Chapter 1

How does local government work?

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Local governments sit underneath the national government and take devolved responsibility for the region where you live.

As with national governments, every country in Europe has a slightly different system. But all of them have local democratically elected representatives – some even have a regional level of government above that. 

Your local government may also have directly elected mayors who are elected by the local citizens, as well as local leaders elected by the political party they belong to.

Just like at a national level, your local area will have representatives you can vote for every few years. Your local council or municipality may be controlled by a party different to those in national government, or by a coalition of parties.

Every country will have a slightly different definition of what local governments are responsible for. Most look after activities like town planning, social welfare, social services and education. 

Understanding what your local government does can help you with your campaigning. For example, if you want to protest a new building development on a local beauty site, you will want to target your local government by writing to your local elected representatives and the people responsible for local planning, rather than targeting the national government – at least in the first instance.  

If they share your interest and concerns on a specific issue, your local representatives can be great allies in targeting the national government too.

Much that is true for the national government is also true at the local level. Representatives can sit on committees or have responsibilities for particular departments, like housing or policing. 

However, remember that local governments cannot make laws and are therefore less powerful than national governments. They are often beholden to national governments when it comes to policy and funding. While they are free to make some of their own decisions, that freedom has limits. 

Questions for further research & reflection
  • What levels of local government exist in your country? 
  • What is the local government responsible for where you live?
  • Who represents your area in local government? How much did they win by? What do you think of their politics?
  • When are your next local elections? Who would you like to win?
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