Alfonso Egea de Haro (coord), Carmen Navarro, José María Rodríguez de Santiago and Silvia Díez Sastre, Instituto de Derecho Local, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
In the Spanish legal system, the autonomous communities are entitled to develop further the legal system of local government while respecting municipal autonomy (Article 140 of the Spanish Constitution), the fundamental regulations of the state in local government and liability of the public administration (Article 149(1)(18) of the Spanish Constitution).
In the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, the participation of local governments in decision-making processes is mainly articulated through collegial advisory bodies. These are made up of representatives from different levels of government. Article 7 of the Act 40/2015 on the Legal Regime of the Public Sector establishes that the so-called advisory administration may be articulated through specific bodies with organic and functional autonomy. The characteristic element of this collegial advisory administration is precisely its hierarchical independence in order to guarantee the fulfilment of its functions. In addition to collegiate advisory bodies, this legal framework makes it possible to create collegial bodies that can perform various functions (decision, proposal, advice, monitoring, or control). These collegial bodies share with the consultative bodies the hierarchical independence unless otherwise is provided for by their constitutional rule.
Recently, the Act 2/2016 on Local Institutions in the Basque Country established the Basque Council for Local Public Policies (BCLPP) as a permanent institution entrusted with the task of ensuring that institutional cooperation between local, regional and state levels of governments is effective, and guaranteed the recognition of municipal interests in the processes of design, preparation, execution, and evaluation of public policies. Hence, BCLPP plays an important role in planning and evaluating public policies. The BCLPP aims to promote cooperation or, where appropriate, coordination, for the integrated management of public policies by the different levels of government. Furthermore, the council is in charge of requiring the competent autonomous body (Basque Government Council) to file an appeal of alleged unconstitutionality when it identifies a breach of local autonomy.
One of the first actions taken by the BCLPP has been the elaboration of an Action Plan to evaluate collegial advisory bodies. The implementation of this Plan is instrumental for the development of the functions of the BCLPP since this entity is intended to replace a set of collegial bodies for the coordination in the provision of local services. The Action Plan is therefore a diagnostic exercise of how the bodies aimed at coordination for the provision of public services have functioned. The result of this Plan is that the BCLPP is able to achieve a more efficient and effective coordination for the delivery of public services at the local level.
The BCLPP consists of eighteen members: six members representing the regional government, two members from each of the three provincial councils (diputaciones forales), and six members corresponding to the municipalities. As for the latter, at least one-third of the municipal representatives are elected from municipalities with a population of fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. At present, the representatives of the municipalities cover from municipalities with 78 inhabitants (Orexa) or 1,614 inhabitants (Asparrena) to cities with more than 300,000 inhabitants (Bilbao). Consequently, the balance between rural and urban municipalities is obtained through composition to a large extent. To this regard, the representation of urban local governments (ULGs) and rural local governments (RLGs) is channeled through the Association of Basque Municipalities (EUDEL) preserving the presence of municipalities from different sizes, so with at least one-third of the municipal representatives elected from municipalities with a population of less than 5,000 inhabitants.
The main functions of the BCLPP are the promotion of intergovernmental relations and the channeling of proposals to promote regulations on those matters related to the competences of the municipalities and within the scope of the Autonomous Community of Basque Country. The BCLPP’s main organ, the board, adopts its decisions by plurality, and it is assisted by a Secretariat linked to the regional government. Despite of the fact that the BCLPP operates in complete organic and functional autonomy, the BCLPP is attached to a department of the Basque Government, although only for budgetary purposes.
The BCLPP is a relatively new institution that has to operate in an institutional context densely populated by different types of collegial bodies. In other words, the BCLPP competes with other bodies for the promotion of inter-administrative cooperation between local, provincial, and regional governments. In this scenario, the BCLPP aims at reorganizing the fragmented collegial advisory bodies landscape. In doing so, the BCLPP replaces those collegial bodies in their role of cooperation and coordination mechanisms for the integrated management of public policies by the different levels of government.
In general terms, collegial bodies are the most common form of collaboration between different public administrations. These collegial bodies are present in almost all areas of activity and may include representatives of civil society. Despite their role, there is a lack of knowledge about how these collegial bodies perform their function and how local interests are represented ad integrated into public policies. Moreover, there are no evaluation criteria or indicators of efficiency and effectiveness that would allow these collegial bodies to be held accountable. To fill this gap, the CBPPL has promoted the development and implementation of the Action Plan for the Evaluation of Interorganizational Collegial Bodies (APEICB) as part of the Strategic Plan for Governance and Public Innovation 2020.
The APEICB aims to (i) analyze the functioning of collegial cooperation bodies (i.e. regulations, structure and composition, meetings, plans and actions implemented), (ii) evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the collegial advisory bodies in the Basque institutional systems, (iii) assess the impact that collegial bodies have on the definition, monitoring and evaluation of sectoral public policies, (iv) propose measures to rationalize and improve the work of collegial bodies, (v) identify the existing collegial bodies whose functions can be assumed by the BCLPP and the possible creation of Sectorial Commissions within it (Article 86(3) Act 2/2016). Therefore, the APRIAB´s objective is to transform knowledge into institutional change.
In order to meet these objectives, the APEICB was structured in four main stages: (i) identification and elaboration of an inventory of inter-administrative collegial bodies, (ii) evaluation of the functioning of the organs, (iii) elaboration of an executive program of proposals, (iv) implementation of the executive program. Up to date, the APEICB has reached the third stage. The APEICB has allowed to mapping the landscape of inter-administrative collegial bodies. A total of 350 collegiate bodies have been established since the 1970s. The pace of creation has not been uniform, with the creation of bodies being concentrated in periods (V, VIII, and X legislative terms) – see the figure below.
Up to 74 of the 350 collegial bodies have been inactive for the past 4 years (i.e. no meetings or actions reported). Moreover, 174 of the 250 bodies did not have approved internal governance rules. The collegial bodies respond to a plurality of subjects, of which health (16 per cent), education (13 per cent), economy and finance (7 per cent), environment, and Basque language (5 per cent) are prevalent. The bulk of these bodies (119) are of an inter-institutional nature as other public administrations participate (provincial councils, municipalities, universities, among others). Regarding their function, most of them are of an advisory nature (60 per cent), mainly executive (10 per cent), and more participative than other functions (14 per cent). Local governments participate in 34 per cent of these collegial bodies, and 38 per cent along with the provincial councils. Up to 38 per cent of the collegial bodies issue binding reports.
The above-mentioned results empowered the BCLPP to make proposals for institutional changes in the collegial bodies in order to promote efficiency, transparency and coordination of the different levels of government (e.g. suppression of duplicate or inefficient collegiate bodies, reallocation of functions in the BCLPP). In this regard, the APEICB presents several features to facilitate institutional change. First, the APEICB evaluates a broad range of administrative bodies regardless of their formal denomination (inter-administrative organs, committees, consultative bodies, among others). This broad definition allows BCLPP to gain full knowledge of the landscape of collegial bodies and therefore to legitimate their proposals for institutional change. Second, the APEICB elaborates on a methodological scheme to evaluate the collegial bodies systematically. In this regard, the APEICB is made of information about the legal framework, functions, organization, resources and methods, activity, impact on the design of public policies, gender equality dimension regarding the collegial bodies. Third, the APEICB was considered a collaborative instrument in itself since all the information gathered was shared though a SharePoint collaborative space located at the BCLPP. Finally, the APEICB foresees accountability mechanisms such as the requirement for collegial bodies to submit information to the BCLPP regularly to update the information of the database of collegial bodies.
To sum up, The BCLPP represents a balance in the influence and greater coordination between the ULGs and RLGs due to the characteristics of the composition of the BCLPP and the type of public management it carries out, which is based on the generation of knowledge and the accountability of the other collegiate bodies. Therefore, the APEICB is an example of instrument of political influence by the BCLPP through the management of knowledge.
The APEICB can be initially evaluated in terms of its ultimate goal, which is to make the BCLPP the institutional space for the design of local public policies. From this perspective, and although the APEICB is currently in the implementation phase of institutional change proposals, its capacity as an engine for institutional change can be foreseen. This capacity is based on two main elements. On the one hand, the generation of knowledge about the functioning of the collegial coordination bodies. On the other, the establishment of a system of accountability, since these collegial bodies are required to report on a series of activity indicators that will serve to propose new organizational changes in order to better achieve coordination of local public policies.
From this perspective, the APEICB may enhance the role of urban and rural municipalities in decision-making through monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. In the case of rural municipalities, rural local governments are granted with at least one-third of the representatives of the BCLPP. Secondly, the very configuration of the BCLPP as a center for promoting knowledge on public administration at the local level represents an opportunity for local governments to have a say in decision-making due to their access to information.
Notwithstanding the above, the level of compliance with the APEICB in terms of accountability and the extent to which the weaknesses observed can be addressed by the BCLPP remain open questions. The resources of the BCLPP are not significant due to its novelty, so its capacity to assume responsibility for the coordination of local public policies remains to be confirmed.
The results of the BCLPP are limited so far due to the profound transformation of the organizational structure involved and the recent implementation of its main mechanism, the APEICB. Its necessity, however, stems from the limitations of the other mechanisms for local entities involvement in upper levels of government. Specifically, local entities participation in the legislative process at the regional level is mainly channeled through regional associations of local entities. The latter associations verify that legislative initiatives respect local autonomy and the competences of local governments.
However, this participation does not necessarily imply that local entities may define the main issues on the political agenda. The determination of the issues to be discussed is still monopolized by the regional governments. Therefore, the BCLPP, through mechanisms such as the APEICB, tend to anticipate the participation of local government in the legislative process and therefore increase its political leverage.
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 Source: APEICB.