Facts, which we should know about federation and decentralization

Facts, which we should know about federation and decentralization

Anatoliy Tkachuk,

Research and Development Director,

Civil Society Institute

Why does Ukraine need decentralization and why it does not require federal organization?


·         Federation is not a process of strengthening the authority of separate regions. On the contrary, it is a union, association of state or quasi-state entities, which limits their sovereignty through transfer of certain responsibilities to the central government.

·         If we look at history, we shall not find even a single example of a unitarian country being parted into a federal one on a voluntary basis.

·         Not a single explanatory dictionary has a concept of “federalization”, defined as  transformation of a unitarian country into a federal one. It is a modern, artificaially introduced neologism, which contradicts the logic. Today, the term “federalization” is more suited to Putin’s idea, regarding the USSR restoration, i.e. unification of currently independent states into one state entity.

         In order to create federation, it is necessary to unite sovereign countries or quasi-countries with their own Constitutions, parliaments, governments and legislations. Among all regions of Ukraine, only Crimean Autonomy had its own Constitution and government. Artificial creation of ARC in 1990 by communists laid the bomb into the foundations of the state of Ukraine, which exploded in 2014. It is not a unique case. History knows the cases, when members of a federation leave it and the state decays. Recently, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia disappeared from the world map, while new countries were created “out of” Ethiopia. Often these processes are accompanied by wars. 

·         Since federal states are less stable governmental entities, out of 200 countries of the world, only 24 are federative ones; in Europe 5 countries are federative.

·         History shows that, in most cases, the process of federalization is a result of a war, a collapse of multinational empires, or unification of former colonies (USA, United States of Mexico, Canada and Nigeria).

·         Cases of unitarian countries being transformed into federations were witnessed only after their defeats in wars, when conquerors divided them to weaken them, make them incapable of revenge (Germany, Austria after the Second World War).

·         The Russian ultimatum regarding the federalization of Ukraine is not just a way to gain control over some subjects of the federation through puppet governments, which can make it possible to “cheaply” control the territories without “costly” military occupation. After all, to maintain such a large territory as Ukraine in occupation, Russia needs the occupation army of nearly 1.5 million people, which is simply impossible for it. That is why the transformation of Ukraine into a group of conflicting quasi-countries is the best way to keep them within the orbit of Russia

·         Many federal countries suffer from internal contradictions and conflicts of federal subjects (Belgium, Spain).

·         An example of a successful federal country created in Europe long time ago is Switzerland, although its official status is Confederation. Stability of this country is determined by its wide decentralization and interest of the neighboring countries in Switzerland’s role of a “recreation zone” for finances.

·         A unitarian country is more attractive for large investors, for example, banks, for there is no need to establish relations with official bodies of each subject of the Federation.

 What is decentralization and why Ukraine and each community need it?

·         Decentralization is the transfer of responsibilities, resources, and competences, neede for addressing the main living issues, to the level, closest to the people, where these issues can be resolved in the most effective way (principle of subsidiarity). 

·         Attention! Transfer of authority to the regional level, before the strong local self-government is formed on community level, carries the risk of emergence of medieval feudal estates with completely powerless local communities.

Strengthening of the regional level without full-fledged self-government on local level bears the threat of concentration of authority in the region, while communities remain powerless. Quasi-state regional elite is formed at the regional level and separatism process begins again.

Therefore, community level is the basic one for decentralization. 

·         Community or basic level is the one, closest to people. In this case all the issues are resolved quickly and effectively.

·         Which matters does local self-governance resolve at community level? These matters include: pre-school and basic secondary education, culture, primary health care, public safety, communal issues, local infrastructure, social services, etc.

Still, we should remember: we can delegate responsibilities only to those people/structures, which are capable of performing them.

·         To fulfill the transferred duties, communities should have organizational, financial, and human resources/potential. That is why, during the decentralization process communities become larger. They unite resources, become richer, and develop faster. For example, small towns and surrounding villages would constitute a single territorial community.

·         Along with decentralization of responsibilities, fiscal decentralization takes place. This means that community gets a greater share of taxes paid and plans the budget in a carefully programmed and target-oriented way, which covers the needs for taking on new responsibilities.

·         Basic-level  local self-governance bodies are: a directly elected Community Council and Community Head (village/municipal head). Council forms the executive body. Community Head is the head of the executive body, who chairs the meetings of the council.

·         Rayon level. The issues that cannot be addressed at community level are solved at rayon level. These are: in-patient health care, specialized secondary education, executive bodies/inspections (such as architectural and construction, environmental inspections, etc.)

·         The issues, that cannot be addressed at previous two levels – basic and rayon ones – are solved at Oblast level. These are: highly specialized medical care, professional and technical education, regional development and internal Oblast infrastructure – trunk gas pipelines, water supply systems, bridges, roads, environmental protection, and protection of the rights of minorities.

·         At rayon and Oblast levels local self-government (in the form of a Council) is elected by direct voting. Each Council elects its head and forms the executive body.

·         Currently, many statements appear, saying that public administrations will be eliminated. In fact, the concept of reform means not the liquidation but the re-organization of these structures. The function of state control in the regions “links” the government into an integral organism, and prevents local “lords” from ruling as they please. That is why, not a single country, not even one with a federal structure, lives without state supervision/control over local self-governance.

·         Depending on the country, control over local authority is ensured either by a governor, or by a governmental commissioner, or a prefect. His/her functions are: 1) to ensure control over legality of local self-governing bodies; 2) to coordinate the entities of executive power, i.e.: tax, architectural and construction, environmental, education inspections, etc. 3) to act in case of emergency or war.

·         Re-organization of Oblast State Administrations will include creation (on their basis) of executive bodies of Oblast or rayon councils. The structure of these bodies is determined independently, on-site, and in line with their competencies, responsibilities and financial capabilities. Examples may include “Economic Department” or “Department of Economics of Industry, Trade and Regional Development”. These structural solutions do not need to be approved at the central level.

·         Local self-governance will be responsible for activities of two types. Firstly, it is answerable to its voters for the effectiveness of its operation, and, secondly – to the government for the legality of its activity.

·         Proposals of some parties to elect not only Councils, but also State representatives (OSA heads) in Oblasts contradict the common sense. Under such conditions, we cannot talk about ubiquity of the state of Ukraine on all its territories and, thus, we will face serious threats to the country’s very existence.