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For more than twenty years, Slovakia has defined the borders of the regions, as we know them today. Higher territorial units as well as cities and municipalities have acquired a number of competencies and responsibilities. But the reform stopped halfway.

The regions still do not have full self-financing and the competencies are still insufficient to make a real development policy. With the rise of new political representation to power, the opportunity arose to complete this reform. The government itself undertook to do so in a program statement. Will it work? Will anything happen in the end of the election period at all? Is it important to change the number and borders of regions, or rather to focus on competencies?
This will also be the ITAPA 2021 Congress, where all relevant representatives of the regional public administration as well as the executive will meet.

Changing technological as well as societal needs  have an increasing pressure from regions to complete the reform. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, local and regional authorities have also realized that they lack much of the power to deal better at the local level than with centrally enforced measures. They realized the need to set up, adopt or amend legislative proposals in order to really complete the transfer of powers under the principle of subsidiarity. That is, everything that can be decided in the regions should be decided there.

A significant part of the rules would thus be created in the lowest self-governing units. Regions and municipalities would start to differ from each other, for example, in what the rules are in the construction process, how the regions approach environmental protection or business support. It is this possibility of creating different rules that would lead to real regional policy-making that best reflects the needs of a particular region. For example, it may be important for a region to attract investors to industry. Another region may prefer environmental protection and would therefore like to introduce additional taxes on emitters.

Of course, in addition to drafting all the new legislation, the relevant funding must also be secured. Above all, there is little money. Today, each municipality, district or regional city has more than 4,300 competencies, which is an unbearable amount for some municipalities. Another problem is the fact that no matter how successful municipalities and regions are, it has only a negligible effect on how much money they receive. Today, we are in a situation where municipalities, cities or other self-governments in the exercise of some delegated powers of the state receive money for their operation and also formally lead them, but as a result they do not have the opportunity to adapt their performance to their needs. Among other things, for example, there is a lack of the possibility of compensating for regional differences through another mix of tax and financial security.

It may also be important to reopen the number and boundaries of the regions. Has the current arrangement worked well, or is it important to return to the idea of more natural regions? And maybe it's an unnecessary debate and we need to focus more on competencies and finances.

Unfortunately, the public administration reform did not even end up in the Recovery Plan. Of the 6.3 billion euros that come to Slovakia from the European Union budget, local governments will not see a penny. Despite the fact that a year ago it was still planned. The current term of office is nearing its middle, if nothing unexpected happens. But no major discussion, at least on the principles of reform, has even begun. Will we wait another 20 years to complete public administration reform? Or will we seize the unique opportunity to build a truly modern and confident regional public administration? You will find out the answer at the ITAPA Congress on November 8-10. 2021

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