Local authorities shall, within the limits of the law, have full discretion to exercise their initiative with regard to any matter which is not excluded from their competence nor assigned to any other authority.
In Spain, the issue of the “competencias impropias” (competences traditionally exercised by the municipalities due to their proximity to the citizens and in response to their direct demands, although not explicitly attributed or delegated to them) has been debated for decades and it was addressed by the Congress in the 2013 report. These “competencias impropias” are not explicitly provided for by law (but nonetheless hitherto assumed to comply with LBRL, which establishes, in Article 2, the principle of the “right of intervention in every field concerning the circle of their own interests”), They concern personal services and physical environment services. The provision of services that results from these competences is not fairly compensated; no economic resources are made available for their implementation.
The LRSAL reform, in 2013, was aimed at eliminating or at least greatly reducing this phenomenon. Article 25.1 of the LBRL, which allows municipalities to “promote all kinds of activities and provide all public services that contribute to satisfy the needs and aspirations of the neighborhood community”, was kept firm, although a precision was introduced, limiting the general competence clause “within the limits provided by this article”. For this aim, the law provided for a strict list of responsibilities classified either as “held in own right” (competencias propias) or “delegated” (atribuidas por delegaciòn). In addition, Article 7.4, gave explicit recognition to the “competencias impropias”, at the same time it introduced some conditions to assume them: the Constitutional Court definite Article 7.4 as “a new general clause for municipal competences”.
Therefore, the LRSAL does not prevent the municipios from assuming responsibilities outside the list of Article 25.2, but subject to two specific substantive conditions (Article 25 and Article 7.4 of the LBRL, as modified by the LRSAL):
a) when the assumption of a “non-standard” responsibility is in line with the constraints of the legislation on budgetary stability and financial sustainability of the municipio concerned;
b) when the exercise of the competence does not imply a “duplication” of competence in respect to other administrative tiers. In addition, also some procedural conditions are established, in terms of prior reports of the competent Administration by reason of matter, in which the absence of duplications is pointed out, and of the Administration that has attributed financial supervision over the financial sustainability of the new competences.
Although the LRSAL does not prohibit the possibility of developing improper powers, this will only be possible if the municipality has a healthy economic situation and as long as improper competition does not produce duplication.
The rapporteurs consider this rationalisation of the “improper competences” as a positive development, contributing to improve the financial situation of the municipalities. Nevertheless, the impact on local autonomy cannot be underestimated. During the monitoring activity the delegation was informed that, in practice, it is almost impossible for some municipalities, especially for small municipalities, to undertake “competencias impropias”. At this respect, as on many other issues, an enormous difference exists between the bigger towns and the small municipalities. The delegation was informed that the situation of small municipalities is even more problematic in the non-insular unprovincial Autonomous Communities, where the province, as local authority which tasks of coordination and support to small municipalities, does not exist.
During the consultation process after the monitoring activity, the Spanish government pointed out that the LBRL recognises the assistance function of the Provincial Councils to the municipalities, especially those with a smaller population. In fact, a series of basic services or benefits that are compulsory public services or respond to competences that constitute the basic nucleus of municipal autonomy are attributed as their own competencies (art. 36.1 LBRL). In addition, the government highlighted that the LBRL attributes to the uniprovincial Autonomous Communities the competences, means and resources that correspond to the Provincial Councils (art. 40 LBRL). In this way, the municipalities that are in the territorial sphere of a uniprovincial Autonomous Community are insured by law with the aforementioned assistance function. Finally, the Spanish government highlighted that it is working to a reform aimed at improving the inter-administrative collaboration and co-governance, giving an essential role to the Provincial Councils, reinforcing their assistance especially towards small municipalities.
The competences of the provinces are more limited. They are not empowered by a “general competence”. Their tasks are limited to those attributed by the State or by the Autonomous Communities.