitan Union laid the foundations for the top-down creation of Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis’.

Pursuant to the Act, the Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis’ must be characterized by the following features:

  • the strong functional interactions existence;
  • the urbanization processes advancement;
  • a coherent area in spatial terms;
  • the number with at least 2 million residents.

It is necessary to participate in the association of smaller towns and even neighboring rural communes considering the fact that the Upper Silesian Metropolitan Union area from 2007-2017 does not have a total number of two million residents.

Therefore, the borders of the Metropolis GZM established in 2017 covered 41 communes, including 13 cities with county rights and 13 urban communes, 13 rural communes and 2 urban-rural communes.

Figure 1: The Borders of the Upper Silesian Metropolitan Union (a bottom up initiative) and of Metropolitan Union ‘Upper Silesian and Zagłębie Metropolis’ (the top down intervention).[13]

The Upper Silesian-Zagłębie ‘Metropolis’ consists of two integrated spatial and functional forms, such as the core and the surroundings, i.e. the outer zone. The core creates a complex group of cities. It is a multi-center system called a polycentric system upgraded from an earlier development of the conurbation type. It consists of the largest 13 cities with county rights in terms of the population number and the hierarchy of municipal functions.

Figure 2: The Borders of the Śląskie voivodeship and the ‘Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis’.

The core is surrounded by municipalities that form a ring within the reach of the main metropolitan center. This area is spatially dense, created by communes with different administrative status. It is so-called the outer zone of the core or the metropolitan area. It consists of communes directly adjacent to the metropolitan union core or the ones located further away.

Suburbanization is a form of urbanization processes towards metropolitanization. On the one hand, the cities spreading indicate an improvement in the life quality considering the cities congestion and pollution growth. On the other hand, it is the result of the land rent increase in the largest centers core zone. It causes a partial blurring of the settlement structure traditional division into town and village, deepening the spatial boundaries disappearance between individual communes and intensifying the residential areas development.

References to Scientific and Non‐Scientific Publications

Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Monitoring Committee), ‘Local and Regional Democracy in Poland’ (Report CG36(2019), Congress of Local and Regional Authorities 2019) <>

Kaczmarek T, ‘Administrative Division of Poland – 25 Years of Experience During the Systemic Transformation’ (2016) 35 EchoGéo <>

Szajnowska-Wysocka A and Zuzańska-Żyśko E, ‘The Upper-Silesian conurbation on the path towards the ‘Silesiametropolis’ (2013) 21 Bulletin of Geography. Socio-Economic Series 111 Świaniewicz P, ‘Territorial Fragmentation is a Problem, Is Amalgamation a Solution? East European Perspective’ (2010) 36 Local Government Studies 183

[1] Andżelika Mirska, ‘State Policy on the Formation and Modernisation of Polish Territorial Structure’ in Europäisches Zentrum für Föderalismus-Forschung Tübingen EZFF (ed), Jahrbuch des Föderalismus 2018: Föderalismus, Subsidiarität und Regionen in Europa (Nomos 2018).

[2] Tadeusz Markowski and Tadeusz Marszał, Metropolie, obszary metropolitalne, metropolizacja. Problemy i pojęcia podstawowe (Polish Academy of Sciences 2006) 15.

[3] ‘Metropolis Today’ (Górnośląsko-Zagłębiowska Metropolia, 2019) <> accessed 1 December 2019.

[4] Regulation of the Council of Ministers of 26 June 2017 on the establishment within the Śląskie voivodeship of the metropolitan union under the name ‘Upper Silesian and Zagłębie Metropolis’. Regulation of the Council of Ministers of June 26, 2017 on the establishment of a metropolitan union in the Śląskie Voivodeship under the name of Górnośląsko-Zagłębiowska Metropolia (Dz.U. 2017 poz. 1290).

[5] Motion to establish the metropolitan union, accepted through the resolution of the City Council of Katowice of 29 May 2017, 19. Content of the motion: <> accessed 1 April 2018.

[6] ‘Wyniki konsultacji społecznych w Katowicach’ (Metropolia GZM, 30 May 2017)                <>.

[7] Art 7(4) of the Act of 9 March 2017 on the Metropolitan Union in the Śląskie Voivodeship.

[8] Act of 9 March 2017 on the Metropolitan Union in the Śląskie Voivodeship.

[9] Andżelika Mirska, ‘State Policy on the Formation and Modernisation of Polish Territorial Structure’.

[10] Sławomir Bukowski, ‘Ustawa metropolitalna kosztem demokracji?’ (Wspólnota, 12 January 2016)              <>.

[11]‘Metropolis Today’ (Górnośląsko-Zagłębiowska Metropolia, 2019) <> accessed 2 December 2019.

[12] See the report from the LoGov Country Workshop, Structure of Local Government, 24 May 2021.

[13] PZS, ‘Piekary Śląskie: konsultacje społeczne ws. Metropolii Silesia’ (Piekary Śląskie, 13 April 2017)              <>.