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date: 03 August 2020

Introduction: Subnational Democracy in Europe: Changing Backgrounds and Theoretical Models

Abstract and Keywords

From 1945 to 1975, the ‘nationalization’ of governance gathered a pace through the centralization and bureaucratization of public policy programmes which left the national and regional authorities as primarily agents with the function of delivering welfare services on behalf of the central governments. Although local authorities could become powerful in this scenario, in reality, their political autonomy was diminished. Furthermore, during this period democracy was accepted primarily as representative democracy, and other forms such as direct and participatory democracy as undesirable. During the 1960s however, there was a growing interest in other forms of democracy. This and the crises of the nation-state in the 1970s and 1980s catalyzed important changes in the theory and practice of democracy in Europe. Neo-liberalism reforms were introduced to the economic policies as well as in the territorial governance of the nations. It shifted the ‘principal-agent’ model of governance in European nations to decentralized governance. In this book, twenty-nine country cases are examined through their state traditions and models of democracy to understand subnational democracy in Europe. State traditions determine the conditions within which democracy, at both national and subnational levels, is understood and practiced in each nation. And models of democracy determine each of the nation's democratic practices through the following typology of democracy: pendulum democracy, consensus democracy, voter democracy, and participatory democracy.

Keywords: governance, political autonomy, democracy, Europe, neo-liberalism reforms, territorial governance, decentralized governance, state traditions

The Changing Context of Subnational Democracy

Territorial governance in ‘Les Trente Glorieuses’

In the heyday of the welfare state (1945–75) the ‘nationalization’ of governance had gathered pace through a centralization and bureaucratization of public policy programmes which left regional and local authorities as primarily ‘agents’ with the function of delivering welfare services on behalf of central governments (the (p. 2) ‘principals’). Although local authorities could become powerful actors in this scenario as was the case in the Scandinavian countries, in practice their political autonomy and room for manoeuvre was diminished. Furthermore, during this period democracy was accepted primarily as representative democracy, and other forms, such as direct or even participatory democracy were seen by some authors such as Schumpeter (1942) as undesirable. During the 1960s, however, there was a growing interest in other forms of democracy besides the representative, nationalized form, as evidenced, for example, in Carole Pateman's seminal book Participation and Democratic Theory, published in 1970. The growing interest in forms of democracy besides the representative type must be placed in the context of the post‐war welfare state.

What the French called ‘Les Trente Glorieuses’—the thirty ‘glorious years’ between 1945 and 1975—was the period of post‐war recovery in Western Europe when everything was expanding. Economic reconstruction assisted by the US Marshall Plan led to an economic boom and a continually rising population (the ‘baby boom’) in most Western European states. After the deprivations of the 1930s, economic depression, and the Second World War, European citizens demanded from their governments high levels of social and economic security. During this period most of the political and economic elites in Western Europe, whether from the Left or the Right, agreed that such an approach was necessary. Crouch (1999) calls this the ‘mid‐century consensus’. This consensus led to two principal outcomes which were closely related to each other. First, most Western governments adopted a Keynesian model of economic state interventionism which sought to control market forces in order to achieve positive policy outcomes such as full employment and low inflation. Of course, different states adopted this approach in various ways, leading to the notion of ‘varieties of capitalism’ (Hall and Soskice 2001). The Bretton Woods system of regulating international commercial and currency exchanges was an application of Keynesian ideas. Indeed, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), now the World Bank (WB), established at Bretton Woods were originally meant to be instruments of Keynesianism. Second, although various kinds of welfare state were being established in the same countries (Esping‐Anderson 1990), they all shared a number of features: they were centralized, highly bureaucratic and sought to impose a uniformity of social policy approaches and outcomes across the entire territory of the state (Loughlin 2009).

Not everyone shared this consensus. Some of the New Left saw it as dangerous both for Marxist revolution—since they ‘bought off’ and neutralized the revolutionary fervour of the working class—and also for the individual who meant to achieve full personal autonomy in all domains (Marcuse 1964). The most dramatic expressions of this discontent were the student revolts which culminated in the ‘events’ of May ’68 in Paris. However, these developments had, at first, little impact on the political systems of Western states, including their democratic (p. 3) systems. The other important school of thought which rejected the Keynesian economic approach and the welfare state were what we now call the New Right, a group of scholars from different disciplines, mostly based in the United States but many of whom were of European origin (see below). Finally, what is striking about this period of post‐war political and economic history is that, although the European Community was created in the 1950s partly in response to the devastation of the Second World War and, in the minds of at least some of its founders, in order to overcome what they regarded as the harmful consequences of the nation‐state by creating a European federation, in practice the EC only reinforced the latter, what Milward (1992) called ‘the European rescue of the nation‐state’. After an initial phase when the foundations of a federal Europe were laid in the 1950s, the EC entered into a period of ‘sclerosis’, and the integration project would only come alive again with the crisis of the nation‐state in the 1970s and 1980s. These developments would have an important impact on the theory and practice of democracy.

The shifting context of democracy: from Keynesianism to neo‐liberalism

The expansionism of the Trente Glorieuses began to falter in the 1970s. First, there was a series of interrelated crises: the 1971 collapse of the Bretton Woods system, the 1973 oil crisis, the failure of the traditional Keynesian approach to solve the economic problems of stagflation and rising unemployment, etc. One major response to these crises was the adoption of a set of ideas in economic, political, and social theory of the above‐mentioned ‘New Right’ (Von Hayek 1962 [1944]; Friedman 1962; Niskanen 1971; Nozick 1974). These ideas subsequently became known as ‘neo‐liberalism’, which can be interpreted as an ideology and policy approach directly opposed to the welfare state and Keynesian economic policies. It was also an important factor in the development of a new phase of globalization in the 1980s (Scholte 2005). The importance of neo‐liberalism for individual nation‐states, aside from the issue of globalization, lies in its adoption by the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (elected in 1979) and the US President Ronald Reagan (elected in 1980) who used its ideas to attempt to undo some of the principal features of the welfare state which they held responsible for the economic and social crises of the 1970s. Although Thatcherism and Reaganism did not fully succeed in undermining the welfare state, they did introduce many reforms which significantly changed both its operating culture and the relations between state, society, and market. Whereas the welfare state had emphasized the state's domination of the market and society, neo‐liberalism attempted to place the market in the key position of dominance over both state and society. (p. 4) Administrative and policy reforms such as New Public Management (NPM), privatization, and deregulation were attempts to create market‐like conditions within public administration. Those who promoted these reforms used the accelerating globalization of markets and economies as a justification that the reforms were inevitable (Hirst and Thomson 1996).

The importance of globalization came home to many people, perhaps for the first time, with the financial crisis which began in 2007 in the US sub‐prime mortgage markets and which quickly spread to threaten the world's entire banking system and began to affect the ‘real’ economy as well. The crisis sparked an unprecedented mobilization of governments across the world to rescue the financial system through pumping astronomical amounts of currency into the banks to prop them up and to absorb their ‘toxic’ debts. What these developments revealed was that finance and banking had become truly global with markets that largely escaped the control of national governments or even international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. How had this come about?

The answer to this question lies in the developments already discussed above of the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of international financial regulation and the emergence of a new neo‐liberal order which has been largely unregulated or only with very light forms of regulation. Some authors such as Hirst and Thomson (1996) have expressed scepticism as to whether the current phase of globalization is really different from forms of globalization that were already happening towards the end of the nineteenth century. Most scholars today, however, accept that a qualitatively and quantitatively new form of globalization began in the 1980s, closely related to what we have identified above as neo‐liberalism (Held and McGrew 2003; Scholte 2005). Although globalization has not abolished the nation‐state, it has significantly modified the international system in which nation‐states operate (Sørensen 2008) as well as the internal functioning of nation‐states (Scholte 2005). The key change has been the shift from national political, economic, and social systems characterized by their largely self‐contained character, to systems that are much more open and ‘porous’ (Bartolini 2005).

Globalization, neo‐liberalism, and territorial governance

The neo‐liberal reforms of the 1980s also had an important impact on territorial governance understood as the relations between central and subnational governments. During the period of welfare state hegemony the relationship was largely a ‘principal–agent’ relationship, where the ‘principal’ was the central state of which the local authorities were ‘agents’ delivering public services on their behalf (Caulfield 2000). The crisis of the welfare state model and the emergence of neo‐liberalism meant a shift from this ‘principal–agent’ model to one that was more (p. 5) characterized by ‘choice’. In effect, this shift was the application of the neo‐liberal conception of governance, based on competition through the creation of market‐like conditions, to the level of territorial governance (Loughlin 2009). It was reinforced by demands from an expanding, well‐educated middle class that from the 1980s came to replace the working class as the main social force in most European countries. The middle class tended to have more individualistic values and emphasize the right to choose between service providers.

In the United States, where the welfare state tends to be weak and exists only in some of the more ‘liberal’ states such as those in New England, this application took the form of ‘fiscal federalism’, which suggested that political decentralization was, in effect, an attempt to create market‐like conditions in local government (Oates 1999). In fiscal federalism, local citizens are regarded as ‘consumers’ of public services and the high degree of mobility in US society meant that they could easily move around to ‘shop’ for the best services in different localities. Fiscal federalism, however, could not work in European societies not least because of the low levels of mobility of citizens in European states. Furthermore, it would be difficult to apply given the strong redistributive policies of the European welfare state system.

This is not to say that decentralization did not occur in Western Europe during this period (Sharpe 1979; Page and Goldsmith 1987; Hesse and Sharpe 1991; Lidström 2003; Denters and Rose 2005). However, these trends were primarily about decongesting top‐heavy regulatory political and administrative systems by devolving some functions to lower levels, often without granting a high level of political autonomy. Nevertheless, at times, they did seek to give local authorities greater freedom to develop their own policy approaches and even their own institutional organization without detailed regulation ‘from above’. This was one of the underlying rationales (among others) of the French 1982 decentralization reforms (Loughlin 2007). In the late 1980s, the Scandinavian countries, beginning with Sweden, initiated a set of reforms known as the ‘Free Commune’1 experiment, which tried to lessen government regulation in specified policy areas such as education or health care (Baldersheim and Ståhlberg 1994). These reforms have now been ‘mainstreamed’ into the Scandinavian local government systems. Of course, the underlying rationale of these reforms was to streamline the policy and administrative systems of the countries carrying them out. Nevertheless, there was also a growing realization that political decentralization and local autonomy were important elements of democracy itself. This can be seen in the development of the idea by a number of international organizations such as the Council of Europe and the United Nations.

(p. 6) European integration

Although it is sometimes seen as a self‐contained development driven by purely intra‐European factors, the ‘relaunch’ of the process of European integration in the early 1980s was to a great extent a response to the challenges of globalization. Confronted by the economic and social crises of the 1970s, the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERTI) met in the Paris boardroom of Volvo in 1983 to discuss their response. The industrialists realized that no single European state could adequately tackle the problems alone but that it would be much better if they did so together. In 1992 the Single Market project was launched as the means by which further integration would be achieved. This led to the signing of the Single European Act (SEA) and the Single Market was largely completed by the deadline of 1 January 1993, but it entailed further revisions of the Treaties at Maastricht (1993), Amsterdam (1997), and Nice (2001).

A further important development was the collapse of the USSR and the other communist regimes in East and Central Europe and the Balkans from 1989 onwards. This opened up the prospect of a significant enlargement of the EU with the number of member states reaching thirty or even more. Indeed, the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice were in large part attempts to revise the EU institutions in order to accommodate the increased number of members. But an even more ambitious project was the drafting and approval in 2004 of a Constitutional Treaty by the Convention on the Future of Europe presided over by the former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. Unfortunately for those who wished to see a strengthened European Union, the Constitutional Treaty fell with the failure of the 2005 referendums in France and the Netherlands to approve it. A modified version of the Constitutional Treaty took shape in the Lisbon Treaty signed in 2007 and was finally ratified in 2009. In the meantime, enlargements in 2004 and 2007 brought the number of EU member states to twenty‐seven with eight new states from the former communist bloc plus Malta and Cyprus. Without going into all the details of these developments, it is clear that they have had important consequences for territorial governance in the member states.

Linking decentralization and local democracy: The Committee of the Regions, the Council of Europe and UN‐Habitat

The Committee of the Regions was set up only in 1994 by the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht) which was signed in 1992. Maastricht was a revision of the EC Treaties necessitated by the 1987 Single European Act (SEA). This was primarily about reforming the main EC institutions and adapting them to the forthcoming single market. However, it also included important provisions relating to the ‘regional question’. The regional question had moved to the top of the political (p. 7) agenda as EU member states such as Spain, Ireland, Italy, and Portugal, all of whom possessed economically underdeveloped regions, had feared that the new European market would further disadvantage these regions. In order to secure their agreement for the single market, the EC had agreed to upgrade its regional policy2 by combining a number of funds (the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and part of the Agricultural Fund) into what became known as the Structural Funds (Marks 1992). There were several reforms of the policy in the mid‐1980s and early 1990s (Loughlin 1997). Two aspects of the reforms are important. First, the amount of money available for underdeveloped regions was increased. Second, they included the adoption of the principles of subsidiarity and partnership, which meant that subnational authorities and other entities were involved in the implementation of the policy. In practice this meant that regions and local authorities across Europe could access funding which, although tiny in comparison with total EC funding, could be significant for the locality in question. This led to quite a vast mobilization of subnational authorities across Europe (Borras‐Alomar et al. 1994; Keating and Loughlin 1997; Jeffery 1997; Keating 1998; Loughlin 2005). At the same time, other groups were putting the ‘regional question’ onto the political agenda. The German Länder were concerned that the EC was eating into their prerogatives by dealing only with the Federal government in areas of their competence (e.g. regional policy) (Jeffery 1994). The European Commission's Directorate‐General (DG XVI) responsible for regional policy was also engaged in promoting the issue. Finally, while pan‐European regional and local authority institutions had existed for many years, the regional policy reforms gave them a new lease of life, and a new association—the Assembly of European Regions—was set up in 1985 in order to promote the ‘regional interest’ as such in Europe.

This was the context in which the Committee of the Regions was established (Warleigh 1999). However, there was a clear divergence of opinion between, on the one hand, these ardent regionalists, some of whom sought something like a European Bundesrat in which the regions could exercise an important influence on European legislation, and, on the other hand, several national governments involved in the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) preparing the Maastricht Treaty, who wished to limit the role of regions. As a result, the Committee which was finally established, far from being a fully‐fledged ‘institution’, representing the ‘Third Level’ of European decision‐making, was merely an advisory ‘body’ with the same constitutional status as the Economic and Social Committee (ESC).3 (p. 8) Nevertheless, although its constitutional status was identical to the ESC, the CoR moved quickly to become, in practice, a rather different kind of body, not least because it was composed of elected politicians rather than the unelected if worthy dignitaries that were found in the ESC (Loughlin 1996).

The Council of Europe (CoE) is an intergovernmental body, founded in 1949, which groups together forty‐seven European states stretching from Ireland to Russia and from Finland to Portugal.4 It was founded to promote human rights and democracy. It does so by promulgating various ‘Charters’ and ‘Conventions’ dealing with particular aspects of rights or democratic practice. From its very beginning, the Council paid special attention to democracy at the local level. In 1957, it established the Conference of Local Authorities of Europe. In 1975, this became the Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and included for the first time representatives of European regions. In 1979, it was renamed the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. The Standing Conference was responsible for promulgating, in 1985, the European Charter of Local Self‐Government (henceforth the Charter) which was concerned to define the conditions of local autonomy vis‐à‐vis central (and regional) authorities. In 1994, there was a further strengthening with the upgrading of the Standing Conference which became the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE). The CLRAE became one of the principal institutions of the Council alongside the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the European Court of Human Rights.

The promulgation of the Charter may be interpreted as local authorities seeking to free themselves from the excessive regulation by central (and/or regional) governments. It is essentially concerned with laying out the conditions necessary for the exercise of local autonomy and the rights of local authorities vis‐à‐vis their national (or regional) governments. These conditions cover issues such as local fiscal autonomy, the right to adequate funding to carry out tasks designated by superior levels of government, the right to self‐organization, etc. The importance of the Charter lies in the fact that it is a Treaty‐like document which, once signed and ratified5 by a member state may be used by the Council to hold that state to account with regard to the Charter's implementation. The CLRAE monitors this implementation through a committee of independent experts, one from each of the forty‐seven member states.6

The Council of Europe played an important role in the transition to democracy of the countries of East and Central Europe following the collapse of the communist regimes after 1989. Another CoE body, the Venice Commission (also known as (p. 9) the European Commission for Democracy through Law), established in 1990, assisted the new democratic states in drawing up constitutions and legislation which conformed to the highest standards of Western liberal democracy. Many of these new constitutions incorporated the principles of the European Charter of Local Self‐Government and also gave expression to them in subsequent legislation. The Committee of Independent Experts of the CLRAE monitors all forty‐seven member states, including of course the new democracies, to ensure that these principles are honoured in practice. It is true that the reality often falls far short of the constitutional principles, but the Charter provides an important benchmark against which to measure progress.

During the 1990s, the principle that effective political decentralization is an essential element of ‘good governance’ gained further recognition through one of the organizations of the United Nations. UN‐HABITAT, which is responsible for local development and urban issues, drew up a set of ‘guidelines’ approved unanimously by its Governing Council at their annual meeting in Nairobi in April 2007. The guidelines drew on the European Charter but developed it further. The Charter had been primarily concerned with defending the rights and autonomy of local authorities vis‐à‐vis central and regional governments but paid little attention to the relationship between local authorities and their own citizens and groups from the wider civil society. The guidelines pay particular attention to the latter question and include sections on participatory democracy as well as on local governance including relations with societal groups.

Factors behind the trends towards decentralization

These shifts in global and national governance have had a profound impact on the positions of regional and local authorities. First, while national governments remain the key level of national decision‐making, they themselves are part of a system of global governance, which is ‘multi‐level governance’ in a wider sense, where decisions affecting their citizens are taken by organizations that are often hidden and beyond democratic control. This has ‘relativized’ the position of national governments and undermined their position as the guardians of national sovereignty. This is the context in which regional and local authorities have reinforced their own claims to democratic legitimacy. Second, as national borders have become more ‘porous’, with numerous ‘exit’ possibilities, subnational authorities have, to some extent at least, ‘escaped’ from the control of their own national governments (Bartolini 2005). This has allowed some, although not all, of them to develop links and activities outside their own national borders a development sometimes called ‘paradiplomacy’ (Duchacek 1986; Michelmann and Soldatos 1990).

Third, as indicated above, economic organization shifted from being ‘national’ to being ‘global’ (Scholte 2005). This has had important consequences for (p. 10) subnational authorities, particularly regions, whose functions often include economic development. The shifting priorities of national governments, influenced by a neo‐liberal approach to economic development, meant that there were fewer resources available from central authorities to assist subnational governments in a direct ‘top‐down’ manner. The latter were increasingly obliged to adopt a more competitive and ‘bottom‐up’ approach to economic development which sometimes pitted them against other regions and local authorities within their own states as well as internationally, which is sometimes called ‘competitive regionalism’. It was in the 1980s and 1990s that a new model of regional development emerged, with names such as the ‘learning’ or ‘innovative’ region being employed (Cooke and Morgan 1998). City‐regions and metropolitan areas were becoming increasingly important as habitats and centres for economic activities. From 1950 to 2007, the share of Europeans living in cities increased from 50 to 72 per cent (UN 2008). In order to address common needs in the city‐regions new levels of governance were established. Although there are examples of directly elected metropolitan governments (e.g. Greater London Authority), the strengthening of city‐regions has mainly paved the way for an extensive use of inter‐municipal cooperation (e.g. in France) (Hendriks et al. 2001; Le Galès 2002; Heinelt and Kübler 2005).

Fourth, the economic transformations which resulted from the new globalization affected the structures, values, and organization of society itself. This became particularly important with the spread of new technologies, and not least the internet and the mobile phone. This has led to a number of contradictory developments which pose challenges for local authorities. On the one hand, the new communication possibilities allow citizens to be more aware of what is happening in the world and also allow them to enter into direct contact with their political and administrative systems. On the other hand, and somewhat paradoxically, they have also led to increasing fragmentation, isolation, and individualism. Citizens are less inclined today to become involved in any kind of organization and we have witnessed a decline in membership of trade unions, political parties, churches, choral societies, and other forms of association. The American political scientist Robert Putnam has a striking image of this phenomenon in the title of his seminal book: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Putnam 2000).7 Since regional and local authorities are alleged to represent their regional and local ‘communities’, this poses a serious challenge to the basis of their existence and to the concept of regional and local democracy (Loughlin et al. 2001). Undoubtedly, all of these challenges also represent opportunities for subnational authorities to develop new forms of democratic participation as well as new forms of organization designed to meet the challenges of globalized political, economic, and cultural systems.

(p. 11) Theoretical Approaches

The approach developed in this book is to use two main sets of theoretical constructs—state tradition and democratic type—both to compare across all twenty‐nine country cases and to attempt to understand the central phenomenon: subnational democracy in Europe.

Table 0.1 State traditions


State tradition





Is there a legal basis for the ‘State’





State—society relations





Form of political organization

Union state/limited federalist

Integral/organic federalist

Jacobin, ‘one and indivisible’

Decentralized unitary

Basis of policy style

Incrementalist ‘muddling through’

Legal corporatist

Legal technocratic


Form of decentralization

‘State power’ (US); devolution/local government (UK)

Cooperative federalism

Regionalized unitary state

Strong local autonomy

Dominant approach to discipline of public administration

Political science'sociology

Public law

Public law

Public law (Sweden); organization theory (Norway)


UK; US; Canada (but not Quebec); Ireland

Germany; Austria; Netherlands; Spain (after 1978); Belgium (after 1988)

France; Italy; Spain (until 1978); Portugal; Quebec; Greece; Belgium (until 1988)

Sweden; Norway; Denmark

Source: Loughlin and Peters (1997).

(p. 12) State traditions

Here we build on the notion of ‘State Traditions’ which was initially introduced by Dyson (1980) and developed subsequently by Loughlin and Peters (1997). This typology helps to organize states into groupings. This is a useful starting‐point since the state tradition will often lay down sets of parameters which determine the conditions within which democracy, at both national and subnational levels, is understood and practised. An initial distinction that may be made is between countries in the ‘Anglo’ tradition—the UK, Ireland (as well as the US, Canada, Australia, etc.)—and the countries of continental Europe. In the Anglo tradition, the ‘state’ as such does not exist in the same way that it exists in the other European countries on the continent, that is, as an entity with its own legal personality—what is called in French ‘une personne morale’. On continental Europe, the state, as a ‘moral person’, is capable of entering into contractual relations with other legal entities such as local authorities, universities, or, indeed, private enterprises. One example of this is the ‘contrats de plan Etat—région’ which the French state signs with its regions. In the Anglo tradition, one usually speaks of ‘government’ or government departments rather than the state. Another important difference is that in the Anglo tradition, government was traditionally dominated by society, while in the continental tradition it is rather the state which dominates society. These differences have influenced other aspects of both approaches to understanding policy and state–society relations. For example, in the Anglo tradition, and particularly in the US, politics is dominated by a pluralistic approach emphasizing the role of groups, with government departments being considered simply as ‘groups’ alongside the groups of civil society. Similarly, public administration is less concerned with constitutional‐legal structures and more with the power relations that exist behind these structures as in the theory of ‘intergovernmental relations’ developed by Wright (1978) and popularized in the UK case by Rhodes (1979). The continental European tradition of understanding politics and public administration, on the other hand, has its roots not in the ‘social sciences’ but in public law. This emphasizes the role of the state and parliamentary legislation in defining policy over and above society. The continental tradition was strongly influenced both by traditions of Roman law and the legacy of the Napoleon code, admittedly mostly present in Southern Europe.

Nevertheless, there are also interesting differences among the countries of continental Europe, which we have resumed under three broad categories: French, Germanic, and Scandinavian. The key contrasts here are between the French and the Germanic approaches. In each case, there is a distinctive understanding of the nature of the state and the nation and the relationship between state and society. The Germanic tradition has more of a corporatist and organic character with groups from civil society being incorporated into the policy‐making functions of the state itself. The nation is conceived as a corporate body based on (p. 13) a common language and culture which transcended the territorial fragmentation of the German lands during the nineteenth century. The French tradition is quite different and conceives the state as somehow embodying the nation but where the nation is a collection of individual citizens joined together by a ‘general will’. Sometimes, German nationalism is expressed as ‘ethnos’, while the French understanding is expressed as ‘demos’. One is born into a specific German culture, while one may choose to become French. Of course, the two concepts become intertwined with the arrival of the modern nation‐state since Germanic ethnos also implies demos and French demos evolves into ethnos, where French citizenship also means adoption of French language and culture. The Scandinavian tradition stands somewhere between the Anglo and the Germanic and bears some resemblance to the French tradition. Like the Anglo tradition it has a tradition of self‐reliant communities, giving it strong local government but, like the German, it has a strong state with some corporatist features. Like the French tradition, it emphasizes central control and uniformity.

State traditions also express distinct forms of territorial governance. The French tradition tends towards a high degree of centralization and uniformity. The Germanic tradition is marked by organic federalism. The Anglo tradition, given its weak form of ‘state’, has a pragmatic and ad hoc form of territorial governance. The Scandinavian tradition, as mentioned above, has a strong central state but also strong local governments. Table 0.1 illustrates some of these dimensions and also assigns countries to particular traditions. These boxes should be seen simply as starting‐points: some countries will be influenced by several traditions, although most countries have a dominant state tradition. One theme emerging out of this book is that almost all states are, in practice, ‘hybrid’.

The organization of the book—the clusters of countries—to some extent reflects these broad similarities although there are also important divergences within clusters (e.g. Spain, although coming from the Napoleonic tradition, has evolved into something like a federal state). The Loughlin/Peters typology was used in the original 2001 version of this book but, in the current version, we have supplemented it with another typology which seeks to refine it from the perspective of subnational democracy (see the next section). In the coming chapters we distinguish between: the British Isles (Ireland and the UK); the Rhinelandic states (the Benelux, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland); the Nordic states (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Norway); the Southern European states (Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain); and the ‘New Democracies’ (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia). In the case of the countries of Western Europe, these categories more or less correspond with the four state traditions of the Loughlin/Peters typology. The ‘New Democracies’ are more problematic and, although in most cases have been influenced by the four traditions, they are in fact quite heterogeneous. Although they all share a common history of communism and the transition to democracy (see the (p. 14) Conclusions of this book for further reflections on this), their pre‐communist histories are quite distinct. Some of them shared the historical experiences of Western Europe such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution and the rise of liberal democracy. Others, in contrast, were part of the Ottoman or Russian Empires which had not experienced these developments to the same extent. Although these longer‐term historical influences should not be exaggerated, neither should they be ignored as it may be that a particular country had historical memories, however repressed, of democratic life, while others had simply never experienced this. Furthermore, individual countries among the new democracies had ancient links and affinities with other European countries—Poland and Romania with France, Estonia with Finland, Hungary with Austria, etc. In many cases, these ancient links were revived with the fall of communism and as the new democracies reached out to Western Europe. We shall return to some of these issues and explore them in the light of the findings in the twenty‐nine case studies. We will now turn to our theoretical reflections on the nature of subnational democracy.

Models of democracy

Lijphart (1999) has made a fundamental distinction between majoritarian ‘Westminster democracy’ on the one hand, and cooperative ‘consensus democracy’ on the other. He distinguishes these along the federal—unitary and the politics—executives dimensions. Hendriks (2010) has used the Lijphart scheme in an amended and expanded way, to allow it to incorporate subnational democracy. He distinguishes between four competing models of democracy: pendulum democracy, consensus democracy, voter democracy, and participatory democracy (see Table 0.2). These four models are the result of interrelating two basic distinctions that are well known but commonly kept apart in the existing literature:

Aggregative versus integrative democracy

The key question here is: how are democratic decisions taken? Are they taken in an aggregative (majoritarian) process, in which a simple majority of 50 per cent + 1 eventually wins, even if this majority is up against sizeable minorities? Or are decisions taken in an integrative (non‐majoritarian, deliberative) process, in which people attempt to reach the widest possible—ideally complete—agreement? Is it ‘the winner takes all’ or is it a process of consensus building? Is it majoritarian ‘voting’ or deliberative ‘conferring’?8

(p. 15) Direct versus indirect democracy.

Table 0.2 Models of democracy

Aggregative (majoritarian)

Integrative (non‐majoritarian)

Indirect (representation)

Pendulum democracy

Consensus democracy

Direct (self‐determination)

Voter democracy

Participatory democracy

The key question here is: who is eventually taking the decisions? Do citizens designate representatives who eventually take the decisions (the indirect‐democracy option)? Or do members of the community eventually take the decisions themselves (the direct‐democracy option)? Is it public decision‐making ‘by all concerned’ or ‘in other people's stead’? Is it a democracy of ‘lookers‐on’ or a democracy of ‘do‐it‐yourselfers’?9

Pendulum democracy refers to the model of democracy in which political power alternates between two competing political formations and their leaders—like the pendulum of a clock. Its best‐known manifestation is the so‐called Westminster model. Pendulum democracy is fundamentally indirect and representative in nature. Citizens periodically cast their votes and hand over decision‐making powers to their elected representatives. Decision‐making is largely majoritarian and aggregative: the winner takes all in constituencies, because of the ‘first‐past‐the‐post’ electoral system; the government is monopolized by the winning party, even if its majority is minimal. In pendulum democracy, broad‐based citizen participation focuses on the brief period of elections. Policy implementation, policy preparation, agenda‐setting, and political control are taken over from citizens by the elected politicians as much as possible. According to its supporters, a major advantage of pendulum democracy is that the voters' signals given in general elections make themselves vigorously felt, first in political representation, and then in government formation and policy‐making. A party that loses elections can hardly win executive power, as is possible in consensus democracies.

Voter democracy combines aggregative decision‐making with direct popular rule, unmediated by political representation. Citizens participate in voter democracy by casting their votes in plebiscites, either on a small scale, as in assembly meetings, or on a large scale, as in referendums. A nice example of voter democracy is the New England town meeting, where citizens take decisions on public matters in assembly (by show of hands, count of ayes and nays, and majority rule). A more large‐scale manifestation of this type is the California‐style decision‐making proposition (p. 16) (referendum), in which a simple majority decides binary questions (for or against a particular proposition; aye or nay). Such plebiscites are often foreshadowed by opinion polls, consumer surveys and the like, which can also be aggregated efficiently and numerically. Its proponents feel that the strength of voter democracy lies in citizens' non‐dependence on others for having their voices heard and their preferences in public matters counted—a critical mass of preference indicators enables them to compel attention and force decisions in a way that is straightforward, loud and clear.

Participatory democracy combines direct self‐governance with integrative decision‐making. It is illustrated by classic as well as contemporary cases of ‘communal’ self‐rule, ‘communicative’ and ‘deliberative’ citizen governance. In a participatory democracy, a minority would never be simply overruled by a straightforward numerical majority; minorities are to be included not excluded. If done at all, counting heads only takes place in the final stages of decision‐making, and serves to confirm shared views rather than to take decisions. Decision‐making is first and foremost a process of engaging in thorough, preferably transformative, and usually lengthy deliberations to search for consensus. The widespread participation of all involved—in agenda‐setting, policy preparation, implementation and control—is considered the best way of warranting the legitimacy of collective decision‐making. In a participatory democracy, everyone has the same right to raise and debate an issue, and relations are largely horizontal, open, and ‘power‐free’, that is, no one can issue an ultimatum or a veto from a position of power. The strength of participatory democracy is the cultivation of concord and commonality, its proponents contend.

Consensus democracy refers to a general model of democracy, a specific version of which can be found in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria; this particular version, developed in the context of historically divided societies, is also called ‘consociational democracy’. The general model of consensus democracy is basically indirect and integrative. Representatives of groups and sections of society are the prime decision‐makers. They go about their business in an integrative and consensus‐seeking way, usually in a conference‐room or round‐table type of setting. Collective decision‐making largely tends to take place in co‐producing, co‐governing, and coalition‐oriented ways and aims to establish consensus and broad‐based support. The majority preferably does not overrule substantial minorities by simply counting heads; policies are preferably built on a broad platform of support, both politically and socially. In the agenda‐setting and preparatory stages, representatives of social interest groups and specific sections of the population are widely consulted; in implementing policies, civil society and third‐sector organizations are also widely involved. Integration and collaboration are seen as core qualities.

Democratic practice is the result of a dynamic process of push and pull between these models of democracy. Pendulum democracy may be most prominent in some (p. 17) countries, and consensus democracy in others (Lijphart 1999), but this never occurs in an exclusive or uncontested way. Functioning democratic systems, ‘vital democracies’, are usually hybrids of different models (Hendriks 2010).

Subnational Europe: extending the analysis of democracy

National and subnational democracy

To some extent, our research has beenguided and inspired by Lijphart's (1999) study of democracy in thirty‐six countries around the world. Reporting on a great number of countries in one volume, Lijphart focuses on the formal institutions of the national state. In our book—focusing on subnational democracy in European countries—we attempt to look beyond the statal and formal patterns of democracy, to analyse its formal and informal manifestations at the regional and local levels. Nevertheless, subnational expressions of democracy are embedded within national state systems, which means that Lijphart's basic dichotomy between Westminster and consensus democracy is still a useful starting‐point. In this book we wish to develop Lijphart's conceptualization in a number of ways. First, we will translate the majoritarian/non‐majoritarian divide from the national or macro level to the subnational or meso level of institutional analysis (the micro level being the level of individual actor analysis). The democratic logic that colours the nation or state to a large extent also colours the town or place embedded within the nation or state—at least, this is often assumed, which calls for critical scrutiny.

Abstracting from specificities, Hendriks (2010) breaks down pendulum democracy at the local level into ten structural characteristics, referring to Lijphart's (1999) well‐known ten‐item characterization of representative‐majoritarian democracy at the national level. Translating ‘Lijphart’ from the macro to the meso institutional level gives the following:

  • concentration of executive power in one‐party local government supported by a simple local council majority;

  • executive dominance in monistic (as opposed to dualistic) relations between local council and government;

  • a two‐party system, with one party in government and the other in opposition; dichotomy of local government and opposition;

  • a majoritarian, district‐based, winner‐takes‐all electoral system; local districts as constituencies;

  • a pluralist interest group system with free‐for‐all competition; uncoordinated and competitive; every local interest acting for itself;

  • centralized and unitary local government; weak sub‐local institutions and strong central institutions; ‘consolidated corporation’, one and undivided;

  • (p. 18) concentration of regulatory powers; local government along the vertical lines of council committees and related sectoral bureaucracies;

  • home rule; strong sense of local autonomy, weak sense of co‐government;

  • limited legal‐administrative supervision; preventive and repressive tutelage weakly developed;

  • financial‐economic auditing under local political control; independent local auditing weakly developed.

The translation of Lijphart's executives‐parties dimension from the national to the local level is quite straightforward. Translation of the federal‐unitary dimension requires a bit more flexibility. The basic question here is, whether governmental relations resemble those of a decentralized federation, involving a great deal of power dispersal and sharing, as well as checks and balances; or whether they rather resemble those of a centralized unitary system, involving little of the former but a great deal of ‘home rule’, local autonomy and concentration of regulatory powers, combined with few ‘autonomous nosy parkers’, such as independent financial‐economic auditing and external legal‐administrative supervision.

Likewise, the logic of consensus democracy can be translated from the macro to the meso institutional level as well. In an ideal‐typical manner, consensus democracy would be characterized by the following local institutions:

  • executive power‐sharing in broad multiparty coalitions; local government by coalition; balanced and dualistic relations between local council and government;

  • a multiparty system with usually more than one ruling party and more than one in opposition;

  • an electoral system of proportional representation; no winner‐take‐all district model for distributing council seats;

  • a coordinated interest group system; ‘local corporatism’ stressing interest mediation and coordination;

  • decentralized, quasi‐federal government; multi‐tier and multi‐unit local government;

  • dispersal of regulatory powers; strong need for horizontal coordination of policy sectors;

  • institutionalized interdependency; strong sense of co‐responsibility; tradition of co‐governance and co‐production;

  • legal‐administrative supervision; preventive and repressive oversight by external bodies;

  • independent financial‐economic auditing; audits by external bodies or local ‘courts of audit’.

The two patterns of meso‐level democracy are ideal‐types. Real‐existing institutions of local democracy will to some extent, but never fully, converge to these patterns.

(p. 19) Indirect and direct democracy

We will supplement Lijphart's dichotomy by paying due attention to patterns of direct democracy, in addition to the patterns of indirect democracy that Lijphart works with. By adding voter democracy and participatory democracy, both models of ‘do‐it‐yourself democracy’, our palette of colours allows us to paint with greater range and richness. Surely, direct democracy is not confined to the subnational realm. Referendums, for example, have been organized both nationally and subnationally. Experiments with deliberative democracy have focused on very local but also very national issues. But, the subnational realm does present a relatively fertile breeding ground for expressions of, and experiments with, direct democracy—more so than the national level. In general we can say: the more large‐scale and macro‐level the governance system, the more likely it is that models of representative democracy are central and models of direct democracy secondary or even marginal (Lijphart 1999; Dahl 2000).

Subnational democracy in Europe displays many elements of what has previously been described as voter democracy and participatory democracy. The local or regional referendum (a simple majority of voters chooses directly between option ‘A’ or ‘B’) is probably the first thing that comes to mind to most observers. The logic of voter democracy inspires other popular instruments of subnational governance like urban panels, local polls, regional surveys and the like (individual opinions and preferences are amassed, aggregated, and numerically compared and in the end the biggest number carries the biggest weight). Amsterdam was one of the first towns to develop a virtual existence as ‘digital city’; many other towns, and also some regions, have followed with internet sites where citizens can communicate, assemble, and sometimes vote in a virtual way. Internet polls are typically aggregative (‘63 per cent in favour of a central car park, 37 per cent against’), internet fora are often more integrative, sometimes even explicitly ‘deliberative’ (without steering or conditions imposed from above). Traces of participatory democracy can be found in various experiments with ‘communicative’ planning, ‘deliberative’ decision‐making, and ‘participatory’ budgeting in regions, cities, and neighbourhoods. These are just a few examples of what is explored in this book.

Formal and informal democracy

Third and last, our analysis will be sensitive to the fact that democracy—particularly subnational democracy—is not only expressed through formalized institutions but also through semi‐formal or even informal institutions. Direct democracy can be expressed through formalized instruments such as local referendums, but, as we have shown in the previous section, it may also be expressed through non‐formalized methods such as those used in processes of ‘participative’, ‘interactive’, ‘communicative’, or ‘deliberative’ decision‐making. These are not described in constitutional or communal law, although they (p. 20) have become common practice in many cases. Representative democracy may be explicitly majoritarian or non‐majoritarian in a formal analysis, but pendulum democracy and consensus democracy are not only expressed by lines on the politico‐administrative map. They are also cultivated by informal and often unwritten rules‐of‐thumb and guiding precepts. Such notions and precepts underlie the real world of democracy that we are interested in.

Organization of the Book

First, we requested the contributors to examine whether the above models were useful in analysing their particular countries. Some responded to this request with greater fidelity than others but most did attempt to apply the theoretical models at least to some extent. In any case, the authors did pay due attention to the institutions of subnational democracy in addition to the patterns of national democracy that Lijphart focuses on. Second, they identified not only models of indirect democracy but also models of direct democracy, using the fourfold typology outlined above. Third, they were sensitive to the non‐formalized elements of democratic culture in addition to the formalized, structural patterns of subnational democracy in Europe. And finally, they did connect patterns of subnational democracy to state traditions as manifested at the subnational levels of governance. We shall make a more systematic analysis of our findings from the country chapters in the Conclusions of this book.

The book includes chapters on each of the twenty‐seven member states of the European Union as well as Norway and Switzerland. Although this is not all of the countries of Western, Central, and Eastern Europe, it does provide an almost complete compilation of these countries. The chapters are divided into five sections each corresponding to our macro‐country groupings. Each chapter follows a common structure although there are some variations within each chapter, which is justified by the distinctive constitutional and political organization of each country. The book concludes with a set of conclusions which attempt to identify some general features of European subnational democracy and also to apply both the state traditions and the subnational democracy models.


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(1) Also called the ‘Self-regulating Municipality’.

(2) Heretofore, European Regional Policy was primarily about ensuring that national regional policies did not interfere with the mechanisms of the market, that is, were not national subsidies to particular economic sectors.

(3) A ‘body’ is constitutionally less important than an ‘institution’. The CoR has continually lobbied, with little success, to be granted the status of the latter.

(4) For the full list of member states of the Council of Europe, consult its official website:

(5) As of 2009, forty‐four of the forty‐seven member states had signed and ratified the Charter.

(6) Two of the editors of this book, Anders Lidström and John Loughlin, and some of the authors who have contributed chapters, are members of this committee.

(7) Putnam draws attention to the fact that people in America increasingly go to the bowling alley alone to play against themselves rather than with companions.

(8) The distinction between majoritarian versus non-majoritarian is well known from the works by Lijphart (1999). Cognate categorizations, such as aggregative versus integrative, have been made by March and Olsen (1989).

(9) The distinction between direct and indirect democracy is well known and often made. See Dahl (2000). The distinction between the spectator or ‘looker‐on’, who stays out, and the do-it‐yourselfer or gladiator, who enters the arena, can be found in the work of L. W. Milbrath and M. L. Goel (1982); see also Manin (1987).