The need for a national policy to promote IMC

From Municipal Cooperation

Promoting IMC
The need for IMC in Central and Eastern Europe
Obstacles to IMC in Central and Eastern Europe
The need for a national policy to promote IMC
IMC legislation
Financial incentives for IMC
Capacity building and expert assistance
Information and knowledge management

It is a responsibility of the state to ensure that public services are available, constantly improved and become more affordable. IMC, just as the outsourcing of public services to the private sector or public-private partnerships, is a pragmatic way of ensuring that the human, material and financial resources of the state are used most efficiently and effectively in the best interest of citizens.

IMC rarely occurs spontaneously anywhere. Where there has never been prior experience with IMC, there are clearly issues related to knowledge and capacities. It is also widely acknowledged that small municipalities in particular have more limited capacities than the larger ones and need special support. In addition, local resistance to change is a major constraint to IMC. The municipal administration may not want to change its routine; municipal leaders may not want to pay the political costs of sharing power; and citizens may reject IMC for historical or even religious reasons, fear of re-centralization and loss of influence over decision making, or fear of higher taxes or simply of having to travel to a remotely located IMC centre to access services.

There is everywhere a need for external stimuli to establish IMC. One of the lessons learned from the Western European experience is that the promotion of IMC requires a conscious national policy that addresses several possible bottlenecks to IMC, having the following minimum components:

  • Political support by the national political leadership and the public authorities by openly and clearly stating IMC as a policy priority
  • An enabling legislative environment
  • Financial incentives
  • Capacity building and/or technical assistance
  • Information and knowledge management.

The experience of Western Europe also reveals that the key players in the promotion of IMC are the central government, regional governments (where they exist) and the national associations of local authorities (Table 3).

Table 3: Who should be doing what to promote IMC?

Central government Regional government

(if it exists)

National local

government association

National/regional strategy to promote IMC (political support)
Enabling legal environment to promote IMC
Financial incentives for IMCs
Training and expert assistance
Information and knowledge management
* where there is no regional government

Central governments in Western Europe regard IMC as a pragmatic tool to achieve their policy goals in the absence of other practically or politically viable alternatives, such as territorial amalgamation. The prime motivation has been to rationalize and improve public service delivery. Central government policies to transfer new competencies to the local level were often accompanied by measures to promote IMC to make sure that the devolved services would be provided in an efficient way.

In all countries, the voluntary character of IMC remains sacred, except in exceptional circumstances (Box 7). Central governments have also avoided interfering in the details of IMC arrangements to preserve municipal autonomy, but in many countries, they have strictly monitored it to preserve the public interest. Many central governments collect and maintain data on IMC in order to analyse the impact of their policies, monitor IMC trends and identify the localities or service areas where IMC would bring evident improvement in public services, thus justifying the spending of public money to encourage it. Often IMC legislation requires municipalities to register their IMC initiatives with the relevant ministry and sometimes the initiation of certain forms of IMC requires ministerial approval.

Box 7: France - The "qualified majority rule" for IMC

In order to ensure that an IMC project shows geographical and functional coherence and continuity, the perimeter of the collaborating municipalities involved in a specific cooperation project is set by the French national administration (prefect). Before implementation, a qualified majority of the municipalities concerned must agree to the project. If such a majority is obtained (2/3 of local assemblies representing more than 50 percent of the total population, or more than 50 percent of the local assemblies representing 2/3 of the total population of the municipalities concerned), all municipalities concerned are required to join the cooperation agreement.

Source: UNDP (2006)

In federal states, where municipal law is a competence of the Land or Canton, it is the latter that plays a key role in the IMC policy. It has state competences and is well aware of regional realities so it can play an efficient role in promoting IMC and building consensus, as it has also done sometimes for amalgamation (the German länder and the Swiss cantons, for instance). Their primary motivation has been the same as that of central government, to which might be added an element of competition among regions. Given their proximity to the municipalities, regional governments have gone beyond political support, regional IMC legislation and financial incentives by engaging in direct IMC support through training/technical assistance and information/knowledge management.

Training/technical assistance and information/knowledge management have also been provided by the national local government associations, particularly their regional branches. In the countries without a regional government, training/technical assistance and information/knowledge management are tasks performed by the national local government associations often in cooperation with the relevant line ministry. In the countries that have regional government, national local government associations and particularly their regional branches actively cooperate with the regional structures of the state.

Finally, the national local government associations in Western Europe are all involved in lobbying for an enabling environment for IMC. For instance, the Dutch Association of Local Authorities defended municipal interests by actively participating in the formulation of the Joint Regulations Act, the country’s legislative framework for IMC.

Box 8: The role of stakeholders in IMC

Central and regional government authorities
  • Create an enabling legal environment.
  • Provide financial incentives.
  • Support awareness-raising.
  • Provide capacity building and expert assistance.
  • Provide overarching guidelines for IMC.
  • Collect data and monitor IMC.
  • Coordinate donor support.

Local government associations

  • Support awareness-raising.
  • Provide capacity building and expert assistance.
  • Engage in advocacy for an enabling legislative environment and incentives.
  • Participate in the policy dialogue on IMC.
  • Act as platforms for exchange of knowledge, best practices and lessons learned.

Civil society

  • Help municipalities identify issues and determine IMC priorities.
  • Support the implementation of IMC activities.
  • Monitor IMC performance and hold elected officials accountable.

Development partners/donors

  • Foster dialogue and trust among municipalities and with government.
  • Develop and strengthen the enabling environment and incentives.
  • Support capacity building.
  • Promote national and international knowledge dissemination.
  • Provide assistance to IMC pilot demonstration initiatives.