Divided in Statistical regions
Iceland is an island country located in the North Atlantic Ocean. A member of the European Free Trade Association, from March 2015 it is not anymore a candidate country to the European Union. Iceland is a unitary State and a republic with a parliamentary government. It presents two levels of administration: the national/central government and local authorities (municipalities). No regional level exists. There are regional committees based on regional cooperation between local governments, but they cannot be considered as separate units of administration. The eight landsvæði (regions) in which the country is divided are only used for statistical purposes, e.g. demography. The Icelandic statistical regions are: Capital region, Southwest, West, Westfjords, Northwest, Northeast, East and South.
Landsvæði are subdivided into 23 sýslur (counties), eight kaupstaðir (independent cities), seven bæir (towns), and five divisions of other types. The counties are further subdivided into smaller units, i.e. municipalities, which can be defined using different Icelandic generic terms. As a result of rapid social development over the last decades, improved communications, increased duties of local authorities and shifting of tasks to them, several municipalities have merged. Since the 1970s their number has decreased by almost a half. While there were 204 municipalities in Iceland in 1990, their number diminished to 76 in 2010.
Municipalities administer local matters through an elected council. They have responsibilities in several fields, such as water supply, waste collection and treatment, electricity, street construction and maintenance, social services, primary education, town planning and building regulation, public parks and open areas, monitoring of public and environmental health, economic promotion, transport and harbours. Such tasks are entrusted to municipalities by law. They have a certain degree of flexibility in undertaking other tasks relevant to residents.
The legal status of local authorities and their relationship with the central government is defined by Article 78 of the Icelandic Constitution of 1944. It affirms that: “Local authorities shall govern their own affairs themselves as provided by law. The revenue sources of local authorities shall be determined by law, as shall their right to decide whether, and to what extent, to exploit them”. The autonomy of local authorities was confirmed on 20 November 1985, when Iceland signed The European Charter of Local Self-Government.
In addition to the Constitution, another important legal source concerning local authorities is the Local Government Act, n° 138/2011, as amended. Section 1 of Article 1 of the Local Government Act states that Iceland is divided into municipalities which govern their own a airs. Two other main legislative texts are the Local Government Elections Act n° 5/1998, as amended and the Local Government Finance Act n° 4/1995, as amended. Legislation for specific sectors such as social welfare, education and planning was also enacted.
The local authorities’ administration is exercised under central government supervision. The Ministry of the Interior ensures that decisions of local authorities conform to the law and do not include tasks that have been assigned to other bodies of law.
According to section 5 of Article 3 of the Local Government Act, local authorities shall have their own sources of revenue, and shall be autonomous in establishing fees, which are collected by their own companies and agencies in order to meet their own expenses. The local authorities’ own taxes are the real estate taxes and local income taxes. The Local Government Finance Act permits municipalities to levy them.
The Act also provides for transfer payments to local authorities through the Local Authorities’ Equalisation Fund. Article 77 of the Icelandic Constitution affirms that the tax system shall be decided by law; as a result, local authorities are not allowed to introduce new types of taxes. Icelandic local authorities’ income is mainly based on municipal income tax (63%). Various service fees account for 18% of their income and property taxes for 11%, whereas income from the Municipality Equalisation Fund accounts for 8% of total revenues.
by Gianmartino Contu
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.