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Reaching Out to Sub-Municipal Decentralization: An Ongoing Challenge in Belgium

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Part of the Governance and Public Management book series (GPM)

Abstract

Today, Belgium counts one local government with sub-municipal units on its territory: Antwerp. Its nine SMUs—labelled districts—are operational from the 1st of January 2001 onwards in the fields of public affairs; youth, culture and sports policy; senior policy; traffic policy; public works; festivities; and communication. Over the years, the Antwerp city government has granted more autonomy to the districts, be it little by little. The chapter explores this historic and unique pathway towards sub-municipal decentralization, thus revealing why typical issues concerning the districts’ governing capacity, their finances and communication with the city centre still pop up today.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In 2017, Antwerp had 521,946 inhabitants (Stad Antwerpen 2017).

  2. 2.

    Recently, two municipalities have expressed their intention to merge. This is part of a voluntary round of local amalgamations that is set up and financially rewarded by the regional government in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium.

  3. 3.

    In general, the implementation of the Egmontpact failed. However, several of its elements were realized during successive rounds of Belgian state reform.

  4. 4.

    In 2004, the ‘Vlaams Blok’ was convicted for racism. Since then, the party operates under its current name of ‘Vlaams Belang’.

  5. 5.

    Until present, the Walloon and Brussels government did not create a regulatory framework on sub-municipal decentralization.

  6. 6.

    Next to Antwerp, seven other Belgian municipalities of more than 100,000 inhabitants are constitutionally entitled to install sub-municipal districts. So far, Antwerp is the only (and Flemish) city that has used this opportunity.

  7. 7.

    Vlaamse Overheid (2015). Decreet Gemeentedecreet art. 273–274. [online] Vlaamse Codex. Available at: https://codex.vlaanderen.be/Portals/Codex/documenten/1013949.html#H1029355 [Accessed 31 May 2017].

  8. 8.

    Vlaamse Overheid (2015). Decreet Gemeentedecreet art. 273. [online] Vlaamse Codex. Available at: https://codex.vlaanderen.be/Portals/Codex/documenten/1013949.html#H1029355 [Accessed 31 May 2017].

  9. 9.

    Vlaamse Overheid (2015). Decreet Gemeentedecreet art. 285–289. [online] Vlaamse Codex. Available at: https://codex.vlaanderen.be/Portals/Codex/documenten/1013949.html#H1029355 [Accessed 31 May 2017].

  10. 10.

    Vlaamse Overheid (2015). Decreet Gemeentedecreet art. 292. [online] Vlaamse Codex. Available at: https://codex.vlaanderen.be/Portals/Codex/documenten/1013949.html#H1029355 [Accessed 31 May 2017].

  11. 11.

    Vlaamse Overheid (2015). Decreet Gemeentedecreet art. 292. [online] Vlaamse Codex. Available at: https://codex.vlaanderen.be/Portals/Codex/documenten/1013949.html#H1029355 [Accessed 31 May 2017].

  12. 12.

    Vlaamse Overheid (2015). Decreet Gemeentedecreet art. 282. [online] Vlaamse Codex. Available at: https://codex.vlaanderen.be/Portals/Codex/documenten/1013949.html#H1029355 [Accessed 31 May 2017].

  13. 13.

    Vlaamse Overheid (2015). Decreet Gemeentedecreet art. 281 and 295. [online] Vlaamse Codex. Available at: https://codex.vlaanderen.be/Portals/Codex/documenten/1013949.html#H1029355 [Accessed 31 May 2017].

  14. 14.

    For 2015, these expenses were budgetted at 1,190,289,731 euros (Stad Antwerpen 2015).

  15. 15.

    Vlaamse Overheid (2015). Decreet Gemeentedecreet art. 275. [online] Vlaamse Codex. Available at: https://codex.vlaanderen.be/Portals/Codex/documenten/1013949.html#H1029355 [Accessed 31 May 2017].

  16. 16.

    The administrative secretary is appointed by and accountable to the city, be it that the District College can advise the latter upon his/her appointment (van Ostaaijen et al. 2015).

  17. 17.

    In 2011, the city of Antwerp had 6383 FTE. Five hundred and fifty-six or 8.85% of them were employed at district level (Stad Antwerpen 2011).

  18. 18.

    Apart from Antwerp, only Ghent and Bruges are constitutionally qualified to decentralize in Flanders. Both cities, respectively, have 253,266 and 117,886 inhabitants (Van Volcem 2016).

  19. 19.

    In February 2003, it came to the fore that various policy-makers in Antwerp, including the chief of police, the city secretary and adjunct secretary, the city receiver and various aldermen, had falsely and excessively used public credit cards.

  20. 20.

    For example, a policy brief was jointly written by the nine district chairmen in June 2003 to underscore the colloquium critiques and demands once again. Simultaneously, there was the so-called ‘revolution of Ekeren’ as this district actively sought for ways to restore its status of autonomous local government (Van Assche et al. 2004).

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Wayenberg, E., Steen, T. (2018). Reaching Out to Sub-Municipal Decentralization: An Ongoing Challenge in Belgium. In: Hlepas, NK., Kersting, N., Kuhlmann, S., Swianiewicz, P., Teles, F. (eds) Sub-Municipal Governance in Europe. Governance and Public Management. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-64725-8_2

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