Blessings of Local Autonomy? Does It Matter? For What? How?

  • Andreas Ladner
  • Nicolas Keuffer
  • Harald Baldersheim
  • Nikos Hlepas
  • Pawel Swianiewicz
  • Kristof Steyvers
  • Carmen Navarro
Part of the Governance and Public Management book series (GPM)


In this chapter local autonomy is treated as an independent variable. We want to know whether there is a causal link between the degree of autonomy and the performance of the different countries in terms of the quality of democracy, economic growth, corruption and happiness. The chapter starts with some theoretical remarks concerning the expected impact and shows that there are in fact positive relations between local autonomy and input as well as output-related aspects of local government. These links remain positive even when we control for the size of the municipalities and whether they belong to the group of former communist countries. Our conclusion, however, is a bit more cautious. It remains doubtful whether one can simply increase the autonomy of the municipalities to increase the performance of local government. This process is likely to be more complicated.


Local democracy Local performance Input legitimacy Output legitimacy Decentralisation Normative justifications 


  1. Andrews, C. W., & De Vries, M. S. (2007). High Expectations, Varying Outcomes: Decentralization and Participation in Brazil, Japan, Russia and Sweden. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 73(3), 424–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bennet, R. J. (Ed.). (1990). Decentralization, Local Governments, and Markets: Towards a Post-Welfare Agenda. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bühlmann, M., Merkel, W., Müller, L., & Giebler, H. (2012). Demokratiebarometer – ein neues Instrument zur Messung von Demokratiequalität. Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft, 6(1), 115–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Coppedge, M., Gerring, J., Lindberg, S. I., Skaaning, S.-E., Teorell, J., Altman, D., Andersson, F., Bernhard, M., Fish, M. S., Glynn, A., Hicken, A., Knutsen, C. H., McMann, K., Mechkova, V., Miri, F., Paxton, P., Pemstein, D., Sigman, R., Staton, J., & Zimmerman, B. (2016). V-Dem Codebook v6. Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project. Sweden: University of Gothenburg.Google Scholar
  5. Dahl, R. A., & Tufte, E. R. (1973). Size and Democracy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Dardanelli, P., Kincaid, J., Fenna, A., Kaiser, A., Lecours, A., & Singh, A. K (2017). Conceptualising, Measuring, and Theorising Dynamic De/Centralisation in Federations. Paper Presented at the 24th World Congress of the International Political Science Association, Poznan, Poland, 23–28 July 2018.Google Scholar
  7. De Vries, M. S. (2000). The Rise and Fall of Decentralization: A Comparative Analysis of Arguments and Practices in European Countries. European Journal of Political Research, 38(2), 193–224.Google Scholar
  8. Denters, B., Goldsmith, M., Ladner, A., Mouritzen, P. E., & Rose, L. E. (2014). Size and Local Democracy. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  9. Elazar, D. J. (1976). Federalism vs. Decentralization: The Drift from Authenticity. Publius, 6(4), 9–19.Google Scholar
  10. Fesler, J. W. (1965). Approaches to the Understanding of Decentralization. The Journal of Politics, 27(3), 536–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fleurke, F., & Willemse, R. (2004). Approaches to Decentralization and Local Autonomy: A Critical Appraisal. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 26(4), 523–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ivanyna, M., & Shah, A. (2014). How Close Is Your Government to Its People? Worldwide Indicators on Localization and Decentralization. Economics: The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, 3(8), 1–62.Google Scholar
  13. Kuhlmann, S., & Wollmann, H. (2014). Introduction to Comparative Public Administration. Administrative Systems and Reforms in Europe. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  14. Kuhlmann, S., & Wayenberg, W. (2016). Institutional Impact Assessment in Multi-level Systems: Conceptualizing Decentralization Effects from a Comparative Perspective. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 82(2), 233–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lidström, A., Baldersheim, H., Copus, C., Hlynsdóttir, M., Kettunen, P., & Klimovský, D. (2016). Reforming Local Councils and the Role of Councillors: A Comparative Analysis of Fifteen European Countries. In S. Kuhlmann & B. Bouckaert (Eds.), Local Public Sector Reform in Times of Crisis. National Trajectories and International Comparisons (pp. 287–300). UK: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lijphart, A. (1999). Patterns of Democracy: Governance Forms and Performance in 36 Countries. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Merkel, W., Bühlmann, M., Müller, L., & Wessels, B. (2012). The Democracy Barometer. A New Instrument for Measuring the Quality of Democracy and Its Potential for Comparative Research. European Political Science, 11(1), 519–536.Google Scholar
  18. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). (2004). Development Evaluation: Lessons Learned on Donor Support to Decentralisation and Local Governance. DAC Evaluation Series, 1–83. OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
  19. Pratchett, L. (2004). Local Autonomy, Local Democracy and the ‘New Localism’. Political Studies, 52, 358–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Scharpf, F. W. (1970). Demokratietheorie zwischen Utopie und Anpassung. Konstanz: Universitätsverlag.Google Scholar
  21. Smith, B. C. (1985). Decentralization: The Territorial Dimension of the State. London: George Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  22. Treisman, D. (2007). The Architecture of Government: Rethinking Political Decentralization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments). (2008). Decentralization and Local Democracy in the World. First global Report by United Cities and Local Governments 2008. Washington, DC: World Bank Publications.Google Scholar
  24. UN Habitat. (2009). International Guidelines on Decentralisation and Access to Basic Services for all. Nairobi: United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).Google Scholar
  25. White, S. (2011). Government Decentralization in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies.Google Scholar
  26. Wolman, H., & Goldsmith, M. (1992). Urban Politics and Policy. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andreas Ladner
    • 1
  • Nicolas Keuffer
    • 1
  • Harald Baldersheim
    • 2
  • Nikos Hlepas
    • 3
  • Pawel Swianiewicz
    • 4
  • Kristof Steyvers
    • 5
  • Carmen Navarro
    • 6
  1. 1.IDHEAPUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  3. 3.National and Kapodistrian University of AthensAthensGreece
  4. 4.Department of Local Development and Policy, Faculty of Geography and Regional StudiesUniversity of WarsawWarszawaPoland
  5. 5.Department of Political ScienceGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  6. 6.Department of Political ScienceUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain

Personalised recommendations