The main purpose of this paper is to investigate whether, and to which extent, the rules introduced by central governments effectively restrain the spending behaviour of the decentralized authorities. In this paper, the authors provide an innovative comparative analysis by considering two countries that share the same degree of economic development and many cultural traits – France and Italy. Yet, these two countries differ in one crucial respect. France has a tradition of strong centralization, bureaucratic discipline and detailed technocratic control on the periphery (the regions). By contrast, Italy is known to follow a more flexible approach, which allows for some negotiation between the central and the peripheral authorities and feeds expectations for assistance and bail-outs, should the regions engage in excessive spending and violate the budgetary rules set by the centre.