Andżelika Mirska, University of Warsaw
The specificity of a unitary state does not require the creation of coordination mechanisms between national and subnational government levels as is the case in federal states. However, there remains the issue of regulating relations between the central government and local self-government and relations between various levels of local self-government.
According to formal rules, local self-government is not a participant in the process of adopting national laws and has no legislative initiative. The only legally guaranteed form of local self-government participation in the process of shaping the state policy are consultations on the bills adopted from the legislative initiative of the central government. This formalized and institutionalized consultation mechanism is applied through Joint Commission of the Government and Territorial Self-Government, which constitutes a body composed of representatives of the central government and local self-government. According to the relevant legal act, the joint commission is a forum for developing a common position of the central government and local self-government. In addition to this formal mechanism, local governments also hold informal contacts and lobbying activities which attempt to influence the actions of the central government and parliament in order to obtain solutions which are favorable to local self-government. In a democratic state, the right to express protest, dissatisfaction and criticism of the government’s actions is also obvious. Such activities, however, exceed the possibilities of individual local self-government units. For this reason, local self-government organizations play a key role in this regard (Article 172(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland guarantees the right of association to local self-government units). Apart from local or regional organizations, also nationwide local self-government organizations operate in Poland. The legal position of six such organizations has been strengthened by the fact that they are members of the Joint Commission of the Government and Territorial Self-Government, and such a composition of the joint commission was decided by the central government.
Due to the fact that there are three levels of local self-government in Poland, and additionally there exists a strong differentiation among the communes themselves (cities, urban-rural communes, rural communes), it was therefore of key importance to indicate the members of the joint commission. Consequently, the commission members include currently representatives of six nationwide organizations: the Union of Polish Metropolises, the Association of Polish Cities, the Association of Small Polish Towns, the Association of Rural Communes of the Republic of Poland, the Association of Polish Powiats and the Association of Voivodeships of the Republic of Poland.
As the names of these organizations show, they represent, first of all, individual levels of local self-government (communes, powiats and voivodships). Secondly, it can be seen that at the communes’ level, we deal with various categories of communes (very large metropolitan cities, cities, small towns, rural communes) whose interests are represented by separate self-government organizations.
Therefore, local self-government functions within the legal framework specified by the central authorities and is the recipient of the government’s development plans or financial support programs. General concepts of development have also changed in Poland, from polarization and diffusion concepts to concepts of sustainable development. Thus, these ‘rules of the game’ formulated at the central level have fundamental impact on the functioning of local self-government, often having different effects for various categories of local self-government units (general division into the interests of rural communes, urban communes and metropolises). Three nationwide local self-government organizations were selected for the analysis, which are representing different categories of Polish communes and through which the different interests of metropolitan, urban and rural local self-governments are manifested. These are the Union of Polish Metropolises, the Association of Polish Cities and the Association of Rural Communes of the Republic of Poland.
The Union of Polish Metropolises (Unia Metropolii Polskich – UMP) has the legal form of a foundation which was established in 1990, i.e. at the beginning of the systemic transformation in Poland and the reactivation of local self-government at the level of communes (1990). The founders of UMP were the seven largest Polish cities: Gdańsk, Katowice, Lublin, Łódź, Szczecin, Warsaw and Wrocław. Currently, the 12 largest cities in Poland belong to the organization.
The Association of Polish Cities (Związek Miast Polskich – ZMP) is a local self-government organization which follows the pre-war traditions (years 1917-1939). The reactivation of ZMP also took place at the beginning of the systemic transformation, in 1991. Currently, 353 cities belong to the ZMP. There are 954 cities in Poland, 302 of which have the status of a separate urban commune. There are also urban-rural communes, which can choose membership not in the Association of Polish Cities, but in another organization, which is the Association of Small Polish Towns (it associates about 130 small towns). Urban-rural communes may also decide to become members of the Union of Rural Communes of the Republic of Poland.
The Association of Rural Communes of the Republic of Poland (Związek Gmin Wiejskich Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej – ZGW RP) is also an organization with a long historical tradition, which was reactivated in 1992. It is the largest local self-government organization in Poland, currently associating 637 communes (553 of which constitute rural communes and 84 urban-rural communes). This means that 36.3 per cent of rural communes and 13.5 per cent of urban-rural communes in Poland are concentrated in this association.
When analyzing the activities of these self-government organizations (analysis of documents, official websites, media activity), it can be concluded that each of them indicates as one of its goals legislative lobbying, i.e. the impact on the content of laws enacted in Poland.
This aspect of activity is most clearly expressed by the Association of Polish Cities. In the charter of the association of 19 January 1991, it was specified that its tasks include:
- representing cities in all common matters on the national and international forum;
- initiating and issuing opinions on draft legal acts concerning local self-governments;
- conducting program, information, consulting and training activities aimed at joint problem solving in the field of individual areas of local municipal self-government activity.
It was stated on the association’s website that the Association of Polish Cities fights for the interests of Polish cities. It represents the interests of local municipal self-governments and conducts legislative lobbying on their behalf. It is a nationwide organization which integrates member cities around common goals. It is actively involved in activities supporting local self-government and decentralization and strives for a better development of Polish cities. ‘ZMP initiates joint actions against legal solutions unfavorable for cities and prepares its own draft amendments to legal acts.’
The next local self-government organization, the Union of Polish Metropolises, in its statute of 3 June 2019 lists, among others, the following goals of its activity:
- joint solving of specific problems of big cities;
- cooperation with state authorities as well as national, foreign and international organizations to increase the role of metropolises within the state and in European integration.
UMP wants to achieve these goals by financing, inter alia, preparation of ‘all legislative projects, taking into account the special role and scale of problems of metropolis in the state’ as well as the preparation of ‘seminars, discussions and panels with participation of politicians and experts, dedicated to urban and metropolitan issues’.
Similar goals were included in the charter of the Association of Rural Communes of the Republic of Poland – ZGW RP in its version of 18 April 2016. They include: ‘defending common interests of rural communes, representing the interests of rural and urban-rural communes, representing collective interests of its members before public authorities’. The statute of the Association of Rural Communes of the Republic of Poland further states that ‘the Association achieves its goals by: representing rural communes on the national and international forum, expressing positions on issues related to the government, economy and organization of communes, initiating and giving opinions on draft legal acts concerning local self-government’. The website of the association states, inter alia, that ‘the activities of ZGW RP concern both negotiations with the government, consultations in the parliament, exchange of experiences between members as well as activities aimed at the economic and cultural development of rural communes. Thanks to the association’s involvement and lobbying many solutions proposed by the government or parliament, which were unfavorable from the point of view of rural self-governments, were protested and thus effectively blocked’.
When analyzing the activities of the above three organizations (forms of activities: speeches, positions, protests, opinions, requests, appeals, etc.) on the basis of their websites and media messages, it should be stated that they are active organizations, responding an ongoing basis to projects and activities of central authorities. Referring to statistical data, for example, the Association of Polish Cities was the organization which most frequently participated as a guest in the meetings of the Polish Parliament committees (possibility of speaking, giving opinions on amendments to bills). On the basis of the ranking on the ‘Open Lobbing’ website, ZMP was recognized as one of the main lobbyists in the parliament. Other organizations recognized as leading lobbyists in the Polish Parliament included the National Council of Agricultural Chambers and the Confederation of Polish Employers ‘Lewiatan’.
Analyzing the activities of these organizations in the longer term, it can be concluded that in the earlier period, the defense of the particular interests of specific types of communes dominated. An example of such actions was the dispute between the Association of Rural Communes of the Republic of Poland and the Association of Polish Cities. The dispute concerned the problem of expanding city boundaries at the expense of neighboring rural communes (or their parts). The procedure of such expansion involves public consultations, but the final decision is made by the central government. The Association of Rural Communes of the Republic of Poland consistently protested against such a strategy of urban development, taking place by incorporating some rural communes (or their parts) within the city limits. On the other hand, the Association of Polish Cities supported this is method of developing cities.
In recent months, we have been observing joint and intensified activity of these organizations in relation to the action plans of the central government. The current situation results from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the actions of the central government, which, according to local self-government units, led to the impairment of local self-government in Poland through recentralization tendencies.
An example of such joint activity constitutes, for example, the ‘Common Position of Polish National Local Self-Government Organizations on the Financing of Education of 17 June 2020’, which is an appeal to the central authorities for higher financing of education: ‘For many years, local self-governments have been struggling with the problem of insufficient financing of educational tasks from the state budget’.
Another problem in which local self-government organizations have become strongly involved is the socio-economic program prepared by the central government to counteract the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Union of Polish Metropolises is particularly active here. It has shown in its analyses that the changes proposed by the government will have a very negative impact, first of all on the budgets of the largest cities in Poland. A similar position is represented by the Association of Polish Cities, indicating that the implementation of this plan will result in financial problems for Polish cities.
According to experts’ assessments, the role of local self-government organizations will increase, especially in the situation of the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The more self-government is exposed to the processes of recentralization, the more active local self-government organizations are and will be. These organizations constitute an important mechanism of dialogue between the government and local self-government as well as the mechanism through which the public is informed about the situation of local self-government in Poland.
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De Widt D and Laffin M, ‘Representing Territorial Diversity: The Role of Local Government Associations’ (2018) 52 Regional Studies 1585
Kramer P and others, ‘Advocacy and Lobbying by a Local Government Association (LGA)’ (VNG International 2008) <https://www.local2030.org/library/327/Advocacy-and-Lobbying-by-a-Local-Government-Association.pdf>
 For more information about the joint commission, see report section 5.1 on Institutionalizing Intergovernmental Relations in Poland.
 Art 2 of the Act no 90 of 6 May 2005 on the Joint Commission of Government and Territorial Self-Government and on the Representatives of the Republic of Poland in the Committee of the Regions of the European Union.
 Ordinance of the Council of Ministers no 15 of 29 January 2008 on the Determination of Nationwide Organizations of Local Self-Government Units which are Entitled to Appoint Representatives to Joint Commission of the Government and Territorial Self-Government.
 Mirska Andżelika, ‘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).
 Warsaw – 1.8 million inhabitants; Kraków – 779,000; Wrocław – 693,000; Łódź – 680,000; Poznań – 535,000; Gdańsk – 471,000;, Szczecin – 402,000; Bydgoszcz – 348,000; Lublin – 340,000; Białystok – 298,000; Katowice – 293,000; Rzeszów – 196,000. Statistics Poland, ‘Statistical Yearbook of the Republic of Poland’ (2020) < https://stat.gov.pl/en/topics/statistical-yearbooks/> accessed 10 July 2021.
 The granting a locality the status of a town/city, that is changing the type of denotation, e.g. ‘village’ into ‘town’ is processed by way of regulation of the Council of Ministers. Art of the Act of 8 March 1990 on Gmina Self-Government.
 Statistics Poland, ‘Area and Population in the Territorial Profile 2021’ (2021) 11 <https://stat.gov.pl/obszary-tematyczne/ludnosc/ludnosc/powierzchnia-i-ludnosc-w-przekroju-terytorialnym-w-2021-roku,7,18.html> accessed 10 July 2021.
 Statute of the Association of Polish Cities of 19 January 1991, <https://www.miasta.pl/uploads/document/content_file/754/STATUT-2019.pdf> accessed 10 July 2021.
 ‘Why is it worth joining ZMP?’ (Association of Polish Cities, undated) <https://www.miasta.pl/strony/dlaczego-warto-dolaczyc-do-zmp> accessed 10 July 2021.
 Art 7 of the Charter of the Association of Rural Communes of the Republic of Poland in its version of 18 April 2016 <http://www.zgwrp.pl/attachments/article/1470/broszura_ZO_statut_regulamin_ordynacja.pdf> accessed 5 October 2021.
 ‘Diagrams’ (Jawny Lobbing, 2019) <https://jawnylobbing.pl/wykresy/>; Michał Wroński, ‘Związek Miast Polskich i Związek Powiatów Polskich w Top 6 lobbystów w Sejmie’ (Portal Samorzadowy, 23 December 2019) <https://www.portalsamorzadowy.pl/komunikacja-spoleczna/zwiazek-miast-polskich-i-zwiazek-powiatow-polskich-w-top-6-lobbystow-w-sejmie,141951.html> accessed 10 July 2021.
 Art 4(a) and 5(a) of the Act of 8 March 1990 on Gmina Self-Government.
 For more information, see report section 6.1 on Decisions on Expanding the City Territory at the Expanse of the Rural Area.
 ‘Position of Nationwide Local Government Organizations on Financing Education’ (2020) <https://www.miasta.pl/uploads/attachment/file/3557/Stanowisko_o_wiata_17_czerwca_220.pdf> accessed 30 July 2021.
 Michał Cyrankiewicz-Gortyński, ‘Za Polski Ład zapłacą miasta i gminy’ (Union of Polish Metropolises, 29 July 2021) <https://metropolie.pl/artykul/za-polski-lad-zaplaca-miasta-i-gminy> accessed 30 July 2021.
 Zygmunt Frankiewicz, ‘Najnowsze stanowisko ZMP w sprawie „Polskiego Ładu”’ (Association of Polish Cities, 15 September 2021) <https://www.miasta.pl/aktualnosci/najnowsze-stanowisko-zmp-w-sprawie-polskiego-ladu> accessed 15 September 2021.
 Experts responded to the problem during the Workshop on 01/07/2021. This subject was also addressed in the interview with a representative of the Union of Polish Metropolises on 28.07.2021 (the record of the statements in the interview is attached to the research).