Local Autonomy in the European Union

Local autonomy is a highly valued feature of good governance. The continuous attempts of many countries to strengthen the autonomy of local government shows the importance given to decentralization and reinforcing competences at the lowest level of a state.

The European Commission recently released an extension and update of the “Self-rule index for local authorities in the EU, 1990-2014”. This updated report, titled “Self-rule index for local authorities in the EU, Council of Europe and OECD countries, 1990-2020” applies the comprehensive methodology to 57 countries over 30 years, including almost all EU, Council of Europe (CoE) and OECD member states.

A network of experts on local government–led by Andreas Ladner, Nicolas Keuffer and Alexander Bastianen at the University of Lausanne–assessed the local autonomy of their respective countries based on a common code book, which has been updated to include more precise measures of local autonomy. The authors also collected supplementary data to better understand the determinants and implications of local autonomy. The eleven variables measured are located on seven dimensions and can be combined to a Local Autonomy Index (LAI).

The data shows an increase of local autonomy between 1990 and 2020, especially in the Central and Eastern European countries. Countries with a high degree of local autonomy include the Nordic countries, Switzerland, France, Portugal and the United States of America.

The authors hope that the Local Autonomy Index, which now includes a large number of new countries on five continents and a development over thirty years, will be a springboard to academics and policy-makers for a more comprehensive and empirically based understanding of local autonomy and its development over time.

To read the full publication (including the coding sheets by country and the detailed country profiles), please visit the documentation on the European Commission’s website.