Self-government Related Terminology

The emphasis in the term local self-government should, by no means, be on the word government but rather on the word “self”. It is SELF-government of citizens. In order to better understand the essence of local self-government, it should be regarded as local self-governance where the community must have the possibility to independently organise the local life.

Yet, the fact that in several local governments, arbitrary actions rather than self-government is carried out is endangering the reputation of the system but it should be a passing problem considering the democratic society is still developing. Take, for example, Finland and Denmark – the least corrupted countries according to the annual survey of Transparency International. At the same time, local governments in those countries perform 1/2-2/3 of the duties financed by the public sector. When asked about corruption in local governments, the representatives of those countries just shrug their shoulders without comprehending since due to closeness of the people to public authority corruption is practically non-existent. Figuratively speaking, state supervision is replaced by much more effective community supervision.

A very common mistake in legislation and research reports, both requiring precision is speaking about self-government as synonymous of local self-government. This is too simplified an approach to self-government since there are other types of self-government beside local self-government. The most well-known types are cultural self-government, established in Article 50 of the Estonian Constitution, student self-government regulated by legislation on education and historically the best know type of self-government – church self-government. By the way, only three centuries ago in England local self-government stood for church self-government. In case of church self-government, the congregation (the community) has their own management body, the right to impose the church fee, they provide various services etc. The Estonian Constitution enacted in 1938 also regulated professional self-government - the Chamber of Agriculture, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry etc that were also represented in the second chamber of the Parliament.

Employing the term local self-government poses a problem when also self-government at the regional level is addressed. In that case a generalising term territorial self-government could be used since, regardless of their content, both local and regional self-government are associated with a specific territory. The Local Government Organisation Act stipulates that local self-government organisation is based on the administrative division of the country. Until 1925, the rural congregations of the Lutheran Church in Estonia were associated with a specific territory (the parish) and, thus, church self-government was also territorial self-government up to then. The expediency of using the term territorial self-government derives from the dual nature of regional self-government.

Territorial self-government is divided into:

  • Local self-government
  • Regional self-government

    Regional self-government, in its turn, can be of two types:
    1. Regional local self-government. This could also be called the second level local self-government similar to that in Estonia in 1989-1993. It is important to consider, however, that there are countries in Europe with even a three-level local self-government system such as Italy and Poland.
    2. Regional delegated self-government – local governments co-operate at the regional level but they are not represented by delegates directly elected by the people but by delegates authorised by local government bodies; the co-operation can take place in two ways:

  • By means of mandatory statutory co-operation – e.g. county assemblies in Estonia in 1993-1994;
  • By means of voluntary co-operation – local government county associations in Estonia since the period of 1992-1994.
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