The Hungarian state has always been centralised throughout the 1000 years of its history. The county and the traditional administrative unit was born together with the kingdom, and served mostly as a subordinated agent of the central power during history. There have been attempts to rescale the county division by replacing it with larger regional units but these territorial reforms failed due to the successful opposition of the political elite.
The reform debates and conflicts have always been influenced by the aim to protect the independence of the Hungarian state since rescaling or modernisation reforms were initiated by foreign empires. For the first time in Hungarian history the systemic change gave the chance to decide independently on the territorial governance model following Hungarians’ own considerations. The local government model introduced in 1990 provided a strong position for municipalities, but the 19 counties lost their own former power. The last 25 years have been spent on continuous experiments for reforming and rescaling the meso. The EU cohesion policy provided strong motivation for reforms, as it needed strong regions. The 7 NUTS2 regions were designated in 1998 and several reform concepts aimed to equip these geographical borders with public functions and institutions from the central government instead of county assemblies and deconcentrated offices. The failure of these reforms can be explained not just by the lack of regional identity, but rather by the unwillingness of the central political elite to decentralize. Hungary’s accession to the EU in 2004 was a shock for the few who believed that in the Europe of Regions, Hungary would also strengthen the competences of the regions. Instead, a centralised management system of structural funds was introduced; and the formerly created micro and macro regions, along with the old counties were only residual actors in planning and fund allocation.
So it was not such a big turning point when the new government in 2010 started to centralise, cancelling both the NUTS2 regions on the administrative map and the meso level decentralisation on the political agenda. The new constitution in 2011 symbolises a completely different governance model. The strong, neo-Weberian state has been expanding at the cost of local elected governments. The county assemblies have lost all of their former public service institutions. Their only mission is regional development, and in particular managing some parts of the European structural funds. The question of the future remains how county assemblies will cope with this task without the administrative capacity, and real social embeddedness having no other public competences. But is it certain that local and regional governments have lost their former independence and space of movement. Hungary is a centralised country again, and has lost the chance to enter the group of decentralised countries in the near future.
by Ilona PÁLNÉ KOVÁCS
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.