Local authorities shall be entitled, in exercising their powers, to co-operate and, within the framework of the law, to form consortia with other local authorities in order to carry out tasks of common interest.
In the Netherlands, there is a long and vivid tradition of cooperation among municipalities in all policy areas, ranging from mandatory to voluntary forms of cooperation. According to the Joint Regulations Act (Wet gemeenschappelijke regelingen, Wgr), two or more municipalities can establish joint regulations in order to serve one or more certain interests that those municipalities share. A joint regulation often establishes a public body, but this is not mandatory. Municipal cooperation by means of a joint regulation is also possible across provincial borders and provinces and water boards can take part in the regulation, too. The main areas of municipal cooperation are in the social domain (e.g. youth care, societal support and public aid), safety (the safety regions, as prescribed by law) and the spatial domain (the environmental services, also prescribed by law).
However, the current framework for various forms of intermunicipal cooperation provided by the Joint Regulations Act (Wgr), is often experienced as complex and restrictive. Formally, the democratic legitimacy is guaranteed as the council authorizes the establishment, alteration and abrogation of each joint regulation in which the municipality participates. In addition, the council of each participating municipality is represented in the General Administrative board of the joint regulation. The representatives are accountable to their own municipal council with regard to the policy of the joint regulation.
But more in general, this “regionalisation” (i.e. intermunicipal cooperation within a certain regional area) has a major impact on the councils, boards of aldermen and the municipalities as a whole. Many subjects previously decided on by municipal councillors themselves can now only be influenced indirectly which raises issues with democratic control, legitimacy and accountability of decision-making in the regional area. According to the VNG, a fundamental debate is needed about the usefulness and necessity of inter-municipal cooperation, in addition to the search for legal solutions within the framework of current legislation: VNG has presented comments on a bill for improving the Wgr. An amendment to the Joint Regulations Act to improve the legitimacy of joint arrangements and strengthen the position of the municipal council, has been proposed to parliament and has passed the Second Chamber. However, a wider perspective is needed: during the debate on the amendment, the Second Chamber has asked for a fundamental debate on the development of local and regional government in The Netherlands. There seems to be consensus on the necessity of change; however, any new policy will be made by the new government.
The rapporteurs note with satisfaction that intermunicipal cooperation is well and frequently used in various forms. They conclude that there is full compliance with Art. 10.3 of the Charter. However, the ample use of cooperation, and also “regional deals” suggest a reflection about democratic control, legitimacy and accountability of decision-making, which need to be considered in a future reform of the legal foundations of this cooperation.