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Municipal reorganization does not lead to less collaboration

At this rate, the Netherlands will have only one municipality by the year 2051
04 January 2019
Maarten Allers
Maarten Allers

Following the Coalition Agreement, municipalities that collaborate too much will be reorganized. But municipalities will not collaborate any less following such reorganization. On average, municipalities are becoming even larger and, at the same time, they are also collaborating more. These are the findings of research by COELO Professor Maarten Allers, published today. COELO (the Centre for Research on Local Government Economics) is a research institute linked to the University of Groningen.

On 1 January, the number of municipalities fell again, this time by 25. If we continue at this rate, there will be just one municipality in the Netherlands by 2051. An important catalyst for this fusion process is the continued decentralization. Municipalities are given duties that they cannot carry out alone. Therefore, there is more collaboration between municipalities. In 2005, just eight percent of municipal expenses were carried out through collaboration. Now, this amounts to over 20 percent.

Just as much collaboration as before the reorganization

Partnerships receive a lot of criticism as they are often not transparent and their boards not democratically chosen. The Coalition Agreement states that municipalities that collaborate too much must be merged. However, research by Allers suggests that this is not an effective solution. Municipalities collaborate even more in the run-up to a reorganization. In the reorganization year, the collaboration drops again to the level that it was before the plans to merge. Therefore on balance, there seems to be no apparent effect.

Municipalities as we known them are disappearing

As merges take place every year, municipalities are becoming larger and are losing their character. They become more distant from their residents and eventually make the provinces redundant. However, this trend is avoidable, says Allers. ‘As an alternative, we could, for example, choose to not further scale up municipalities but rather organize democratically-governed regions for tasks transcending the municipal level. These regions would then take care of supra-municipal tasks, such as those concerning the social domain and economic duties. Municipalities would remain acting at the local level, which involves many of the traditional municipal tasks, and form a connecting element within society. In this way, the advantages of the small scale can be combined with those of the large scale.’

Not choosing is also choosing

If we continue at this rate, a small number of super-municipalities will soon arise, which would then ‘simply’ take on the provincial duties as well. Then the municipalities as we know them would practically be eliminated. If we really want this to happen, this should be a careful choice, says Allers. Such a major system change most certainly deserves open and democratic consideration.

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Last modified:12 March 2020 9.43 p.m.
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