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Warner, M.E., Anna Belajova, Maria Fazikova and Andrea Siebenmanova. 1999. "Local Government and Rural Development in the Visegrad: Challenges and Opportunities," in Rural Development in Central and Eastern Europe, David Brown and Anna Bandlerova eds., proceedings of Research conference Dec 6-9, 1999 Podbanske Slovakia. Slovak Agricultural University, Nitra Slovakia. Earlier version Working Papers in Planning No 191. Department of City and Regional Planning, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

During the socialist period, rural development was addressed through national planning which located industries in rural areas and forced amalgamation of villages to create larger, more functional centers. As national governments devolve power and responsibility to local governments, the focus on rural development policy also shifts to the local level. Since the local government reforms of 1990 there has been a tremendous resurgence of local governments - especially in rural areas.

This paper outlines four challenges which rural local governments face in order to become effective economic development actors: autonomy, capacity, market creation and public participation. Autonomy requires political authority to provide services and the fiscal capacity to finance them. Throughout the region there is a mismatch between local competencies and financial resources. Over dependence on politically derived state subsidies or share taxes, limits the autonomy of local governments to select the nature and level of services they provide. The emergence of large numbers of very small municipalities creates capacity constraints in terms of managerial and technical skills as well as the need for functional integration across municipalities to provide services equitably on a regional scale.

While these patterns of devolution and decentralization are found throughout Europe, the need to simultaneously create markets and avenues for public participation makes the local government transition unique in central and eastern Europe. Western models can not be copied directly on to the region. New models which merge the competitiveness and participation of the west, with attention to local well being and collective action must be devised. Limited taxation powers and limited market penetration in rural areas causes local governments to engage in market activities, but governments must take care to do so in ways which promotes market emergence and donÕt stifle it. Public participation helps ensure an accountable state. While electoral participation is high, competition among a diversity of actors - citizens, government, for profit and non profit sectors - is needed. The relative absence of the non-profit sector is especially important in sparsely populated rural areas where returns to economic investment are limited. A research agenda for rural development must include attention to new, more appropriate ways to address these four constraints - autonomy, capacity, markets and public participation - on local government and rural development.

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Subject: Decentralization,Privatization