Essentially, the definition “region” in Lithuania is associated with three types of territorial units: administrative units of the state territory of higher level – counties (apskritys); ethnocultural regions; territorial units where Lithuania’s national regional policy and the European Union’s cohesion/neighbourhood policy are implemented.
After the re-establishment of independence in 1990, the country inherited the system of administrative-territorial units from the Soviet period. Established in 1960, this system was adjusted to suit the centralised government’s needs, but it was no longer suitable for a democracy. According to official documents, the administrative-territorial system in 1990- 1995 consisted of administrative-territorial units, which fell into two levels and five categories: cities of national importance (higher level), rajonai (districts) (higher level), towns of regional importance (lower level), urban-type settlements (lower level), and apylinkės (rural territories) (lower level). Administrative-territorial units of both the higher and lower levels were mostly small in terms of population. For instance, the units of the higher level with the population of 30 000 to 50 000 accounted for 42 % of the units of the higher level. It is assumed that during that period (1990 – 1995) there were no administrative-territorial units in Lithuania that could be called regions.
Since 1995 the system of administrative-territorial units in Lithuania has undergone essential changes. In 1995, 10 new administrative-territorial units of higher level, named apskritys (counties) which corresponded to the NUTS III level units, were established for the performance of state administrative functions, the implementation of national regional policy, and the absorption of support from the European Union Structural Funds and other financial instruments. Although, compared to the analogous entities in other European countries, those 10 new administrative- territorial units of the higher level were and still are relatively small; they, in particular, are called regions in Lithuania. According to the scientific classification of regions, the said regions are attributed to the group of administrative regions.
New administrative-territorial units of higher level (counties) were formed with the aim of implementing the provision of paragraph 1 of Article 123 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania stating that: ‘At higher level administrative units, the governance shall be organised by the central government according to the procedure established by law’. Thus it was decided that such government had to be implemented mainly by state officials who were appointed by the central government for a term of four years and were responsible for it, that is to say by county governors and their subordinate state budgetary institutions (county governor’s administration). The said state officials were appointed and the said institutions were established in the spring of 1995 and operated until 1 July 2010.
County governors and their subordinate institutions were constantly criticized by state politicians and municipalities. However, the latter greatly contributed to unpopular actions and required ‘harder decisions’ in the spheres of land reform, privatization of state property, and restoration of the ownership right to the existing real property to its former owners. After 15 years of work the positions of the said state officials and their subordinate institutions were abolished as presumably having completed their mission and duplicating the activities of other public administration entities. The functions performed by them were granted to municipalities and other state administration entities (e.g. the National Land Service under the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education and Science, etc.) or these functions were withdrawn.
County governors and their subordinate institutions as well as administrative-territorial units of higher level (counties) ‘were seen’ as the inseparable elements (i.e. counties were identified with county governors and the institutions subordinate to them). Therefore, in 2010 after the abolishment of the positions of those state officials and their subordinate institutions, it seemed to many that the administrative-territorial units of higher level (counties) were also abolished. However, even after the county reform in 2010 the counties as the administrative-territorial units of higher level continued to function.
Ethnocultural (ethnographic) regions.
Lithuania is quite homogeneous according to its ethnic composition: 85% of the population are Lithuanians (according to their nationality). However, the Lithuanian nation evolved from certain tribes and ethnic formations, which had specific cultural features: language and songs, traditions and customs, clothes, architecture, recipes, traditional way of life, etc. All this is respected in Lithuania, which tries to preserve its cultural features for future generations. Therefore, with the aim of fostering this historical cultural heritage, Lithuania is divided into five ethno-cultural regions since 1999: regions of Highland (Aukštaitija), Dainava (Dzūkija), Lithuania Minor (Mažoji Lietuva), Samogitia (Žemaitija), and Sudovia (Suvalkija). These regions’ legal conditions were created in these regions for the functioning of regional councils in order to protect the ethnic culture of the activities which are directed, coordinated and funded by the Council for the Protection of Ethnic Culture under the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania (hereinafter: ‘the Council for the Protection of Ethnic Culture’).
Regions – Territorial units where the national regional policy of Lithuania is implemented. As already mentioned, the year 1995 saw the establishment of administrative-territorial units- counties (apskritys) at the NUTS III level, where not only the execution of state administration functions was planned, but also the implementation of the national regional policy (from 2000). This included targeted activities of public and other competent bodies with the aim of reducing, by applying differentiated measures, the territorial socio-economic differences between and within regions.
The Law on Regional Development adopted on 20 July 2000 clearly defines the concept of the region intended for the implementation of the national regional policy. The Law on Regional Development, which entered into force in 2002, and the part of the provisions that was amended because of the County Reform enforced on 1 July 2010, defines that the regional development council shall carry out its activities in each region – county. (It was stated that a regional development council consisted of the mayors of the region’s municipalities, delegate members of municipal councils and a person appointed by the central government or an institution authorized by it.) The regional development council does not have the status of legal person; meaning there is separate financing for carrying out its activities and the administration subordinate to it. The regional development councils are aided in performing their functions set out by the Law on Regional Development by the ten territorial branches of the Regional Development Department under the Ministry of the Interior, with 3-5 staff members each and financed with state budget appropriations.
In order to enlarge the role of the regional development councils and to increase the efficiency of their activities a new revised version of the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Regional Development has been drafted and submitted to the Seimas for consideration in June 2014. The Seimas adopted this law in September 2014.
Impact of EU Neighbourhood policy and territorial cooperation programmes. Lithuanian regions (counties) classified at NUTS III level are greatly influenced by EU territorial cooperation programmes and the European Neighbourhood Policy. Lithuanian regions (counties) participate in three territorial cooperation programmes and two neighbourhood programmes.
Since 2008, discussions had been held in Lithuania concerning the possibility of abolishing 10 counties (apskritys) and establishing 3-5 regions intended to perform the functions related to state administration, national regional policy implementation and administration of the European Union support. The actual, practical steps were taken by the 15th Central Government (Cabinet of Ministers) in 2010 when it fulfilled the reform of the counties (apskritys). Unfortunately, the only result of that reform was the liquidation of part of the state institutions operating in the counties (apskritys). The fulfillment of the ideas to establish ‘basic regions’ (NUTS 2 level) with regional councils functioning in them (to be set up by way of delegation) and intended for administrating EU support was postponed.
However, the following features are still a matter of ongoing debate:
- a ‘small scale’ of administrative-territorial units of higher level – counties;
- the limited autonomy of regional (county) development councils functioning in the counties (the power to decide is limited, lack of a legal person status and administrations subordinate to them as well as lack of financial resources, which are administrated independently);
- by the year 2015 Lithuania, as a basic region classified at NUTS 2, reached a 75 percent of the GDP per capita value of the EU indicator (and therefore the procedure for calculating the amount of EU support granted to Lithuania may change);
- the orientation towards 3-5 administrative areas when setting up territorial entities of public administration;
- the good practice of other countries (e.g. Denmark and others) when establishing ‘major’ regions with the principles of democratic governance designed for the implementation of the new generation of regional policy, etc.
In 2014 during the spring session, the Committee on State Administration and Local Authorities of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania proposed to the government to prepare a conception of a revised version of the Law on Regional Development by 1 June 2015 and to submit the draft of a revised version of the Law on Regional Development and other necessary draft laws (maybe even providing for an amendment of Article 123 of the Constitution), considering the introduction of regional self-governance (in the field of regional development). However, the government rejected this proposal.
On 6 January 2016, by government resolution two additional statistical regions (corresponding to NUTS level 2) were formed: Capital region (consisting of Vilnius County) and Central-Western region (consisting of the remaining 9 counties). In January 2016, a proposal for amendments to the NUTS Regulation was presented to the European Commission. As for the determination of the investment principles in the entire territory of Lithuania and two separate NUTS level 2 statistical regions scenarios (and corresponding administrative structures), forecasts on appropriate development needs for Lithuania and investment priorities for the period after 2020 are still to be carried out.
by Algirdas ASTRAUSKAS
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.