The following section looks at the effects of the current coronavirus pandemic on governance arrangements. During the various waves of the pandemic, national governments needed to respond quickly to events unfolding very rapidly. This unprecedented situation gave rise to changes in the nature of the relationship between central and subnational governments and shifts in responsibilities and powers extending beyond the health sector. It has since been made clear that a successful national response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires coordination within and across governments.

The responses provided by CEMR’s associations help in discerning what trends and developments have arisen to address the crisis and their impacts on the remit of responsibilities and powers of LRGs. This collective information sheds valuable light on the degree to whichLRGswere called upon to exercise additional or fewer tasks during the first wave of the pandemic, and whether or not they were financially compensated.

General comparative trends

There has been much discussion[1] about whether federal or unitary states have come through the crisis better and which mechanisms have been the most effective in managing crisis situations. Considering LRGs’ experiences as a whole as well as the accounts of CEMR’s associations, it is difficult to state with certainty whether the patterns clearly lean towards specific countries becoming more decentralised or recentralised in their response to the pandemic.[2] However, one important finding revealed by the pandemic that is incontrovertible, is the need to coordinate any crisis response and actions between all tiers of government, to share information in a transparent manner and to organise the sharing of responsibilities as early as possible.


Tales from the past year underline how, early on during the pandemic, governments adopted a very top-down approach, resorting to centralised and rigidly controlled policymaking, in managing the crisis. Over time, as the situation evolved,LRGswere granted more opportunities to exercise decision-making, relying instead on a more place-specific, locally-led approach.


The results from 28 countries[3] show that managing the COVID-19 crisis had had a clear impact on the remit and responsibilities of LRGs, or that it had affected the relationship and the nature of LRGs’ collaboration with the central government. In contrast, 10 countries[4] observed that managing the COVID-19 crisis had had no impact on the responsibilities ofLRGsor had not affected the nature of their overall collaboration with the central government in their country.


Figure 10 – Impact of COVID-19 crisis on the responsibilities of local and regional governments

Source: TERRI Survey 2021 | CEMR


Given the need to respond swiftly, it is unsurprising that collaboration between and/or across tiers of government has been instrumental during the COVID-19 crisis. Associations in nineteen countries[5] responded that managing the COVID-19 crisis increased the degree of collaboration. However, associations in ten countries[6] also specified that the territorial structure and LRG collaboration in their country during the crisis was much more complex.


Some explained thatLRGshad had to cope with several additional tasks during the crisis and that as a consequence, they were now exercising their competences at a higher level (the case in Austria). It is worth noting however that, for many countries, any additional competences were not subsequently devolved toLRGsin any official capacity. In Sweden and the Czech Republic for example, the national associations stressed that the changes simply represented a temporary emergency strengthening of LRGs.


From information supplied by CEMR’s members and others, such as the OECD[7] and the World Health Organisation,[8] the countries that have been most successful in tackling the pandemic have been those able to effectively coordinate within and across tiers of government. Yet, this capacity to cooperate and coordinate between various territorial tiers of government has been sorely tested. As some examples from CEMR’s members will illustrate, even when productive, cooperation between different governmental tiers does not necessarily promise a smooth run right from the start.


In Belgium, for example, the national response to the crisis has been riddled with coordination problems, which have (re)ignited a debate about the future sustainability of the country's federal model.LRGsthere were allocated additional tasks to combat the pandemic and were subjected to greater pressures in the exercise of their regular duties.[9]


In Austria, there were reports of mistakes being made and inconsistencies in the coordination between the governance tiers.[10]


In the early months of the pandemic, local governments in the Czech Republic did not have a representative on the Central Crisis Staff. Following repeated requests, the government finally agreed to the participation of a representative from the Union of Towns and Municipalities of the Czech Republic (SMO ČR), the national association, in the meetings of the Central Crisis Staff. In addition, State authorities began issuing so-called bylaws rulings, involving the imposition of new restrictions on the local and regional authorities, for example, on the gathering of persons and the requiring of testing of people in workplaces in the public sector.


In Poland, the Act of 2 March 2020 stipulates that Voivodes (regional tier) can issue orders that are binding for all government administration bodies acting within a “Voivodeship”. In practice, this provision was used very often during the pandemic to delegate organisational and support tasks, particularly those that were supposed to be under the responsibility of the governmental administration, such as the organising of quarantine sites, providing support for the organisation of a COVID-19 vaccine administration system, setting up transport to receive vaccinations, as well as implementing organisational changes in healthcare entities (in hospitals for instance).


Associations in Romania highlighted the important steps made towards decentralisation, digitalisation and reduction of bureaucracy on account of the pandemic and also indicated that these changes would be maintained. For example, very few institutions accepted the electronic signature prior to the pandemic; now, many more readily consider it admissible.


Box 6:CDDGandOECDreviews on governance and the territorial impact of COVID-19

The European Committee on Democracy and Governance[11] and the OECD[12] both published analyses on democratic governance and COVID-19’s impact on democratic and territorial governance. What were their principal conclusions?


1) Their main observation is that local and regional governments played a key role as the closest tier of governance to citizens. Indeed, a place-based approach ensures democratic governance and a response adapted to local issues. Their success is the result of multilevel governance, each tier having its own powers and responsibilities.


2) Both reports highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on the digitalisation and modernisation of public services; catalysing previous trends, the pandemic made these phenomena the new reality. Many services have now been digitalised and are thus more efficient and accessible to the public.


3) WhileLRGsplayed an important role, states and central governments provided wide-scale support by enacting emergency legal and administrative measures encompassing healthcare emergency management, fiscal advantages or additional funding for LRGs.


4) The differentiated approach to managing the pandemic has created inequalities between states or regions. To offset this imbalance,CDDGstresses the importance of having all actors of civil society participate in crisis management decisions.


In the end, the key message from theOECDandCDDGanalyses is that, in times of crisis, we must look to local and regional governments to provide knowledge about the subnational concerns.


While having to respond to the pandemic and manage the crisis, countries had to contend with huge social, political and legal challenges that were suddenly unleased all at once, without neglecting their responsibility to safeguard democracy, human rights and rule of law.


Box 7: The Council of Europe’s Toolkit for respecting democracy, rule of law and human rights in the framework of COVID-19[13]


SinceLRGsact as main partners in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are fully implicated in the process of respecting democracy, rule of law and human rights.


The right to liberty and security may be limited “for the prevention of the spreading of infectious diseases” (Article 5 ECHR): this limitation has allowed states and local governments to take action promptly. However, it is recalled in the Council of Europe’s Toolkit that respecting democracy, rule of law and human rights is still required. While derogations are possible for some of the human rights protected by the Convention,[14] there are still rules to follow:


- States shall inform the Secretary General

- Measures must be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued, necessary, limited and established by law.


TheCoEprovides clarification regarding certain specific rights:

 - The right to life, prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment cannot be subject to any derogation, even in times of public emergency such as COVID-19

 - With isolation and confinement, domestic, sexual and gender-based violence increase: states must continue providing and even improve services offering support and protection to crime victims.


In response to the question of whether measures introduced to manage the emergency were introduced in an official or an informal way, associations in nine countries[15] responded that an informal approach was used (e.g. central state guidelines,LRGstaking the lead in operations, etc.) while nine associations[16] indicated that formal steps had been taken (e.g. legislative modification such as COVID-19 laws or State decrees, etc.). In the case of five countries (Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Ukraine), the changes occurred in response to the crisis following a combination of formal and informal approaches.


Figure 11 – Chosen approach for COVID-19 crisis’ management

Source: TERRI Report | CEMR


Box 8: Adapting governance processes in Kosovo to manage the pandemic

In Kosovo*, whenever local government played an active role by introducing measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, their own work in the municipalities was affected. Yet, all Kosovo municipalities managed to activate local crisis headquarters and set up field operational groups. There was also a continuous, comprehensive and efficient coordination between municipalities and the central government on the measures to be undertaken. To help its businesses, municipalities discharged those that use municipal property from paying municipal taxes and eased the associated administrative burdens.


However, the pandemic forced municipalities to adjourn meetings with citizens and their regular consultations on priorities affecting the communities. Yet, while these dialogues with citizens were halted, other forms of communication emerged. Some mayors sought innovative ways to connect to citizens, becoming highly active on social media. They used social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, to notify their citizens of new pandemic measures and plans and to amplify their calls to respect anti-COVID-19 measures, such as social distancing. 

[1] Read further: “Who’s in charge and why? Centralisation within and between governments”,;
“DEMOCRACTIC Governance and Covid-19 Report” CDDG (2020) 20,;
“Patterns of democracy Matter in the Covid-19 Crisis: A comparison of French and German Policy Processes”,


[3] 28 countries: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Hungary, Israel, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom (WLGA, COSLA, LGA)

[4] Estonia, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey. No response from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Greece.

[5] Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom

[6] Austria, Belgium, France, Georgia, Italy, Latvia, Moldova, Netherlands, Serbia, Slovenia

[7] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), The territorial impact of COVID-19: Managing the crisis across levels of government (2021),

[8] Strengthening the health system response to COVID-19:

[9] More information:

[10] More information:

[11] European Committee on Democracy and Governance (CDDG), Democratic Governance and Covid-19 (2020),

[12] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),

[13] Respecting democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the framework of the COVID-19 sanitary crisis,

[14] European Convention on Human Rights,

[15] Albania, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Israel, Montenegro

[16] Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Malta, Moldova, North Macedonia

Local and regional finances under pressure

The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the unique frontline position of subnational governments, which were faced with the challenge of continuing to deliver essential services while also having to develop new services and approaches, both in the field of health and beyond, often taking the lead rather than waiting to be led by the central government. In its research into the financial implications forLRGsduring this extraordinary period, CEMR’s national associations proved once again to be a rich source of valuable primary information.[1]


At the start of the crisis, manyLRGsfaced the problem of insufficient financial resources and, in particular, municipalities often found themselves shouldering added financial responsibilities without the necessary means, due to the unforeseen fall in local tax revenues resulting from fiscal and other relief measures. However, many confirmed that this problem was later rectified.[2]


According to CEMR’s members, LRGs’ experiences paint a mixed picture, depending on whether or not they received transfers from the state to compensate for losses owing to reduced local tax income as well as to help fund additional expenditures.


Associations in 15 countries[3] reported thatLRGsreceived such financial transfers to reimburse their additional expenditures. However, for ten other countries (Cyprus, Italy, Luxembourg, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine), no additional resources were received by their subnational governments for carrying out extra tasks.


Figure 12 – Additional financial resources provided by central governments toLRGsfor COVID-19 crisis management

Source: TERRI Survey (CEMR)


It should be noted however that, in the majority of cases, the situation concerning financial transfers from the central government to the subnational tier often proved to be more complicated. This was reported to be the case by associations in 13 countries[4] and was primarily as a result of the differing forms of support provided by central governments toLRGsduring the crisis.


In many countries, existing rules were relaxed, givingLRGsmore financial leeway. In Portugal, for example, approval was given to relax the balanced budget and spending rules. What’s more, the authorisation process for short-term loans was simplified and recourse to medium and long-term borrowing was facilitated, suspending the need for prior agreement from municipal assemblies. In addition, local authorities could request an advance or early transfers of their portion of state taxes. In France, measures were also adopted to lessen the burden of the accounting and budgetary framework pertaining to expenses directly related to the COVID-19 crisis[5].


These developments mirror similar actions at the EU level where the EU’s Council of Ministers activated a special clause of the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact. This clause allowed EU national governments to override the usual fiscal rules employed to keep budgetary spending below certain agreed ceilings. 


Several associations noted that although financial assistance was made available, it was not fully received by theLRGsor only applied in limited cases. CEMR’s Croatian and Slovakian associations clarified that the financial assistance from their central government was either insufficient to cover the financial costs borne by the municipalities or, when it was sufficient, that decisions were taken on an arbitrary basis, depending on the municipality concerned.


CEMR’s Austrian associations also emphasised that the reimbursements did not cover the pandemic costs incurred (testing, contact tracing, vaccinations, tests for employees, home office, etc.).


Additional financial resources were provided to local authorities across Wales (United Kingdom), enabling them to play a central role in supporting their communities, citizens and businesses in managing the impact of the crisis. It also led to a much closer working relationship with the Welsh Government, with better and more regular dialogue and engagement, leading to improved outcomes.


For some countries, it was noted that the central government announced financial compensations for the subnational level, but only at a much later stage of the pandemic. This was the experience ofLRGsin the Czech Republic, when the state decided to financially compensate the municipalities for the loss of income occurred in connection with COVID-19 measures and the arising economic crisis, but much later and only because new tax changes were introduced.


In France, the French Association of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (AFCCRE) reported that some measures were adopted by the government in order to offset local expenses related to COVID-19; for instance, the repayment of 50% of mask expenses at the start of the pandemic. Measures were also adopted to lighten the accounting and budgetary framework of direct COVID-19-related expenses for the subnational level.


The Spanish Association of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP) pointed out that, from the outset, there had been excellent coordination between the Ministry of Internal Issues, FEMP and the regional tier (Comunidades Autónomas). This made it easy to align actions between all government tiers to respond to safety concerns and help support citizens during the lockdown. This example illustrates good practices that emerged from the management of the pandemic.


Even in those countries where the COVID-19 crisis has had no impact on the remit and responsibilities of LRGs, there have been instances where the central government provided financial help to LRGs.


This occurred in Turkey where the central government did not delegate any extra tasks or responsibilities to municipalities nor did it provide any additional financing for COVID-19-related management. Nonetheless, the central government deferred some of the municipal payments due and temporarily waived other payments in order to support the local tier’s delivery of services during the COVID-19 crisis.


In Germany, the division of responsibilities and tasks did not change specifically in response to the pandemic at the subnational level, but the existing workload for municipalities increased and became more varied. For example, the Public Health Service for the counties and county-free cities, such as Berlin, began providing support to the Länder for COVID-19 vaccine planning, organisation and implementation by setting up vaccination centres. To mitigate the counties and county-free cities’ costs, the federal government covered accommodation expenses for jobseekers and provided compensation for the shortfall in income from trade taxes. The Federal Health Ministry also established the “Pact for the public health service” in support of the local tier.[6]


There are key lessons to be learned about how governance arrangements have functioned in response to the pandemic and comparing the experiences of different countries has been illuminating in this respect. As previously mentioned, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this topic has already been widely studied, in particular by the Council of Europe and the OECD.[7]


Box 9: EU’s Recovery and Resilience Plans:LRGspush for strong involvement in their preparation and implementation


In order to tackle the unprecedented situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission has put into place a major crisis response package, NextGenerationEU (NGEU), with the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) instrument as its centrepiece.[8] Under the RRF, the EU will borrow from the financial markets to provide grants and loans to EU member states who must first submit Recovery and Resilience Plans (RRPs), outlining a five-year reform and investment strategy to stimulate their recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.[9]


LRGs are pivotal in ensuring that any funding hits the right targets needed to boost local and regional regeneration, which is why they have sought to be meaningfully involved, both in the shaping of the RRPs and in their implementation. As of autumn 2021, the time of completion of this study, most EU member states had submitted their RRPs to the European Commission and were awaiting formal approval of their plans. However, manyCEMRassociations had already expressed concerns about the lack of subnational consultation while the RRPs were being prepared, but also with regard to governance and RRP ownership issues and their capacity to attain green and sustainable outcomes. This trepidation was confirmed in a joint CEMR/Committee of the Regions study published in January 2021.[10] Effective governance arrangements are fundamental to the RRPs being able to deliver desired outcomes. Only time will tell whether the EU’s aspirations will be realised and the exact part that will be played in this by LRGs.


There is no doubt that effective coordination and collaboration were pivotal in responding to the pandemic, particularly when underpinned by a clear assignment of responsibilities between the different tiers of government. It is also evident that adequate funding to support or compensateLRGsfor the additional responsibilities and tasks they undertook to ensure delivery of targeted and tailored responses strongly influenced the effectiveness of LRG efforts as well. These elements, rather than the degree of centralisation or decentralisation, were key determinants in attaining effective governance outcomes during the first year of the pandemic. 

[1] For further details, see CEMR’s Study on Covid-19’s impact on local and regional finances:

[2] European Committee on Democracy and Governance (CDDG), Democratic Governance and Covid-19 (2020),

[3] Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo, Lithuania, Malta, North Macedonia, Slovakia, Sweden, United Kingdom

[4] Albania, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey

[5] Statement of EU Ministers of Finance on the Stability and Growth Pact in light of the COVID-19 crisis,

[6] Adopted on 29 September 2020

[7] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) The territorial Impact of Covid-19: Managing the crisis across levels of government (2020),

[8] Regulation (EU) 2021/241 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 February 2021 establishing the Recovery and Resilience Facility (2021),

[9] European Commission (2021) Recovery and Resilience Facility. Webpage,

[10] Committee of the Regions/CEMR (2021),