As You Like It or Much Ado about Nothing?: Structural Reform in Local Government in Belgium

As You Like It or Much Ado about Nothing?: Structural Reform in Local Government in Belgium

Koenraad De Ceuninck (Ghent University, Belgium), Kristof Steyvers (Ghent University, Belgium) and Tony Valcke (Ghent University, Belgium)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0317-0.ch010
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This chapter scrutinizes the ongoing debate on structural reform in local government in the Flemish Region of Belgium at the turn and the first decades of the 21st century. As in many European polities, discussions on the territorial and functional arrangements of the level deemed closest to the citizen have occupied a protracted place on the reform agenda. Likewise, given their often controversial and conflictual nature all but a part of these reformist ambitions have eventually been adopted and implemented. Actual structural change often only crystalizes as the residue of a heated reform base once the damp of the discussion evaporates.
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In their comparative assessment of the status of local government at the turn of the 21st century, Caulfield and Larsen (2002) discern a dramatic and sustained period of reform activity as a globally occurring phenomenon often ushering into conspicuous change. Some of these reforms can be determined as of the structural type in that they target the jurisdictional arrangements of local government (as opposed to the internal settings, modes and processes of local political and administrative decision-making). Aiming to alter these arrangements almost invariably impinges upon external multilevel constellations. Consequently, issues of structural reform are embedded in pre-existing and key to shifting central-local relations (Goldsmith & Page, 2010). Broadly speaking, structural reforms are often deemed as part-and-parcel of a common strategy to optimize the output-legitimacy of local government leading to a more effective and efficient production and delivery of public provisions and services in and under the authority of a hitherto delineated place-bound orbit (Vetter & Kersting, 2003a). They tend to have a central top-down policy impetus meeting diverse local bottom-up responses.

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