Centralised governance inherited from the Soviet times
Ukraine is part of the Eastern Partnership, which is an initiative that enables closer political, economic and cultural relations among the EU, its member states and 6 eastern European partners. Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. For almost seventy years Ukraine had been under Soviet rule, which was guided by the Soviet system of governance based on a centralised structure. In fact, the current administrative and territorial structure has not changed greatly since independence in 1991; the “current spatial division reflects political principles of territorial organisation inherited from Soviet times,” even though Ukraine ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government in 19933.
Despite the fact that the Ukrainian Constitution defines the country as a unitary state and guarantees principles of local self-government to be applied in the country, Ukrainian local self- government bodies have not been able to realize their full potential due to over-centralised policies stemming from Soviet rule and limited financial autonomy, according to the EU’s Action Document for U-LEAD. In the past, the central government decided the type of policies and services the sub-national tiers would provide, without knowledge of the actual needs of the population, which resulted in many local authorities failing to provide quality services to their citizens presently.
New priorities: regional & local policy reforms
Nevertheless, some progress has been made recently with the change of the Government of Ukraine in spring 2014, through whose platform local self-government, administrative-territorial and regional policy reforms became top priorities. Since then, extensive efforts towards enacting these reforms have been carried out, through a framework for ambitious reform based on a concept on “Reformation of Local Self-Government and Territorial Organisation of Powers”. Furthermore, important legislation was adopted in 2014 and 2015 concerning laws on state regional policy, fiscal decentralisation, and the amalgamation of local communities.
Different level of local governance
In regards to the amalgamation of local communities, it is a mechanism that is voluntary. Thus far, 172 amalgamated communities have been formed, which is 10% of the total amount under the long-term plan. These newly-established communities have received additional financial resources and powers at the level of big cities of oblast subordination. In addition, they have also been granted powers to establish local taxes and duties. As a successful example of fiscal decentralisation thus far, the budget revenues of these communities have increased two to six-fold. However, due to the controversial constitutional reforms, the status of the separatist- held areas in the Donbas war and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the administrative structure in Ukraine remains highly centralised.
Currently, Ukraine is a unitary state with a public administration system that is divided amongst the central government and three tiers of sub-national government. The first tier can be referred to as the regional (oblast) level; it comprises 24 regions along with the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, (recognised as Ukrainian territory internationally, although illegally annexed by Russia in 2014), and the two cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol. The second tier consists of 490 districts (rayon), and 185 cities at the oblast subordination level. Lastly, the third tier, which is also the most heterogeneous, is made up of small cities, settlements and villages. Oblasts and rayons have a similar administrative structure, which consists of an elected council with legislative powers, and an executive body, whose members are appointed by the central government. This is not the case for the executive bodies of cities of oblast subordination, in which the members are elected. Yet another administrative structure exists for the capital city, Kyiv, where the mayor is elected, while the executive body is nominated by the President.
Sub-national government = central government?
The main characteristic of the Ukrainian administrative structure is that the sub-national government is mainly an extension of the central government. Cities and towns subordinate to the regional level compose the only tier of government that can be defined as local self- government, as it is the only level of government where the executive body and the mayor are elected. In all the other administrative tiers, the executive is appointed by the central government. For instance, the head of the oblast state administration is nominated by the President of the Ukrainian Republic. There is thus a direct link between the oblast state administration and the central government. There is a difference between the city government tier and oblast state administration in terms of accountability. Since the mayor and executive body in city governments are elected, they tend to be more responsive to the needs of the population than the regional government. On the contrary, the regional government is obliged to mediate between the interests of the regional population (the regional legislature) and the interests of the central government. The regional government is thus accountable to both the elected regional legislature and the central government, whereas city administrations are accountable to the electorate. Furthermore, the structure of territorial governance is asymmetric in Ukraine. Territories that are in the same tier of government may have different competences and resources. Cities of oblast subordination perform tasks and receive revenues from rayons and cities of rayon subordination. The number of sub-national tiers in the country varies according to the presence of those cities. In the case of the city of Kyiv, there is no other sub-national tier of government; thus the city performs the function of both oblast and rayon. Some of the main challenges include excessive variety among units of the same tier, mismatch between responsibilities and organisational capacities of various units, and a large number of local governments and rayons.
These challenges make governing a difficult task in terms of dividing governmental responsibilities effectively and achieving cooperation between different levels of government, as well as between local legislative and executive authorities. Some other challenges include internal tensions, and conflicts of interest at the regional and sub-regional levels due to ambiguous and ineffective political and administrative relations between different levels of government.
by Susannah GO
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.