Given CEMR’s unique membership profile of national associations of territorial governments, it was interesting to explore whether any national associations were involved in territorial reforms and whether they played a role in shaping national discussions on this issue. As expected, the nature and extent of involvement varied widely across CEMR’s member associations. Broadly speaking, national associations did play a role in both the early preparatory and planning stages (proposal of ideas, drafting plans, etc.) as well as in the later stages (e.g. promoting the implementation of territorial reforms among local government units).

Regardless of whether their position is officially recognised by a country’s legal provision or framework,[1] national associations are essential players in advancing developments related to territorial and public administration reforms. The following section explores the role played by national associations in supporting governance-in-partnership in their country, maximising and adapting tools designed to foster territorial transformation, but developed at European level, to the specific needs of their country. National associations can also play a vital role in boosting efforts towards the modernisation of democracy in their country.


[1] For more detailed information, see CEMR’s study on national associations of LRGs:

A key link in the chain of governance

Several examples provided by CEMR’s members highlight the vital role played by national associations in ensuring effective partnership arrangements. Their contribution adds value to the functioning of governance and provides critical support at the subnational government level.


In Georgia for example, the National Association of Local Governments (NALAG) has played a pivotal role in the decentralisation process, which will gradually implement reforms devolving powers over the next two years.NALAGis one of only two institutions, the other being the Ministry for Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia (MRDI),  which have an official role in advancing the reform processes.

There are cases, such as that of the Croatian Country Association (CCA), where the national associations fulfil an important coordination function between the central government and the subnational level.CCAwas a key intermediary and advocate for the interests of Croatian counties in discussions with the central government during the preparation and coordination phase of their territorial reform. Similarly, in Portugal, the National Association of Municipalities (ANMP) negotiated with the central government and reached a consensus on all sectoral legal texts, thus ensuring coherence regarding the decentralisation taking place all across various sectors of the public administration.


In Latvia, the Association of Local and Regional Governments (LALRG) played an important role in securing the place and contribution of the views of territorial governments in talks with the national level. Additional details are provided in the next section about the European Charter of Local Self-Government .


The national associations can truly excel in their role as an essential partner in discussions with central governments, as can be seen in the case of the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities (SCTM), which represents towns and municipalities in Serbia. They are viewed as governmental partners for the preparation of strategy, policy and the implementation of legislation. At the same time,SCTMalways advocates for the needs of its members according to the results of its consultative and analytical work. It also carries out various capacity-building activities with LRGs, such as providing training.

The European Charter of Local Self-Government

The European Charter of Local Self-Government[1] (the European Charter) is a legally binding instrument that was adopted by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (CLRAE). Its aim is to guarantee the political, administrative and financial independence of local governments. Several associations have taken inspiration from the European Charter to initiate territorial reforms at the national level.


The European Charter has often proven very helpful in ensuring that LRG associations are given a role in national discussions. The Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments (LALRG) could capitalise on the European Charter, citing the provisions of Article 5, to fully participate in all talks and discussions about territorial reform at every stage. LALRG's efforts went so far as to influence the opinion of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and enabled the Latvian Association to successfully participate in discussions with Ministers and in the Constitutional Court, prior to parliamentary readings.


In Scotland, the European Charter of Local Self-Government was transposed in March 2020 by an Act of the Scottish Parliament, making Scotland the only United Kingdom jurisdiction with detailed legal protections on the right of local self-government.


These examples highlight the capacity of national associations to stand up for the correct application of the European Charter and for the interests ofLRGsin governance reforms.

Revitalising local democracy

National associations often play a pivotal role in efforts to modernise democracy, while also upholding the rights and interests of subnational governments, ensuring that these are not overlooked in the process of advancing territorial reforms.


The proactive role of the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria (NAMRB) provides a good example of how national associations can act as a catalyst for action and change. In August 2020,NAMRBtook the initiative of relaunching the Council for Decentralisation of State Governance, whose work had been interrupted for a period of over four years. At its first meeting, the decision was taken to update the Strategy for Decentralisation of the State Governance 2016-2025[1] and develop a roadmap for its implementation from 2021-2025. A working group was established to prepare the draft texts and NAMRB’s main proposals were included in the drafts.


Many other examples can be found of associations that support and facilitate the modernisation of democracy, including recent cases in the United Kingdom. Over the last four years, Scotland’s national association, COSLA, has been carrying out a Local Governance Review with the Scottish Government. This has been an extensive exercise involving both tiers of government, as well as academia and civic groups. Yet, the collaboration has highlighted the clear desire for a reinvigorated modern democracy across Scotland that can tackle such issues as reducing inequalities and redistributing power and resources within the UK governance system. Successfully passing this legislation would give Scotland, for the first time, the power to legally exercise the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.  


In 2021, the purpose of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act was to reform electoral arrangements for local governments and promote public participation in local democracy. The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) played an active role in the development of this new legislation with elected members and senior officers from across Welsh local authorities involved in high-level engagement with the Welsh Government throughout the process of developing the Act. A number of different working groups were held to ensure that the legislation was developed and designed with input from local government.


These instances provided by CEMR’s members demonstrate the variety of roles played by national associations in shaping both territorial reforms and their outcomes, and in advancing democracy in their countries.

[1] Strategy for Decentralisation of the State Governance 2016-2025, NAMRB  - select your language next to the search button