Municipalities up their demands for greater autonomy

An amendment to the local government law that was passed a few days ago by Parliament has led to a number of claims within various municipalities for more autonomy. The amendment declared independent community status for the former municipal departments of Vrahasi (in Lassithi, Crete), Tsaritsani (Larissa) and Zoniana (Rethymnon, Crete). Interior and Public Administration Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said the state of anarchy created by the lack of local government authorities over the last three years in these three communities had to end. He said no more amendments for more divisions of municipalities in the Capodistrias program that amalgamated local government organizations (OTA) would be acceptable. Yet his statement did nothing to stem the tide of reactions. Shortly before the controversial amendment was passed, a list was released of 53 municipal departments around the country that are demanding autonomy. Local claims, based either on feeble economic arguments or social and historical issues, have been put forward, often accompanied by extremist action for the benefit of the television cameras. Broader Capodistrias The Interior Ministry leadership has not set a timetable for a new Capodistrias program. The broader debate on restructuring the country’s local government map will take place after the new Municipal and Community Code is passed by Parliament. But the intention is clear. Fewer municipalities are likely to secure European Union funds for projects that will speed up development in the provinces and improve people’s daily lives. There are many who claim that the time might be ripe for a new Capodistrias program, one that goes even further towards meeting the needs and economic demands of local government. The Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) has ended without being fully exploited, simply because the structure of most of the country’s municipalities was not able to deal with the task of absorbing these funds. The rule of «mature projects require mature study» led to inequalities and showed social and economic differences. The greatest gains from these EU programs were made by municipalities which had the ability and the appropriate mechanisms to do so. Many did not have these tools and their dependence on central government increased. The next challenge posed by the fourth CSF is at hand and calls for structures that will help distribute and exploit European funds in more seriously thought-out projects. The Capodistrias program, which resulted in the formation of 1,000 municipalities, 30 communities and 54 prefectures needs to be taken further, according to those who foresee even more drastic losses of funds because of an out-of-date, partisan-based system. The Capodistrias program may not have divided Greece’s local government administration in the best possible way. It could have been preceded by a proper zoning plan based on criteria in accordance with the developmental possibilities of each region. The municipalities formed in the Capodistrias program were likely not supported in the best possible way, since the experts soon returned to their ministerial posts and the infrastructure was never put in place. But the plan did go ahead. It would be fatal at this stage to destabilize it. Regional government There is a long list of local government bodies which did not manage to secure resources in order to deal with their operational costs. The numbers speak for themselves. Greece is the only country in the 25-member European Union with such a centralized administration. Funds managed independently by local government amount to just 5 percent of the total, compared to a 25-30 percent average for the eurozone. «The future does not lie in the centralized state,» Pavlopoulos said. «We have entered an age where the onus lies on the regions and local government. That is a generalized phenomenon, particularly in Europe. It is now clear that the subsidiarity of the State is a given in the European institutional and political culture.» Pavlopoulos has not only settled the debts of many municipalities but raised the (Theseus) funding budget so as to achieve a better distribution of resources per region.