Size Matters: National Identity and the Digital Transformation of Local Government

5ª Conferência: Direito Urbanístico Internacional & Comparado, Forthcoming

28 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2019

See all articles by Ciarán Burke

Ciarán Burke

University of Jena - Friedrich Schiller Universität

Alexandra Molitorisova

University of Bayreuth, Faculty of Life Sciences; Masaryk University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: December 21, 2018


Since the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty, the territorial organization of the EU Member States has undergone a series of changes. Almost each Member State has made internal adjustments in the name of determining the optimal size and composition of a local authority (the bottom tier of the government structure), while balancing competing needs for economic efficiency, local participation and self-government. Several countries have resisted efforts toward territorial consolidation, with France, Spain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia providing prime example. Currently, nearly 80% of European municipalities are concentrated in 5 Member States, reflecting that serious disparities exist in this area in Europe. The size of local authorities often provides an indication of their resources and managerial capacities.

In advancing the digital single market, the EU has been a strong promoter of digital government transformation, increasing the technological and personnel requirements imposed on local authorities (e.g. by prescribing designation of a data protection officer per Article 37(1)(a) of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)). Such new regulatory requirements create pressure for increased amalgamation of local authorities, leading to the creation of larger governmental entities or hybrid structures providing specialized public services. EU legislative acts usually employ general terms for public bodies or public authorities or adopt universal definitions thereof without distinguishing between various levels of public authorities, or the sizes, functions or governance structures thereof. This paper examines these tendencies with the help of one recent piece of EU legislation: the GDPR. In certain Member States, deep historical reasons for territorial fragmentation exist, reflecting a particular conception of democratic life associated with the evolution of the nation’s development. This paper argues that a fragmentary territorial organization may constitute a tenet of Member States’ national identity per Article 4(2) TEU. Article 4(2) implies that national identity can be balanced against the principle of primacy of EU law, with the latter effectively compelling certain Member States to countenance centralisation in order to meet the GDPR’s standards of digital government. Introducing subjective tests, such as the notion of disproportionate burden per Article 5 of Directive (EU) 2016/2012 on the accessibility of websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies may represent one way for the EU to respect certain aspects of national identity, fitting the technological requirements to the size and resources of a local authority. The paper debates whether, given significant transition costs, gains for development of the internal information market must necessarily be offset by changes in national identity in certain Member States. The paper provides also an overview of GDPR compliance efforts vis-a-vis local municipalities.

Keywords: GDPR, National Identity, Municipality, eGovernment

Suggested Citation

Burke, Ciarán and Molitorisová, Alexandra, Size Matters: National Identity and the Digital Transformation of Local Government (December 21, 2018). 5ª Conferência: Direito Urbanístico Internacional & Comparado, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Ciarán Burke

University of Jena - Friedrich Schiller Universität ( email )

Furstengraben 1
Jena, Thuringa 07743

Alexandra Molitorisová (Contact Author)

University of Bayreuth, Faculty of Life Sciences ( email )

Masaryk University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Veveri 70
Brno, 61180
Czech Republic

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