The Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska) is a parliamentary democracy under the 1997 Constitution. The Parliament is bicameral and is composed of an upper house, the Senate (Senat), and a lower house, the Sejm. None of the Chambers directly represent local and regional authorities. The Head of State is the President of the Republic and the Government is led by the Prime Minister.
Poland is a unitary State organised on a decentralised basis. The decentralisation process started in the early 1990s and took place thanks to various reforms. In 1989, Municipalities were introduced. Then, two other levels of self-government – at the County and regional levels – were introduced by a reform of 1998.
The Republic of Poland comprises 16 Regions or Voivodships (Województwo), 379 Counties (poviat) and 2479 Municipalities (gmina). In total 65 counties out of 379 are urban Municipalities with special status of a "city with county (poviat) rights": their City Councils are responsible for both municipal and County competences and their Prezydents exercise the responsibilities of the Mayor and Starosta (chairman of the county institutions). Warsaw has a special status regulated in a specific act (Ustawa z dnia 15 marca 2002 r. o ustroju miasta stołecznego Warszawy); it is also a city with poviat rights and is divided into 18 Districts.
The Constitution stipulates that the Municipality is the basic unit of local self-government.
In addition, there is also a level of deconcentrated administration (State administration) based on the Regions and chaired by a Governor (Wojewoda). The latter is a representative of the Government; (s)he is appointed by the Prime Minister after the presentation of the candidatures by the Minister of the Interior and Administration. Its duties include the supervision of the Government administration in Regions and Counties (police, social care, inspections of environment protection and guards) and the supervision of local self-government units with regard to compliance with the law. The Governor also appoints or approves Commanders-in-Chief and Heads of Inspection.
The principle of decentralisation is enshrined in the Constitution (Art. 15). Moreover, the Constitution describes the principles underlying local government (Art. 163-172): local self-government units possess legal personality and have property rights. They may associate themselves in order to fulfil tasks of common interest. Local government units have legislative powers for areas of local interest (Art. 94). The residual competences lay in the Municipalities (in other words it performs all tasks of local government not reserved to other units of local government.). The Prime Minister exercises supervision over local government units (Art. 148).
Besides the Constitution of 1997, various acts give set out the territorial organisation and division of powers:
Pursuant to the Act on Local Government Revenue, sub-national governments benefit from three sources of revenue: own revenue, general subsidies and grants from the national budget. In 2005, sub-national governments’ revenue were derived from taxation (own-source and shared), grants and other sources. The Municipalities’ revenue consisted of 19.4% of autonomous taxation, 20.7% of shared tax, 43.6% of grants and 16.3% of others. The Counties’ revenue was composed of about 13.8% of shared tax, 70.8% of grants and 15.4% of others. The Regions’ revenue was composed of about 55.7% of shared tax, 35.1% of grants and 9.2% of others.
There are different issues which are currently under discussion and which could have an impact on the territorial organisation and division of powers. A ‘Green Paper’ on the review of the division of powers is being prepared. Moreover, a reassessment of the territorial organisation is ongoing: the Joint Committee of the Central Government and Local/Regional Government’s experts are discussing issues concerning local government units’ competences and role; nevertheless, the results of these discussions have not yet been published. Finally, caps for public debts in local and regional authorities may be introduced.
General division of powers
State authorities are responsible for:
- Foreign policy;
- Defence and security;
- Management of the national budget;
- National public transport;
- National roads;
- Some cultural institutions;
- Enforcement of EU law;
- Education; and
- Statistical office.
Administrative powers in the field of:
- Economic development;
- Employment and labour market policy (fight against unemployment);
- Protection of employees claims in case of employer insolvency;
- Transport (regional roads management and transport management);
- Health (health promotion, specialised health services, medical emergency and ambulance services);
- Regional cultural institutions;
- Planning (spatial development; water management, land amelioration; maintenance of hydro-installations);
- Rural areas modernisation;
- Education (running post-secondary schools, some secondary schools and vocational schools, teacher training colleges, voivodeship libraries; initiating the establishment and financing of higher education);
- Social welfare;
- Sports and tourism;
- Consumer rights protection;
- Maintenance of public order;
- Environmental protection; and
- Pro-familial policy (including family support and foster care system).
Responsible for local issues which cannot be granted to the Municipalities, in particular:
- Sports and tourism;
- Geodesy and cartography;
- Real estate management, architecture and buildings administration;
- Water resources management;
- Agriculture, forestry and inland fisheries;
- Cooperation with NGOs;
- Education (secondary education, i.e. post-elementary schools, vocational and special schools);
- Environmental protection;
- Health (general responsibility for the operation of the public health service institutions);
- Consumer protection;
- Social welfare (services that extend beyond the gminas’ boundaries; support to the disabled; maintenance of poviat facilities and public utilities);
- Child protection (running tutelary and educational facilities, including orphanages);
- Employment (poviat labour office; fight against unemployment);
- Transport (road building and maintenance at the poviat level);
- Civil protection;
- Flood protection;
- Fire protection;
- Maintenance of public order and collective security; and
- Support to cultural institutions (culture and monuments).
Local authorities are responsible for:
- Spatial planning (local planning; water and supply sewage treatment; maintenance of landfills);
- Real estate management;
- Public areas (including cemeteries);
- Transport (local roads; local public transport);
- Environment (protection; zoning and local environmental protection);
- Electricity, gas and heat supply;
- Health (Primary healthcare services);
- Social welfare;
- Family support and foster care system;
- Maintenance of gmina buildings and public facilities;
- Market places;
- Culture (promotion, management of municipal libraries and other cultural institutions, monument protection);
- Sports (promotion); and
- Education (kindergartens; elementary education).