Local government is challenged in various ways. Even without the financial crisis of 2008, economic constraints caused by globalization were one of the major reasons for local government reforms in many western democracies including New Public Management strategies, territorial reforms such as in Denmark and decentralization operations such as in The Netherlands. In addition it has been argued that globalization processes have reduced the influence of elected national governments and hence citizens’ influence in shaping politics. Increasing the opportunities for citizens to participate in local politics may compensate them for their loss of influence on political decisions made on higher levels of the system, to secure a minimum of control over politics. Therefore one of the current debates in local politics is now to open up new channels for citizens’ participation in local democracy. Finally, local government faces changes in the size and the composition of their populations. Metropolitan areas grow, while rural areas suffer from demographic decline. For the growing cities increases in the number of inhabitants lead to new demands for investment in infrastructure and higher expenses for social services. Shrinking municipalities have difficulties maintaining the social infrastructure necessary to guarantee a certain standard of living. These problems are now paralleled by new challenges regarding the integration of migrants into the local communities and labour markets. Conflict solutions, social integration and social stability are therefore additional challenges to cope with mainly in local politics, as integration happens here.
In recent decades, significant institutional and managerial reforms in local governance and local democracy were implemented in order to counter the challenges described above. This Section will deal with different kinds of problems local democracy and local government have to cope with in times of change and with the solutions that have been offered to counteract these challenges.
We expect 6 to 8 Panels within this Section. We particularly welcome Panels with comparative studies either nationally or internationally, as well as theoretically or methodologically innovative Papers. Up to now already several Standing Group members have indicated to organize Panels on the following topics, but others will follow:
A first set of Panels will about the way municipalities dealt with recent challenges. Dr Simona Kukovic, Department of Political Science, University of Ljubljana is suggested to chair a Panel on challenges to urban leadership. The main purpose of this Panel will be to indicate which are crucial challenges facing local leaders, how local leaders prepare for these challenges.
We suggest a second set of Panels dealing with the extent to which specific groups of actors within municipalities have coped with the aforementioned problems. In this context we suggest at least two Panels. One on Councillors, to be chaired by Professor Colin Copus. Councillors con-duct the business of representation, make political decisions and act as governors of their local communities within a range of institutional settings. The Panel will explore how the varied roles, tasks and functions of the councillor are developing to meet externally generated challenges and pressures and shifting expectations and understandings of the office of councillor. The Panel will also examine changing organisational architecture, engagement in complex governance networks and the nature of central and local government constitutional arrangements support or hinder councillors in acting as a representative, a decision-maker and governor.
The second suggested Panel within this theme will be on a second set of municipal actors: mayors. We suggest this panel is to be chaired by prof. dr. Hubert Heinelt. In this Panel, we plan to include several papers about a two wave international comparative study of mayors, not only showing differences between municipalities and between countries, but also changes over time.
A third (set of) Panel(s) deals with Climate change policies at the local level organized by Dr. Adam Gendźwiłł. There is now a broad acceptance that society is vulnerable to climate change and variability. This challenge has been addressed mainly at the international and national level. However, in the recent years we observe the mainstreaming of climate change policies at the local level being challenged by conflicting objectives, budgetary constraints, inadequate size, and coordination problems. The Panel invites Papers, demonstrating how climate change is being introduced to local political agendas, and how local governments deal with the climate change policies.
A fourth (set of) Panel(s) on Local Government Legitimacy – Conceptual and empirical challenges, chaired by prof. dr. Anders Lidstrom, will explore the question of local government legitimacy both conceptually and empirically. What does it mean, how can it be understood and how can it be investigated? And what is the current state of the legitimacy of local government? Is it seriously threatened by the combined influence of the financial crisis, the erosion of municipal functions due to privatization and re-centralization and the increasing complexity and wickedness of the problems that municipalities are expected to handle?
Finally, a fifth (set of) Panel(s) under the guidance of prof. dr. Pawel Swianiewicz is supposed to look at the 25 years of local democracy in Central-Eastern Europe. More than 25 years after first local elections were held in new democracies the developments of local democracy should be assessed and generalized by looking at the dynamics and outcomes of decentralization and institutional reforms transforming local governments in countries of CE Europe.
Angelika Vetter (Section Chair) is Professor of Political Science at the University of Stuttgart (Germany – ECPR member institution). Her main research interests are in comparative local government studies and democratic innovations, local elections and local political participation. She has published on these matters in journals such as Local Government Studies, Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfra-gen, Politische Vierteljahresschrift, Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie. She is member of the executive board of the EUROLOC and EURA Summer School in local government and governance studies, and treasurer of the ECPR Standing Group on Local Government and Politics.