The Council of Municipalities of South Tyrol as Facilitator of Local-Subnational Relations

Greta Klotz, Eurac Research

Relevance of the Practice

With the Italian constitutional reform of 2001 (Article 123 of the Italian Constitution), it was introduced that each Italian region shall regulate in its statute the activity of a Council of Local Authorities (Consiglio delle Autonomie Locali – CAL) as a consultative body between the regions and local authorities. Although the five special regions (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-South Tyrol and Val d’Aosta) enjoy autonomous competences in the organization and functioning of local authorities and they are, following the decision by the Constitutional Court no 370/2006, not obliged to establish this institution, all of them have set up such an advisory body.

On this legal basis, the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/South Tyrol established in 2003 the Council of Municipalities (hereinafter the Council) which was then reformed in 2010. The Council is based at the South Tyrolean Parliament and issues ‘advisory opinions’ (Gutachten/pareri) on all draft laws and resolutions of the provincial parliament and government concerning the local level: ‘The Council is required to express an opinion on draft legislative acts, state ordinances and general administrative acts, where these concern matters in which the relevant functions are wholly or partly assigned or allocated to municipalities, local taxes or local finances’.[1]

The Council has a crucial role for representing the positions and assessments of local authorities in the decision-making process at subnational level and it has to speak with one voice.

Description of the Practice

In the respective Law no 4 of 4 February 2010, the Council is defined as ‘advisory board’ and as ‘body of cooperation’ between the Autonomous Province and the municipalities.

The Council consists of 17 members (16 ordinary members and the President) which are at the same time also the members of the executive board of the local government association of South Tyrol (Südtiroler Gemeindeverband/Consorzio dei Comuni). The Council brings together political representatives of different municipalities and guarantees also a balance between big and small municipalities and different territories of the Province. Only current or former mayors as well as members of the local executives can be elected as members of the Council. This applies also for the President of the Council. The vast majority of the 17 members is elected by the plenary assembly of all South Tyrolean mayors and only some of them, for instance the members representing the City of Bolzano, are nominated. For a territorial balance, each of the seven Bezirksgemeinschaften/comunitá comprensoriali (intermediate territorial bodies between the municipalities and Autonomous Province) is entitled to have one member in the Council. The City of Bolzano as capital city of the province has the right to nominate three members. In addition, the municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants and the group of municipalities with up to 1,200 inhabitants each send one member.

If population size of more than 10,000 inhabitants is taken as indicator (because only such municipalities can apply for recognition as town), then urban-rural representation is quite balanced. Six out of 17 members are currently from such municipalities. Formally, local authorities from urban areas seem to be overrepresented compared to those from rural areas. The City of Bolzano nominates three members and municipalities with a population of over 20,000 a fourth one, while those with less than 1,200 inhabitants are only represented by one representative. However, most of the Council members elected irrespective of whether they come from an urban or rural municipality (e.g. those from each Bezirksgemeinschaft/comunitá comprensoriale) are in practice from smaller rural local governments. The latter dominate these elections for demographic reasons. Only seven out of 116 municipalities in South Tyrol have more than 10,000 inhabitants, even though they constitute 43,6 per cent of the total population in the province.

Apart from guaranteeing a balance between big and small municipalities, the composition of the Council has also to respect a balance of the three linguistic groups in South Tyrol: one member has to be from the Ladin language group and four members from the Italian language group. Furthermore, in relation to the number of female mayors and executive members also the representation of women has to be guaranteed in the Council. The election of the members is announced by the President of the South Tyrolean Parliament, who also appoints the members by decree. The Secretary General of the Council is also the Managing Director of the provincial local government association.

As for its tasks and functions, the Council gives its opinion on all drafts of laws and resolutions which concern the local level, although these are not binding opinions. It must provide an opinion within 30 days of being requested by the South Tyrolean Parliament or the provincial government. If the political representatives do not comply with the opinion, the parliament or the government must provide a written justification. Apart from the fact that its opinions may be overruled, it has no right to initiate the process of giving opinions. As the Council may only act upon request, the definition of what constitutes a ‘local’ issue and thus triggers the consultation mechanisms is a prerogative of the provincial parliament and government. The Council issues positive, negative or conditionally positive opinions. The latter are opinions that contain comments or proposed changes. In 2018, a total of 84 opinions on draft laws or government resolutions were issued. Almost half (45 out of 84) were positive without conditions, 24 were positive with conditions or comments, four were negative. Apart from this most important function, the Council has the following rights:

  • it has legislative initiative with regard to provincial laws concerning local issues;
  • the President of the Council can request hearings by the legislative commissions of the provincial parliament;
  • it can, with the approval of two thirds of its members, initiate a referendum to abolish a provincial law, except in areas relating to local taxes, finance or the provincial budget.

Assessment of the Practice

The establishment of the Council as institutionalized advisory body can be seen as a huge valorization of the local level of government, as the involvement of the municipalities in the legislative process contributes to the enhancement of local autonomy. Nevertheless, the Council’s actual political influence remains limited by its only consultative function. Through the personal union between the Council members and its Secretary with the executive board and the Managing Director of the provincial local government association, both bodies form a unity which further reinforces their central role in vertical relations with the province and horizontally between the municipalities themselves. The provincial local government association would like to enhance the functions of the Council: They propose that a deviation of the Council’s opinions should require approval by a qualified majority. Furthermore, they request the presence of the Council President also at the legislative committee discussions which follow the hearing involving the President before this committee.

Recently, however, the Council has been involved in the implementation of the new Law no 18/2017 on the organization of the municipalities including the forms of inter-municipal cooperation.[2] It is actively involved and all decisions have to be taken in agreement. In this regard, however, it is stipulated that if there is no agreement between the Council and the provincial government within 60 days, the latter can continue with the implementation. This underlines that the role of the municipalities has been enhanced but they are not (yet) equal partners. It is difficult to assess the effectiveness in comparison with the Councils of Local Authorities (CAL) in other regions. In general, the latter are not seen as having had a major added value.[3] The degree of their involvement depends very much on the regional government in office, but according to many studies they are not the places where real consultation takes place. For this purpose, informal political channels are normally preferred.

References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications

D’Orlando E and Grisostolo FE, ‘La disciplina degli enti locali tra uniformità e differenziazione’ in Francesco Palermo and Sara Parolari (eds), Le variabili della specialitá (ESI 2018)

Peterlini E, Der Rat der Gemeinden der Autonomen Provinz Bozen-Südtirol (Studia 2013)

Peterlini E, ‘Der Rat der Gemeinden. Von schwammigen beratenden Funktionen zum politischen Gewicht in der Landespolitik’ in Elisabeth Alber, Alice Engl and Günther Pallaver (eds), Politika 2016. Südtiroler Jahrbuch für Politik (politika and Raetia 2016) Südtiroler Gemeindenverband, ‘Festschrift. 50 Jahre Südtiroler Gemeindenverband’ (2004

[1] Article 6, Provincial Law no 4/2010

[2] For more detail on this law and on inter-municipal cooperation in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/South Tyrol, see report section 4.5. on Inter-municipal Cooperation Based on a Model Agreement: A Top-down Approach in South Tyrol.

[3] Interview with Claudia Tubertini, Associate Professor, Department of Legal Studies, University of Bologna (14 May 2021).