Federalism and local self-government in the light of Russian constitutional reform 2020

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Author: Elena Gritsenko

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2020-4-80-97

Keywords: federal structure; local government; public authority; Russian Constitution; Russian Constitutional Court; the 2020 Amendment Law


Russia’s 2020 constitutional reform was rapid and ambitious. The reform set not only new tasks for the legislator, but also posed a serious challenge for the science of constitutional law. Many well-known interpretations of constitutional principles require rethinking. This concerns largely issues of the federal structure and local self-government, which are still not a topic of public and expert discussions. At the same time, there is a need to determine the place of the amendments on the Russian state identity in the institution of the federal structure as well as to define the content of the principle of the unity of the public power system. This principle cannot be reduced to the hierarchical dependence of the state and local government bodies, because this approach contradicts the constitutional principles of federalism and the organizational independence of local self-government. The unity of the system of public authority does not exclude the independence of the subjects of the Russian Federation in defining their own system of public authorities. The Russian regions should have the right to choose whether its head will combine the position of the head of the subject with the position of the head of the highest executive body, as well as decide whether to establish a constitutional court or not. Changes in the forming of the Federation Council as the second chamber of the federal parliament, which began in 2014 and continued in 2020, also imply a theoretical justification for a new approach to the structure of the Federation Council and to the nature of representation in it. The division of issues of authority and power between the Russian Federation and its subjects has not undergone any major changes in the Law on the amendment to the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The confusion about the criteria for this distinction has not been removed. On the contrary, the amendments added ambiguity to the question of what constitutes a “public authority organization” as a sphere of exclusive jurisdiction of the Federation. The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation and the legislator still have serious work to do to ensure the internal consistency of the amended constitutional text on the delimitation of jurisdictions between the Russian Federation and its subjects, as well as new provisions on the competence of municipalities. The assignment to the competence of municipalities, in addition to issues of local importance and delegated state powers, issues of public importance implemented in cooperation with state authorities, requires additional elaboration of guarantees for their financial support. Changes affecting the national and territorial foundations of federalism and local self-government need also a systemic interpretation in connection with the provisions of the preamble, the first and second chapters of the Constitution of the Russian Federation that remain in force. In this regard, the organization of public power in federal territories, in cities of federal importance, in the administrative centers of the subjects of the Russian Federation cannot be taken out of the framework of federal relations and relations of local self-government.

About the author: Elena Gritsenko – Doctor of Sciences in Law, Professor, Department of Constitutional Law, State University of Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Citation: Gritsenko E. (2020) Federalizm i mestnoe samoupravlenie v svete rossiyskoy konstitutsionnoy reformy 2020 goda [Federalism and local self-government in the light of Russian constitutional reform 2020]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 80–97.


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