Municipalities everywhere perform critical functions that determine the quality of life of citizens and their collective welfare: roads and traffic, transport, water supply, schools and kindergarten, health centres, sport facilities, waste collection, museums, theatre and music halls, and even cemeteries. However, municipalities are often not large enough nor have sufficient resources to efficiently and effectively perform many of their functions alone. Although municipal consolidation is the solution, it is sometimes not politically acceptable. In such a situation, inter-municipal cooperation (IMC) is a pragmatic means to achieve the necessary scale and gather the required critical mass of human and financial resources to deliver better and cheaper public services.
Neighbouring municipalities are often linked physically; rivers, motorways and bridges create strong physical links between them. They are also linked economically, socially and culturally. Water and air pollution, for example, spread regardless of administrative boundaries. Economic activity in one municipality can affect the market conditions of the neighbouring one (e.g. level of wages, value of real estate). The promotion of environmentally friendly economic and social development is therefore another critical municipal function that neighbouring municipalities, particularly the small ones, can perform more effectively together through IMC.
IMC is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s globalized and competitive world as the territories and population of municipalities are becoming increasingly interdependent. The scale of production of many services is growing to meet the requirements of technological and/or economic efficiency, and to respond to rapidly rising standards for public services. At the same time, the population of many small communities is falling due to urbanization or emigration. Also, nowadays, citizens often no longer work, live, consume and pay taxes in one and the same municipality, which has serious implications on the management and financing of public services.
In short, IMC is a reaction to the general evolution of modern societies. In Western Europe, central governments have for many years promoted it as a way of addressing the issues of cost and quality of public services that arise from the small size of municipalities in a situation of growing pressure for better performance from citizens. The Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries only recently introduced local self-government. In these countries local political autonomy was enhanced by creating fragmented municipal structures as response to the forced amalgamation of the socialist era. The large number of small municipalities which were created became subject to the same pressures for better performance as in Western Europe. Territorial consolidation in these countries remains a very sensitive topic and therefore IMC is increasingly on the agenda.
Nevertheless, IMC is still at an embryonic stage in CEE. The historical legacy of centralization has prevented the development of horizontal relations between municipalities, which has resulted in a lack of awareness, capacity and experience in IMC. The central and local government actors in CEE are increasingly acknowledging that resolute action is needed to promote and support IMC. This Guide is a step in that direction.
This site is a user-friendly knowledge management tool that will contribute to raising awareness about IMC, help central governments and local government associations promote IMC, and provide guidance to local authorities on how to engage in concrete IMC initiatives.
This site is essentially for local government reform practitioners, including local government staff, staff of local government associations, central government staff working with local authorities, as well as local government experts.
The site is particularly targeted at practitioners from the CEE countries (Central Europe, Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans and Turkey) and the Caucasus, where IMC is highly relevant. It is less relevant in those countries of Central Asia and the Western Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which have not introduced local self-government, where there is no municipal fragmentation and where the system of local government continues to be based on the Soviet model, i.e. limited municipal autonomy and incentives to autonomously seek ways to improve public service delivery.