What are the potential negative side effects of IMC?

From Municipal Cooperation

Understanding IMC
When is IMC relevant?
What are the different areas of IMC?
What are the benefits of IMC?
How many municipal functions can be performed under IMC?
How many municipalities can be involved in IMC?
What are the different possible legislative contexts for IMC?
What are the most common legal forms of IMC in Western Europe?
How is IMC financed?
What are the potential negative side effects of IMC?

IMC has also potential negative side effects that must be taken into consideration during its design and implementation, many of which are related to the legal form of IMC and/or the provisions of the internal regulations agreed among the involved municipalities. These potential negative side effects include:

  • Remoteness of the services: Some of the IMC areas involve the creation of a joint unit for service delivery in one of the municipalities (e.g. joint kindergarten, joint school) that replaces several units previously located in each of the partner municipalities. From an economic perspective, the service becomes more rational and effective, but from the citizens’ perspective, it becomes less convenient due to the increased distance to reach the service delivery unit.
  • Slow decision-making process: Certain decisions must be consulted with the municipal councils of the partner municipalities. In general, decision-making under IMC is more complicated since it involves more decision makers and sometimes lacks hierarchical provisions to solve deadlock situations.
  • Duplication of administrative costs and personnel: IMC should, in theory, help to reduce costs, but in practice, it not always does. Due to the inertia of bureaucratic structures or the ambitions of local politicians who are not ready to give up their direct control over certain activities, municipal staff continue to deal with issues that in theory have been transferred to IMC institutions. The French communautés’ overlap of functions with the municipalities has been described as a “chaotic system of partnership” by the French Court of Auditors.
  • Transparency deficit: Mechanisms for public control over municipal governments are known and well established. IMC involves a more complex institutional set-up, and decision-making is much less transparent than for individual municipalities. The establishment of a proper control system over IMC is also more challenging. Whether there is a transparency deficit or not largely depends on the legal form of IMC, the provisions of the IMC agreement and the style of management.
  • Political costs of cooperation: Entering into IMC also means sharing political power and prestige. This is the reason that local political leaders are sometimes reluctant to be involved in IMC. When they are, their ambitions, pride and inability to compromise may lead to conflicts and hamper cooperation. Similarly, the free-rider phenomenon – municipalities that formally joined the IMC initiative and benefit from it but that are neither active nor ready to contribute – can lead to reduced trust among partners, and in a long term, endanger the sustainability of the IMC arrangement.