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General overview of sector

The main purpose of local and regional government is to manage and deliver public services to the communities they serve. These local services include for example transport, refuse collection, water distribution and street lighting, but also education, leisure services, social welfare, healthcare, policing, fire-fighting, etc. Although these authorities differ considerably from one country to another, they are all confronted by the same challenges: globalisation, the opening-up of public procurement and enhanced competition, budgetary constraints, demographic change, growing mobility, and so on.

Local and regional government makes up around 10% of total employment within the EU. Given the variety of the services provided, jobs are extremely diverse: e.g. teachers, social workers, drivers, maintenance staff, administrators, police officers and fire-fighters. There is a very high level of female employment, especially in the fields of education, healthcare and social work.

Almost 100,000 local, regional and federal bodies across the EU-27 were surveyed in 2007, including 91,252 municipalities, 935 intermediate-level authorities and 319 regional or federal entities. Some countries (such as Estonia, Iceland and Luxembourg) have only one level of local authorities (town councils or municipalities). Others have two: the municipality and the region (Hungary, Latvia, Czech Republic, etc.). Still others have three: municipality, region and county (France, Poland, etc.).

These authorities differ considerably from country to country (size, number, resources, etc.). A policy of merging town councils has been pursued in several European countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Greece). Conversely, in the former communist bloc countries, where town councils had been absorbed into larger entities as part of the “rationalisation” and planning process, some countries (Slovenia, Czech Republic, Romania) disbanded these combined authorities during the 1990s and re-established the former town councils. Generally speaking, when it comes to their public service mission, Europe’s local and regional authorities are all confronted by the same challenges: globalisation, market opening and enhanced competition, budgetary constraints, demographic change, growing mobility, and so on. The EU has a growing impact on this sector owing to its moves towards liberalisation and its rules on public procurement.

ETUI and Observatoire Social Européen (2010) European Sectoral Social Dialogue Factsheets. Project coordinated by Christophe Degryse, online publication available at www.worker-participation.eu/EU-Social-Dialogue/Sectoral-ESD