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Local government in Poland

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LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN POLAND
Michał KULESZA
Dawid SZEŚCIŁO
1. BRIEF HISTORICAL EVOLUTION
The history of territorial government in Poland1 reflects the dynamics of Po-
land’s political transformation over the last one hundred years. Before 1918,
Poland was a nation divided among three neighbouring countries (Russia, Prus-
sia and Austria) that had different administrative systems, including self-govern-
ment schemes. Following World Ward III, the Polish state was re-instated after
more than 120 years. Then, Poland started building uniform local government
structures. The constitutional foundations for local and regional self-government
were established in the Constitution of 1921, but the structures of territorial gov-
ernment were not developed until later. The municipality was the major territo-
rial figure in this process, and was to appear throughout the country.
After World War II, the communist regime did not view self-government as
a force independent from authoritarian government. In 1950, local governments
were abolished and their assets were nationalized. The figure was replaced by
a system of people’s councils (rady narodowe, soviets), which later became
territorial branches of the central government. The councils suffered from a
lack of electoral democracy, independent powers and independent budgets.
These councils had nothing to do with local local government in terms of com-
munities having the right to manage their own affairs.
The reconstruction of local government became one of the first and most
important pillars of the 1989 political transformation in Poland. As a first step,
the fundamental amendments to the Constitution were passed in December
1 Poland’s self-government system covers not only local but regional authorities. Therefore,
mentions are made in this contribution, were needed, to the regional level of territorial govern-
ment, the «voivodeships».
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1989, and they substituted the unified system of people’s councils for self-
government institutions, which had been traditional in Poland. Secondly, in
March 1990, local self-government in the Municipality or «commune» (gmi-
na) was legally restored with the enactment of the Territorial Self-Government
Act. Finally, in May 1990, representatives from almost 2,500 local councils
were elected in fully democratic elections for the first time in Polish postwar
history. This event closed the initial stage of administrative reforms aimed at
significant decentralization of the public management system. Quick restora-
tion of local self-government was feasible, because in the early 80’s, a group
of independent experts associated with the democratic opposition, had elabo-
rated the strategic concepts of self-government, and the sudden collapse of the
communist system unexpectedly opened the way for the implementation of
their plans.2
The second stage of decentralization reforms occurred in 1998-1999. The
legislative package passed in June 1998 and enacted on 1 January 1999, con-
sisted of two core elements:
Restoration of the powiat (county) as a second, supramunicipal tier of lo-
cal government, which was traditional in Poland. Pursuant to this legisla-
tion, 314 counties have been established since 1 January 1999.
Creation of self-government at the regional level with 16 voivodeships
(regions, provinces) that replaced 49 former small voivodeships managed
by the central administration.
Elections for counties and voivodeship councils were held in autumn of
1998, and, as a result, the State and public management system were spectacu-
larly and significantly transformed. The final outcome produced one of the
more sophisticated and original administrative systems in Europe, which in-
cludes:
A three-tier territorial system, where municipalities and counties perform
the functions of local government, and voivodeships operate at the re-
gional level. It should be noted that, unlike other major European coun-
tries (Germany, Spain and Italy) regional government in Poland is not
based on politically autonomous or federal units, but on administrative
government. At the regional level, the voivodes are general representatives
of the central government, whose competences and powers include, among
others, the administrative oversight local authorities and the implementa-
tion of tasks relating to general security and order, crisis management,
natural disaster prevention etc.
The specific agendas of central government operate at both the regional
and local levels, and competences include security services (police, fire
protection, construction supervision) consolidated within the powiat’s ad-
2 See more: Jerzy Regulski, Michał Kulesza: Droga do samorządu, Wolters Kluwer 2009.
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ministration, as well as other State inspections including tax inspections
conducted by officials associated with the central authorities.
In 1997, the new Constitution strengthened local government. Among the
fundamental rules of the State and its political system, the Constitution men-
tions both decentralization (article 15) and the delegation of local and regional
communities (represented by self-governing institutions) to perform «a sub-
stantial part of public tasks on their own behalf and under their own responsibil-
ity» (article 16). Furthermore, the preamble of the Constitution introduces the
principle of subsidiarity, which is one of the doctrinal foundations of local and
regional self-government. The rules for self-government are regulated in a sep-
arate chapter.
These reforms allowed Poland to build a system of territorial government
that society could approve, and after twenty years of implementation, no revo-
lutionary changes are expected in this model, its tasks, or in its constitutional
foundations. Local and regional government in Poland has entered a period of
stabilization and strengthening of its existing structures. However, there are
expectations of a third wave of local and regional government reforms that will
be of a «soft» nature and will avoid any organizational changes. Such reforms
will include:
developing and strengthening tools for broader public participation in de-
cision making processes and performing public tasks at both local and
regional levels. This should guarantee conditions for effective implemen-
tation of the collaborative and participatory governance paradigm at local
and regional levels;
developing and strengthening tools and incentives for intragovernmental
cooperation schemes (multi-level governance schemes). This is particu-
larly important, because each tier of local government enjoys independent
status with no hierarchical relations among them. For this reason, legisla-
tion should guarantee the consistency of the local authorities’ activities
through specific cooperation and coordination, and the exchange of infor-
mation schemes; and
territorial stabilization, after more than two decades and hundreds of
boundary changes that altered the map of municipalities and counties.
This process should lose its impetus once plans are implemented to amend
the procedure that governs these transformations. Hopefully, new legisla-
tion will strengthen the territorial stabilization of local authorities units by
supporting participatory governance mechanisms.
Another challenge for Polish self-government is the critical need to reduce
the ever increasing debt. Central government urges local authorities to secure
greater budgetary discipline, but local governments argue that demands for the
rapid reduction of their debt would dramatically undermine local development
and investment policies.
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2. BASIC FACTS AND FIGURES
Local government in Poland has two levels: the municipality (gmina) and
the county (powiat), but in each level different types or bodies may be found.
Thus, there are three forms of municipalities:
Municipality (urban commune, gmina miejska). This type of local body
covers the area of towns and there are less than 300. Within this group
there are large differences in their size: from about 1,000 residents to
about 1.7 million residents (City of Warsaw).
Rural commune (gmina wiejska): this type includes only the non-urban
areas. There are some 1,500 such units.
Urban-rural commune (gmina miejsko-wiejska). This type is a mixed or
consolidated form covering towns or townships and the area of the vil-
lages adjacent to them – formerly they were separate rural communes (al-
most 600).
Within the rural communes, the parishes (sołectwo) represent the basic form
of neighbourhood self-organization of rural communities in villages. Currently,
there are over 40,000 parishes, which are generally very small and typically
include a single village area. Parishes represent the interests of the village with-
in the commune. It should be emphasized that parishes are not independent lo-
cal authorities, but rather auxiliary units created by the municipality, to perform
specific tasks entrusted to them. An example of these tasks is the organization
of cultural or sport events, common activities, local road improvement, village
water supply and sewage systems, flood protection etc. The elected chair of a
village council (sołtys) is empowered to provide direct collection of some local
taxes and fees.
A similar type of auxiliary unit of the urban municipality is the district
(dzielnica) or housing estate (osiedle). This formula is not commonly found in
Poland and is associated with bigger towns and major cities, including the cap-
ital city of Warsaw. Parishes and districts (housing settlements) are established
by decision of the municipal council.
Since 1998-1999, a group of 65 of the largest towns, including all the
«voivodeship» capitals, were given the status of town with county rights. Ac-
cording to this formula, the authorities of these towns perform simultaneously
the tasks and competences associated with a commune and a county.
In addition to the towns with county rights, there are 314 counties
(powiats), including the territory of several municipalities. An average coun-
ty has about 85,000 residents, and some 8 municipalities. The biggest county
in terms of population is Powiat Poznański (290,000 residents) and the small-
est is Powiat Sejneński (21,000 residents). The «Voivodeships» (regions)
also differ greatly in size. The largest voivodeship, Mazowieckie (Masovia
region), has an area of 35,000 km2 and 5.2 million residents, and Śląskie (Si-
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lesia) is only marginally smaller. The four smallest voivodeships have close
to 1 million residents. The smallest voivodeship, in terms of area, is Opolskie
(9,000 km2).3
3. LEGAL FRAMEWORK OF LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT
3.1. The European Charter of Local Self-Government
Poland ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government on 26 April
1993, which was published officially in the Official Gazette on 25 November
1994. This decision marked the inclusion of the Charter in the Polish legal sys-
tem. Poland ratified the Charter in its entirety, with no objections or declara-
tions. According to Polish law, the Charter ranks in importance somewhere
between the Constitution and the statutory acts of Parliament (laws). In accord-
ance with constitutional principles, the Charter has precedence over statutory
law, if the law cannot be reconciled with the Charter. Also, theoretically, the
courts may refuse to apply the provisions of Polish laws if they are contrary to
the provisions of the Charter.
The opinion among Polish courts, however, is that the Charter offers a cata-
logue of goals and general standards that the State should follow, and may be
applied in individual cases on very limited scope. In the words of the Voivode-
ship Administrative Court in Warsaw: «(...) no provision of this act is a self-
executing norm, as the European Charter of Local Self-Government is a set of
rules of a general nature indicating the desired action of the signatories for the
purposes indicated in the Preamble.»4
Despite these diverging opinions, the primacy of the Charter over parlia-
mentary statutes provides a basis for checking the conformity of Polish law
with the provisions of the Charter, before the Constitutional Court. This judicial
body controls the compliance of the provisions of Polish law in relation to the
Constitution, and those contained in international treaties. There are about
twenty judgements in which the Constitutional Court cites the Charter. On three
occasions the Court declared the non-compliance of the provisions of Polish
law in relation to the provisions of the Charter. In each case, the Charter was
considered subsidiary as a basis for jurisdiction, and the provisions of the law
were repealed primarily on the basis of the Polish Constitution. Moreover, the
Constitutional Court, quoting earlier administrative court rulings, questioned
whether the provisions of the Charter have a direct effect and are indeed en-
forceable. In one of its rulings, the Court stated that «the provisions of the
3 Data of Central Statistics Ofce, www.stat.gov.pl.
4 Ruling of Voivodeship (regional) Administrative Court in Warsaw of 26 October 2006,
case no. III SA/Wa 2459/06.
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Charter, because of its general nature, may, only to a limited extent, serve as a
basis for direct examination of the conformity of domestic law to the Charter.»5
3.2. Constitutional foundations of self-government
As mentioned above, the legitimacy of local self-government in Poland has
a strong constitutional backing. The preamble declares a commitment to the
principle of subsidiarity «strengthening the rights of citizens and their com-
munities.» Furthermore, self-governance of local and regional communities is
included among the principles of the political system listed in the first chapter
of the Constitution. According to article 15: «The territorial system of the Re-
public of Poland shall ensure the decentralization of public power. The basic
territorial division of the State shall be determined by statute, allowing for the
social, economic and cultural ties which ensure the territorial units the capac-
ity to perform their public duties». On the other hand, article 16 of the Consti-
tution states: «Territorial self-government shall participate in the exercise of
public power. The substantial part of public duties which territorial self-gov-
ernment is empowered to discharge by statute shall be done in its own name
and under its own responsibility.» This principle guarantees that a significant
sphere of public governance will be managed autonomously by local and re-
gional communities. Accordingly, self-government entities cannot be reduced
to the role of executor of tasks commissioned by central government, rather
they must be able to take independent actions and make decisions on public
matters.
Detailed rules concerning the organization and functioning of local govern-
ment are described in Chapter VII of the Constitution, dealing with «Territorial
Self-Government.» The most significant principles state that the Constitution:
(1) establishes the municipality as the basic local authority, which performs
all the tasks of local government not reserved for other self-government
units (presumption of competences in favor of municipalities);
(2) grants all local authorities (not just the municipality) a public law sta-
tus distinct from the State, and recognizes its autonomy, which is se-
cured by judicial protection. This protection is exercised primarily by
the administrative courts, and, in a broader sense, by the Constitu-
tional Court. The municipalities and other local authorities have the
right to appeal all acts of central government affecting their status and
powers before the administrative courts. For example, they may ap-
peal a voivode‘s supervisory resolution repealing a local resolution or
ordinance. In addition, the administrative courts settle all jurisdiction-
al conflicts between local or regional authorities and central govern-
5 Ruling of the Constitutional Court of 18 February 2003, case no. K 24/02.
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ment. Local authorities may also appeal to the Constitutional Court
against legislation passed by Parliament or the Government that vio-
lates the status or rights of local government granted by the Constitu-
tion or international treaties, including the European Charter of Local
Self-Government;
(3) guarantees that local authorities shall be assured adequate public fund-
ing to perform their duties (adequacy principle). Among the sources of
local government income, the Constitution mentions the local bodies’
own revenues, general subsidies and specific grants from the State
budget. Constitutional provisions also specifically indicate that a local
government own income may be derived from local taxes and property.
Municipalities have the right to impose taxes, but only according to the
limits established by national legislation;
(4) ensures that local governments will be subject to supervision only in
terms of the legality of their actions. The supervisory action is the re-
sponsibility of the Prime Minister and voivodes (governors), and the
regional audit chambers, in cases regarding financial matters. This lim-
ited supervision implies that central government cannot cancel the ac-
tions of local entities on the basis that they contradict government poli-
cy, unless the policy is clearly backed by law that requires local
authorities to perform specific actions.
In addition, local and regional authorities, like other public institutions, are
subject to review by the national auditor, known as the Supreme Audit Cham-
ber (Najwyższa Izba Kontroli, NIK). The NIK may audit the activity of the or-
gans of local entities and their subordinate units, in terms of their legality, eco-
nomic prudence and diligence.
Finally, the Constitution allows local government units to adopt their own
rules and regulations, to a limited extent. Rules passed by municipalities, coun-
ties and voivodeships are territorially limited to the area of the particular unit.
Also, the basis for these legislative acts and their limits must be specified by
central government legislation.
3.3. Basic legislation
Constitutional arrangements are detailed in ordinary, separate legislation for
each tier of self-government. The Municipal Government Act and the County
Government Act. Each one defines the key elements of the legal structure of
local self-government units, including:
The scope of their activities, and list of tasks;
The composition and operation of the legislative and executive bodies;
The principles regarding the budget and property management;
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The detailed rules for supervising the municipalities and counties;
The regulatory powers; and
The opportunities and forms of cooperation with other local government
units.
Moreover, there is a whole package of regulations governing the modes of
action of the several local authorities. In this sense, the Municipal Economy
Act plays a significant role in determining the overall framework of economic
operations for local authorities. First of all, it determines the terms and condi-
tions under which the municipality may join other other local government units.
Another body of legislation, including the Public Finances Act, relates to prop-
erty management and public procurement. The Public Information Access Act
is another very important piece of legislation. In day-to-day activities, munici-
palities and counties also apply several sectoral laws and regulations that per-
tain to their spheres of responsibility, including legislation on public education,
public health, social welfare and spatial planning.
3.4. Capital City of Warsaw
The Capital City of Warsaw is the object of specific regulation, and accord-
ing to the law governing the structure of the city,6 Warsaw currently enjoys the
status of a city with county rights. From 1994 to 2002, Warsaw was divided
into several independent municipalities, but the model proved ineffective, so
the formula of the single municipality divided into several auxiliary units’ dis-
tricts was adopted. The division of tasks between Warsaw and the districts is
not specifically defined on a statutory level, so the Warsaw City Council de-
cides on which tasks will be assigned to the districts. The Capital City of War-
saw Act, however, stipulates that the districts should participate in performing
the following tasks:
maintenance and operation of municipal property;
maintenance of facilities for education, culture, social welfare, recreation,
sports and tourism;
tasks related to health care; and
maintenance of green areas and local roads.
The Warsaw City Council adopts a budget that allows districts to perform
these tasks. Districts are managed by district councils, which are elected at the
same time as the municipal council. The executive body is appointed by the
district council of each district.
6 See more: Magdalena Niziołek: Problemy ustroju aglomeracji miejskich ze szczególnym
uwzględnieniem Warszawy, Wolters Kluwer 2008.
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4. COMPETENCES, POWERS AND SERVICES OF LOCAL
AUTHORITIES
According to the provisions of the Constitution, territorial government bod-
ies shall perform a «substantial part of the public tasks on their own behalf and
under their own responsibility». A wide scope of public tasks is reserved for
municipalities, including «all public matters of local significance that are not
exclusively prescribed for other entities» and «meet the collective needs of the
community.»
Apart from these generalities, the Municipal Government Act also indicates
specific tasks for municipalities in areas such as spatial planning, property
management, environmental protection, nature conservation and water man-
agement, which include:
management of municipal roads, streets, bridges, and squares;
provision of water and sewage services;
provision of waste disposal;
provision of electricity and gas;
public transportation;
health care;
public education;
organization of cultural activities.
Municipalities must act within the Law, but are free to take actions to meet
the collective needs of the community. This broad vision of competences gen-
erates on-going disputes between municipalities and central government au-
thorities. Central government tends to take a negative approach towards the
municipalities’ right to take actions that have not been explicitly designated in
the Municipal Government Act or in other legislation, even if it actually serves
the collective needs of the local community. Likewise, there are doubts about
the actual freedom that municipalities should have in selecting the legal instru-
ments they apply in performing municipal functions.
At the heart of the dispute is the issue of municipalities engaging in civil law
(contractual) relations. Unfortunately, central government bodies are often fol-
lowers of the Weberian bureaucratic vision of government, in which every ac-
tion must be determined in detailed provision of law.7
There are fewer disputes regarding county tasks, because the County Gov-
ernment Act provides an exhaustive list of responsibilities and competences.
In contrast to the municipality, the county is competent to act only in those
7 See more: Michał Kulesza: O tym, ile jest decentralizacji w centralizacji, a także o osobli-
wych nawykach uczonych administratywistów, Samorząd Terytorialny 2009, no. 12.
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areas that are expressly attributed to it. The catalogue of actions includes the
following:
public education,
promotion and protection of health,
social assistance,
family policy,
support for people with disabilities,
public transport and public roads,
culture and cultural heritage protection,
sports and tourism,
geodesy, cartography and cadastre,
real estate management,
architectural and building administration,
water supply,
environmental protection and nature,
agriculture, forestry and inland fisheries,
public order and citizen safety,
flood protection, fire protection and prevention,
extraordinary threats to human life and health and the environment,
combating unemployment and activation of the local labour market, and
protection of consumer rights.
Some of these tasks coincide with those of the municipalities, but this does
not means the lack of a separation between the areas of responsibility assigned
to municipalities and those assigned to the counties. The county performs only
those tasks that have a supra-municipal significance and that would be impos-
sible or ineffective to execute by other means. For example, in the sphere of
public education, the division of tasks between the municipality and the county
is as follows: the first maintains primary and pre-secondary schools, while the
latter is responsible for secondary schools. In addition, it is legally possible for
a county to transfer certain tasks, under contract, to the municipalities.
The voivodeships (regions) focus mainly on the formulation and implemen-
tation of regional development policy. According to the Voivodeship Govern-
ment Act, policy should:
create conditions for economic development, including the creation of a
job market;
maintain and develop social and technical infrastructure of regional im-
portance;
combine public and private funding to finance public service;
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support and conduct activities to raise the level of education; and
encourage the rational use of natural resources and environmental protec-
tion in accordance with the principle of sustainable development.
All local entities have a wide range of legal instruments available to them to
implement their tasks. They enjoy the rights associated with being a legal body,
which allows them to engage in contractual relations with private entities. They
may also be involved in a company, but this form of activity is subject to re-
strictions such as the scope of the municipal engagement and the legal form of
the company. These restrictions aim at limiting the commercial activities of
municipalities to those which accelerate local development or overcome seri-
ous social and economic problems.
Municipalities and counties have limited regulatory powers, they are re-
stricted to situations in which legislative competence is expressly provided in
national legislation. Consequently, they cannot create a local rule whenever
they want to attain an objective. Also, territorial bodies are very restricted as to
how they perform their duties so as to avoid interfering with the rights and ob-
ligations of private entities (imposing bans and orders, or setting powers and
responsibilities). To undertake such activities, local authorities must have spe-
cific statutory backing.
5. BASIC ORGANISATION
The organization and electoral procedure for self-government authorities
has significantly evolved since the restoration of local autonomy in 1990.
Changes have occurred, particularly in the number of councillors and in the
composition and methods for selecting executive authorities in the municipali-
ties, counties and voivodeships.
5.1. The council
The municipal council is the rulemaking body. The method of selecting mu-
nicipal councils depends on the size of the local authority. Under the new Elec-
toral Code, effective as of 1 August 2011, the following rules will apply:
In most municipalities, there will be a majority system under which the
candidates who obtains the majority of votes in the constituency become
councillors. The system is based on single-member constituencies in
which each election committee can propose only one candidate for the
constituency
In «towns with county rights», however, the division of seats among the
lists of candidates will be based on the proportional system. Also, there is
a 5% threshold that must be reached to participate in the allocation of
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seats. The size of the municipal council depends on the size of the com-
mune, so towns and cities of up to 20,000 inhabitants have 15 councillors;
50,000 inhabitants, 21 councillors; up to 100,000 inhabitants, 23 council-
lors; and up to 200,000 inhabitants, 25 councillors.
In municipalities with populations exceeding 200,000 residents, the number
of councillors increases by 3 for every 100,000 residents. A special regulation
applies for Warsaw, which allows a fixed number of councillors (60 councillors).
Municipal councils are invested with powers traditionally associated with
the regulatory and policy-maker bodies. Such powers include: rule making, the
adoption of the municipal statute, the municipal budget, local spatial planning,
strategies, resolutions on matters regarding local taxes and charges, and key
issues concerning municipal property that include the rules governing the dis-
posal of municipal property and municipal bond issues, the establishment of
municipal companies and loans. The municipal council also controls the activi-
ties of the mayor, the administrative units, and the auxiliary bodies of the local
entity, through an appointed auditing committee.
The policy-making body in the counties and voivodeships also operates by
these rules, with the exception that the councils are selected by universal suffrage
according to a proportional system with a 5% electoral threshold. Unlike the mu-
nicipal council, the county council has the power to dismiss the county board.
5.2. Executive bodies
Since 2002, the mayors of municipalities, elected by universal suffrage,
have exercised all executive and management powers. Previously, local au-
thorities were managed by boards, which were appointed and dismissed by the
municipal council. Currently, a local referendum is necessary to dismiss the
mayor before the end of his term.
The introduction of the system of direct election of mayors contributed to a
significant strengthening of their position, and fostered conditions for the crea-
tion of a group of local leaders that eliminated the leadership deficit in local
government. On the other hand, the council’s inability to dismiss the mayor
deprived councillors of an important tool with which they could influence the
executive body of the local entity. The municipal council, however, still per-
forms its regulatory functions and sets goals and priorities for the mayor, and
can block some of the mayor’s actions by refusing to approve the draft budget.
The main difference between counties and voivodeships is that the former
are managed by executive boards, whose members are appointed by the coun-
try, while the latter are managed by councils. Their powers and responsibilities
are similar to those of the mayor, and include carrying out legislation and day-
to-day management.
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5.3. Inter-municipal cooperation
The provisions of the Municipal Self-Government Act provide for three forms
of inter-municipal cooperation. The most far-reaching solution is the inter-munic-
ipal association, created by the municipalities for the joint performance of public
tasks. The association is a legal entity, with an independent status under public
law, and is distinct from that of the constituent local authorities. It also operates on
its own behalf and under its own responsibility. Inter-municipal associations exe-
cute projects such as shared waste management systems among several munici-
palities, joint environmental protection, and public transport system.
A second type of collaboration takes the form of an inter-municipal agree-
ment, which does not require the creation of a separate legal entity. Under this
formula, municipalities agree to enable one commune to perform certain public
functions. An example of this would be one commune handling landfill, which
according to the inter-municipal agreement, would entail waste pick-up in oth-
er local authority. An important element of this cooperation is that the parties
involved in the cooperation must co-finance the activity.
Finally, another form of cooperation is the consortium of local authorities,
whose goals are completely different than those of the municipal association or
the inter-municipal agreement. Local authorities consortia are established to sup-
port self-government and to defend common interests. Participants may be other
local government units such as counties and voivodeships. In contrast to the inter-
municipal association and the inter-municipal agreement, the consortium does
not perform public tasks assigned by municipalities, rather its objectives are to
exchange experiences, inform and be informed and to protect the interests of lo-
cal government. Some of these associative structures of municipalities are repre-
sented in the Joint Commission of Government and Self-Government.8
6. HUMAN RESOURCES
Local government officials constitute a separate body within the Polish civ-
il service system, which differs from the administrative service that operates in
central government. The regime for local government employees is less de-
tailed and restrictive than that of central government, and local officials, unlike
their counterparts, have no special legal status. On the other hand, employment
by local government units is subject to special legal requirements. For example,
the Act on Local Government Employees lays down specific rules of employ-
ment in the following instances:
Required qualifications. Officials employed by local authorities must
meet three basic criteria: (1) possess at least an upper secondary educa-
8 http://kwrist.mswia.gov.pl
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MicHał kulesza - dawid sześciło
tion; (2) have no criminal record of intentional indictable crimes; and (3)
have a good reputation. Managerial positions also require three years of
experience in a similar position or in a commercial activity consistent with
the requirements for the post, and a higher education.
Recruitment. The staffing of civil servants positions must be open and
competitive, and require a public call of the position(s). The action of
a special committee, assigned the task of directing the recruitment pro-
cedure, must be transparent and the results must be announced publi-
cally.
Working conditions. Local government officials are subject to mandatory,
periodic evaluations performed at least biannually, but not more than once
every 6 months.
Restrictions on private activities. Officials cannot engage in activities that
may cause a conflict of interests with their work in the local authority, and
all are obliged to make a statement as to their business activities.
7. LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE
According to the provisions of the Constitution, funding for local authorities
is derived from revenues, general subsidies and specific grants from the State
budget. In practice, the municipalities’ most important role is to plan their own
income, which represents slightly more than half of their overall revenue. Gov-
ernment subsidies provide roughly 25% of the income, while 20% is derived
from grants.9
7.1. Municipal income
The catalogue of municipal revenues is extensive, and includes income from
local taxes and administrative fees, and from the municipality’s assets (e.g. the
sale of real estate), income earned by the municipality’s subsidiaries (e.g. com-
mune-owned companies), and income from financial operations (such as inter-
est on loans). Tax revenues are also derived from property, agriculture, forests,
transport, inheritance and gifts, and civil law transactions. There are also sev-
eral administrative fees included in local budgets such as the stamp duty, trade
fairs, or dog fees. The amount of local taxes and fees is specifically determined
by each municipality, and must comply with the framework set by national
legislation.
A separate category of local income is a share in income tax revenues in-
cluding personal income tax (PIT) and corporate income tax (CIT). Data on the
9 Data of Ministry of Finance (www.mf.gov.pl).
loCal government in poland
499
municipalities‘share in income tax revenues indicate that local authorities re-
ceive 39.34% of the revenue from personal income from taxpayers residing in
their area, and 6.71% from corporate income tax from firms established in their
area. Since 2004, this source of municipal revenue has been severely cut back,
due to the reduction in the corporate income tax rate (27% to 19%), and the
reduction in the PIT rates in 2009. Additionally, PIT taxpayers were granted the
option to transfer 1% of their tax to NGOs, which also reduced local govern-
ments’ tax revenues.
Other forms of municipal taxation can be introduced following a referen-
dum in which no less than two thirds of the voters must approve the measure.
Given the complexity of this process, the move to impose additional taxation is
not often considered.
7.2. Subsidies
Subsidies form a complex legal and financial mechanism for continued
support of local economies with funds from the central budget. The most im-
portant objective for granting subsidies to municipalities is to support the im-
plementation of municipal tasks related to public education, i.e. maintaining
schools and financing teachers‘salaries. The subsidy is calculated according to
a complex, multi-component algorithm described in the Local Government
Revenues Act.
The most important feature of the subsidy system is its preference for assist-
ing weaker communities, so more subsidies are granted to municipalities with
lower tax revenues. This mechanism has become an instrument of the cohesion
policy and raises concerns in wealthier regions and municipalities that are re-
luctant to support less developed areas.
7.3. Grants
In contrast to subsidies, grants are a more flexible form of support for spe-
cific tasks performed by municipalities. Some examples of grant objectives are:
financing tasks assigned to municipalities by national legislation;
financing tasks performed by local governments under agreements with
national government authorities; and
funding for the removal of direct threats to security and public order, flood
and land slide recuperation, or damage caused by other natural disasters.
Given the broad spectrum of these objectives, grant allocation depends on
the robustness of the State budget and the probability of one-off events that
would force central government to effect immediate relief to affected areas.
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MicHał kulesza - dawid sześciło
7.4. EU Funds
In recent years, European Union funds have played a key role in the Polish
government‘s investment policy, which has made money available to many
municipalities. The main source of funding is derived from the Regional Op-
erational Programmes, which are managed by voivodeships (regional authori-
ties). Funds are distributed according to public tender procedures, which are
open to municipalities and counties. With the present EU financial perspective,
it is not clear what level of funding will be available to local authorities after
2014. The possibility of a reduction in support for regional development would
seriously undermine the investment capacity of local authorities. On the other
hand, this threat may be mitigated by the development of alternative methods
of funding such as public-private partnerships.
8. PROPERTY AND ASSETS
Assets belonging to local authorities consist primarily of estate property and
public space, i.e. streets, parks and squares, but in a broader sense, it can also in-
clude assets from utilities that provide public services. Also, local authorities can
manage property used for commercial purposes, which can produce earnings.
Management of real estate belonging to local communities is based on spe-
cific legislation contained in the Property Management Act. The local authori-
ties are subject to significant restrictions in disposing of their property. First of
all, the sale of property generally must be made by open tender. Only in excep-
tional and strictly defined cases, is it possible to dispose of property without
competitive tendering. This applies, in particular, to transactions between the
self-government unit and the State.
An important aspect of self-government‘s property management is its use in
developing social policy. Part of the property consists of municipal flats, rented
under favourable terms, to persons who are unable to rent or buy flats on the
free market for economic reasons. Secondly, the real estate may be designated
for specific purposes such as to support non-governmental organizations that
carry out important public functions.
9. CONTROL AND SUPERVISION OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES
Several agencies and courts oversee the activities of local authorities. In ac-
cordance with constitutional principles, the activities of all units of local gov-
ernment are subject to supervision within the limits of certain legal criteria. In
addition, supervisory authorities may intervene in municipal activities in cases
specified by law. The bodies of authority responsible for the supervision of the
activities of local entities are the Prime Minister, the voivodes (governors), and
loCal government in poland
501
the regional audit chambers (for financial matters). As supervisors, the voivodes
have the authority to abolish decisions adopted by self-government authorities
that are contrary to law, and this action would be communicated in the form of
a supervisory decision. It is important to note that the executive body of each
local authority is supposed to send the resolutions and measures that have been
adopted by the council within seven days after its adoption, and voivodes must
assess the local authorities‘compliance with the law. If they found grounds for
annulment, the local decision would be declared null and void. Local authori-
ties would then have two options: either introduce the necessary changes in the
contested measure, or challenge the voivode’s decision in an administrative
court. In this case, the court would call for a hearing within 30 days from the
receipt of the complaint. The court may suspend the contested resolution of the
governor.
Citizens also have the right to challenge decisions and regulations adopted
by local authorities. Pursuant to self-government laws, anyone whose legal in-
terest or right has been violated by a resolution or an ordinance adopted by local
or regional authorities, may lodge a complaint in the administrative court. Fur-
thermore, administrative individual decisions taken by the local and regional
authorities (e.g. building permits) may be challenged under a two-instance ad-
ministrative procedure. After exhausting these remedies, a citizen may lodge a
complaint before the administrative court requesting that the unlawful decision
be repealed.
In addition to supervisory powers, several governmental agencies have the
right to monitor the activities of local authorities or, at the very least, to request
information on specific matters. As previously mentioned, the Supreme Audit
Chamber (NIK) is able to exercise this competence as well as the Ombudsman,
who can demand information from all State authorities, including local govern-
ment units.
10. PROTECTION OF LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT
Local autonomy benefits from a comprehensive legal protection. As civil
law entities, local authorities receive the same legal protection as do private
organisations such as companies and other legal bodies, and can claim property
rights before an ordinary court. The municipality also benefits from legal pro-
tection in relations involving other public entities, particularly, central govern-
ment. According to the Constitution and ordinary laws, municipalities may use
two basic pathways of protection against excessive interference by the central
government:
Judicial protection exercised by the administrative courts. As mentioned
above, the administrative courts settle complaints lodged by local authori-
ties against the decisions of the central government (e.g. abolishing meas-
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MicHał kulesza - dawid sześciło
ures adopted by municipalities). In addition, the administrative courts de-
cide on jurisdictional disputes between local authorities and other State
authorities.
Constitutional protection (Constitutional Court). Municipalities and other
local governments have the right to appeal to this Court against State laws
and regulations of the central government that affect their competences.
This allows local authorities to challenge legislation that imposes new re-
sponsibilities on them, or regulates how they should be executed. Most
complaints involve the lack of adequate funding to carry out the tasks en-
trusted to local government. Also, in recent years, there have been several
complaints lodged by municipalities against central government decisions
on municipal boundaries changes. The Court rarely takes the side of the
municipalities in disputes with the central government, because according
to its case-law, the autonomy of local authorities is not an absolute value
in itself and is susceptible to limitations. As a result, there is some doubt
as to whether the constitutional guarantees of local self-government rights
are being adequately protected by the Constitutional Court.
11. LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND THE EUROPEAN UNION
Poland holds 21 seats on the Committee of the Regions of the European
Union. The selection procedure for Polish members10 and the current composi-
tion ensure adequate representation of local government’s interests. According
to the selection procedure for members, the appointment is taken by the central
government, but it is bound by the procedural guidelines established by two
statutes: (a) the Joint Commission of Central Government and Territorial Self-
Governments Act; and (b) the act on the Representatives of the Republic of
Poland in the Committee of the Regions of the European Union. This act pro-
vides that, in addition to the representatives of voivodeships and municipalities,
Polish membership must also include representatives designated by national
organizations representing all categories of local authorities.
From the viewpoint of local communities, Poland‘s membership to the Eu-
ropean Union has a much more important dimension, which is the access to the
structural funds. As mentioned previously, these funds are now the main source
of financing for local and regional development projects. Local government not
only benefits from this aid, but also contributes to the impact on the allocation
of European funds by establishing the priority areas of intervention. This is ac-
complished by monitoring committees established within the framework of op-
erational programs. Members of these committees represent various stakehold-
er groups and include representatives of local government.
10 See list of Polish members of the Committee of the Regions: http://www.brukselaeu.po-
lemb.net/index.php?document=42.
loCal government in poland
503
Finally, it is important to note that voivodeships have a key role in the dis-
tribution of EU funds. As of the 1998-1999 reform, voivodeships are empow-
ered with effective tools for formulating and performing regional development
policy, which is important because EU funds are the major source of support
for implementing such policy.
12. SOURCES OF INFORMATION: TO KNOW MORE
12.1. Case law: landmark rulings of the Constitutional Court
Ruling of 24 March 1998, Case No. K 40/97 [financial independence of local
government]
Ruling of 18 February 2003, Case No. K 24/02 [reform self-government system
of the capital city]
Ruling of 8 February 2005, Case No. K 17/03 [electoral rules for municipal
councils]
Ruling of 26 September 2006, Case No. K 1/06 [unconstitutionality of manda-
tory acquisition of military property by municipalities]
Ruling of 12 March 2007, Case No. K 54/05 [local government’s powers relat-
ing to spatial planning policy]
Ruling of 8 April 2009, Case No. K 37/06 [rules for changing the boundaries of
municipalities]
12.2. Selected bibliography on self-government:
(A) Books
izdebsKi, Hubert & Kulesza, Michał: Administracja publiczna. Zagadnienia
ogólne [Public administration. General issues] Liber 2004.
MicHałowski, Stanisław & Pawłowska, Agnieszka (eds): Samorząd lokalny w
Polsce: społeczno-polityczne aspekty funkcjonowania [Local self-govern-
ment in Poland: social and political aspects], Wydawnictwo UMCS 2004.
regulsKi, Jerzy: Samorządna Polska [Self-governed Poland], Rosner & Wspól-
nicy 2005.
miszCzuK, Andrzej; miszCzuK, Magdalena & Żuk, Krzysztof: Gospodarka
samorządu terytorialnego [The Economy of the Territorial Self-Govern-
ment], PWN 2007.
regulsKi, Jerzy & Kulesza, Michał: Droga do samorządu [Way to Self-Gov-
ernment], Wolters Kluwer 2009.
504
MicHał kulesza - dawid sześciło
izdebsKi, Hubert: Samorząd terytorialny. Podstawy ustroju i działalności [Ter-
ritorial Self-Government. Basic Principles], LexisNexis 2010.
Kulesza, Michał: Methods anf Techniques of Managing Decentralization Re-
forms in the CEE Countries: The Polish Experience [in:] Mastering Decen-
tralization and Public Administration Reforms in Central and Eastern Eu-
rope, ed. by Gabor Peteri, Open Society Institute. Local Government and
Public Service Reform Initiative, LGI Studies, 2002
(B) Journals
Samorząd Terytorialny [Territorial Self-Government].
Finanse Komunalne [Local Authority Finance].
Orzecznictwo w sprawach samorządowych [Case law on Self-Government].
Wspólnota [Community].
12.3. Internet resources
www.mswia.gov.pl – Ministry of the Interior and Public Administration.
http://kwrist.mswia.gov.pl/ - Joint Commission of Central Government and
Territorial Government Units.
http://www.zmp.poznan.pl/ - Association of Polish Towns and Cities.
http://www.gminyrp.pl/ - Association of Rural Communes.
http://www.selfgov.gov.pl/ - The Union of Polish Metropolises.
http://www.zpp.pl/ - Association of Polish Poviats.
http://irm.krakow.pl/pl/ - Institute of Urban Development.
http://www.silesia.org.pl/ - The Silesian Union of Municipalities and Poviats.
http://www.frdl.org.pl/ - The Foundation in Support of Local Democracy.
http://www.wspolnota.org.pl/ - Information portal of Wspólnota journal.
... Districts are managed by district councils, which are elected at the same time as the municipal council. The executive body is appointed by the district council of each district (Kulesza & Sześciło, 2012). ...
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This chapter presents the successive stages to make changes in the Polish development policy after 1989. The national administration reform of 1990 in the Third Commonwealth of Poland restored the local government after 40 years of non-existence during the time of Polish People's Republic (1944-1989) that was a satellite state of the Soviet Union after the Second World War. Another reform took place in 1998 as a part of preparations for the country's membership in the European Union (EU) from 2004. Currently developed strategic documents are suggesting the use of the "polarization and diffusion model of the development." The authors also discuss the regional policy currently implemented in Poland, which was designed in years 2009-2014. The process of creation of new policy includes plans to reform the policy instruments and to update the strategic framework. Conclusions highlight a need for a clearer division of powers between the center and regional governments and the importance of strengthening the financial basis and institutional capacity building.
Samorząd terytorialny. Podstawy ustroju i działalności [Territorial Self-Government. Basic Principles
  • Hubert Izdebski
izdebsKi, Hubert: Samorząd terytorialny. Podstawy ustroju i działalności [Territorial Self-Government. Basic Principles], LexisNexis 2010.
Samorządna Polska [Self-governed Poland], Rosner & Wspólnicy
  • Jerzy Regulski
regulsKi, Jerzy: Samorządna Polska [Self-governed Poland], Rosner & Wspólnicy 2005.
Methods anf Techniques of Managing Decentralization Reforms in the CEE Countries: The Polish Experience [in:] Mastering Decentralization and Public Administration Reforms in Central and Eastern Europe
  • Michał Kulesza
Kulesza, Michał: Methods anf Techniques of Managing Decentralization Reforms in the CEE Countries: The Polish Experience [in:] Mastering Decentralization and Public Administration Reforms in Central and Eastern Europe, ed. by Gabor Peteri, Open Society Institute. Local Government and Public Service Reform Initiative, LGI Studies, 2002
12.3. Internet resources www.mswia.gov.pl – Ministry of the Interior and Public Administration
  • Wspólnota
Wspólnota [Community]. 12.3. Internet resources www.mswia.gov.pl – Ministry of the Interior and Public Administration. http://kwrist.mswia.gov.pl/ -Joint Commission of Central Government and Territorial Government Units.
TO KNOW MORE 12.1. Case law: landmark rulings of the Constitutional Court Ruling of 24
  • Sources
  • Information
SOURCES OF INFORMATION: TO KNOW MORE 12.1. Case law: landmark rulings of the Constitutional Court Ruling of 24 March 1998, Case No. K 40/97 [financial independence of local government]
Samorząd lokalny w Polsce: społeczno-polityczne aspekty funkcjonowania [Local self-government in Poland: social and political aspects
MicHałowski, Stanisław & Pawłowska, Agnieszka (eds): Samorząd lokalny w Polsce: społeczno-polityczne aspekty funkcjonowania [Local self-government in Poland: social and political aspects], Wydawnictwo UMCS 2004.