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Obstacles to IMC in Central and Eastern Europe

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

In Western Europe, local-self government has been a reality for many decades. Municipalities operate autonomously and increasingly behave as businesses by constantly looking at ways to improve public services under the scrutiny and pressure of citizens. In these countries, IMC has been one of the pragmatic ways to reduce costs and improve the quality of services. It has been a phenomenon just as common as the outsourcing of public services to the private sector or public-private partnerships.

In CEE, IMC is still the exception rather than the rule; it is generally ad hoc and often triggered by donor financial support. This situation can largely be explained by the historical legacy of centralization and the lack of a tradition of municipal autonomy. Municipalities have historically been more accountable to central government and there is no tradition of democratically responding to citizens’ aspirations for better public services. Since most decisions and resources originated from the central government during the Socialist era, vertical links with it were highly developed while horizontal cooperation among municipalities was simply not high on the agenda. Under the centralized socialist administrative system, there was no IMC because municipal amalgamation made it irrelevant or centralized mechanisms substituted voluntary cooperation.

The above situation has prevented the development of a culture of cooperation among municipalities and the accumulation of a critical mass of knowledge, capacity and experience in IMC. Numerous studies, discussions and workshops bringing together central and local government officials on the theme of IMC have concluded that in CEE there is:

  • limited understanding of the benefits of IMC;
  • limited knowledge, capacity and experience on the forms and modalities of IMC;
  • a lack of culture of cooperation and trust among municipalities;
  • a lack of an enabling legislative framework and financial incentives.

This is combined with a tendency for political confrontation and resistance to give up or share power as well as frequent inertia and lack of leadership. Many of the above-mentioned features are not unique to CEE, but are simply exacerbated by the specific historical circumstances of these countries.

Finally, while in Western Europe, governments and associations of municipalities have developed a variety of measures over the years to promote IMC and address some of the obstacles mentioned above, this has not been the case in CEE. It is only relatively recently that some central governments and municipalities have started to understand that the lack of IMC in a decentralized context characterized by municipal fragmentation can be a threat to successful local government reform. In Central Europe, Hungary is among the countries which are most advanced in the promotion of IMC trough legislation and financial incentives.

In the Western Balkans, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia passed IMC legislation in June 2009. The latter envisages the provision of financial incentives for IMC by the central government. Other countries which recently passed IMC legislation include Turkey (2005) and Romania (2006).