Oradea metropolitan area

From Municipal Cooperation

Oradea metropolitan area
Service Areas: Socio-Economic Development, Solid Waste Management, Water Management
Country: Romania
Municipalities: Biharia, Borş, Cetariu, Girişu de Criş, Nojorid, Oradea, Oşorhei, Paleu, Sânmartin, Sântandrei
Contact persons: Adrian Foghiş, Delia Ungur
Legal form: Public law association
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Coordinates: 46° 59' 23" N, 22° 13' 27" E
Photo-1 ZMO revised-FINAL.JPG
Photo-2 ZMO revised-FINAL.JPG
Photo-3 ZMO revised-FINAL.JPG

Description of the problem/need for IMC

The need for IMC between Oradea and the neighbouring municipalities arose from the increased integration of the municipalities, enhanced by the short distance (the longest distance between two member municipalities being just 9 km) and the geographical location (near the Romanian-Hungarian border, in western Romania). Oradea serves as the major centre for employment, education, administrative services, healthcare, and public transportation to the surrounding municipalities. At the same time, due to the limited amount of land available for investment within city limits, investors focused on the neighbouring municipalities. This led to a specialization within the given area, as follows:>

  • Borş – light industry, location of the industrial park, services connected to the border crossing
  • Biharia, services (for example, agriculture-related services)
  • Cetariu and Paleu – agritourism, housing
  • Nojorid – housing and services (for example, transport and logistics)
  • Oşorhei – services, e.g. showrooms and different industry and related services
  • Sânmartin and Sântandrei – tourism (mostly for the Băile Felix thermal baths).

This increased integration created the need for a single development plan that would account for specific local factors and focus on aspects such as territorial planning, economic development, and urban development.

Another stimulus for IMC was the fact that available funding in certain sectors was earmarked by the European Union for the urban agglomerations.

Description of the IMC practice

Service areas: The cooperation between the city of Oradea and the surrounding rural municipalities aims at, in the long term, the delegation of services from the municipalities to the ZMO or other bodies set up in the ZMO framework. At present, cooperation in water supply and purification, and waste management are the two key interest areas. Other interests include the planning, coordination and project management services provided by the ZMO to the member municipalities.

Member municipalities: Currently, the ZMO includes the city of Oradea, eight municipalities with full membership (Biharia, Borş, Cetariu, Nojorid, Oşorhei, Paleu, Sânmartin, Sântandrei) and one municipality with associate membership (Girişu de Criş, member without voting rights). The ZMO covers an area of 70,606 km2, of which 59,086 are rural; 82.2 percent of the population lives in Oradea. Two of the municipalities neighbour the Romanian-Hungarian border and one of them, Borş, has the most travelled border crossing in western Romania. The closest city is Debrecen, in Hungary, 52 km away.

Legal form of cooperation: Currently, the legal form of cooperation is the inter-community development association (ICDA), a quasi-public body with multiple competences. This entity performs mainly planning and coordination functions: strategic planning, writing of funding applications for joint or single municipality projects falling within the general strategy of the ZMO, and project management and auditing.

Together with this body, the development strategy of the Oradea Metropolitan Area involves the creation of ICDAsfor local public utilities (public bodies with single competence) for each of the public utilities services delegated by the member municipalities. Corresponding to each of these ICDAs for local public utilities is a company whose shareholders are the municipalities and the ZMO, and which acquires (or will acquire) the legal status of regional operator for the respective public service. To date, two such ICDAs for local public utilities are operational: ApaRegio (water supply and purification services) and REOSAL (waste management for the rural municipalities). Several other such entities are being prepared, the priorities being local public transport and forest management.

A number of small-scale initiatives were implemented without having to resort to setting up a distinct body, but rather, by a partnership agreement in the framework of a single project. Such is the case of the metropolitan voice-and-data network, which was set up following the approval of EU funding for two projects, totalling EUR1,800,000 (still under implementation). This network connects the offices of the member municipalities with the aim of facilitating information-sharing on public service delivery and hosting an interactive web-based GIS database, which is currently being developed and expanded to include neighbouring Hungarian municipalities as part of the cooperation with the city of Debrecen. This would allow citizens to consult spatial development projects.

Decision-making and staff: Decision-making in all these entities is concentrated in two bodies: the Council of Mayors and the Assembly of Members. Approximately 70 percent of the members of the local councils participate in the Assembly of Members. Operational decisions are made by the Council of Mayors, which meets monthly, while strategic decisions are made by the Assembly of Members. The Assembly also approves the budget, the budget execution and the Association’s annual report.

All entities (ZMO and the local public utilities ICDAs) have their own executive staff. ZMO has ten employees – two legal experts (providing legal counsel, drafting projects for Local Council decisions related to the projects of the ZMO, among others), one expert accountant, economists and project management experts. The projected structure of the ZMO Association includes three units – project management, project implementation, and project auditing and evaluation. To date, only the Project Management Unit is operational; staff for the other two will be hired as new projects obtain funding and start implementation.

The local public utilities ICDAs employ a minimal staff (director, accountant and legal expert), while the regional operators employ all the technical staff (people directly involved in the technical aspects of service provision).


The ZMO is funded from several sources:

  • membership fees paid by the member municipalities: EUR1.25 per year per inhabitant, an amount was established by the Council of Mayors;
  • revenues from grants (administrative expenses included in the budget of the projects managed by ZMO staff);
  • in-kind contributions from the municipality of Oradea (office space and other facilities).

Accountability to citizens, monitoring and evaluation arrangements: Monitoring and evaluation of the ZMO activity is conducted on several levels:

  • internal monitoring, carried out by the staff of the ZMO Association, with special emphasis on auditing;
  • monitoring and evaluation by the member municipalities, through mechanisms established in the ZMO Statute: annual reports that need to be approved by the Assembly of Members;
  • monitoring and evaluation linked to the funding contracts for specific projects (monitoring and evaluation by funding authorities, controls by the fiscal administration or the Public Accounts Office).

By law, municipalities that choose to delegate services are obligated to set up monitoring offices for evaluating the quality and the costs of services provided to citizens. Oradea Municipality is currently setting up such an office; however, there is little possibility that other member municipalities will be able to establish such offices due to prohibitive costs.

By law, in Romania, there are no accountability mechanisms linking the ZMO, the local public utilities ICDAs, or any other ICDA or NGO set up by the municipalities directly to the citizen. Accountability is achieved indirectly, given the high degree of control exerted by the local councils of the member municipalities over the activity of the ZMO and the other legal entities.

Planning, coordination and project management services: TheZMO is providing the planning, coordination and management for all projects or activities aimed at reaching the objectives set out in its own strategic documents: the ZMO Strategic Framework for Sustainable Development 2007–2026, the Territorial Planning Strategy of the ZMO 2007-2020, as well as the ZMO Portfolio of Priority Projects 2007–2013. This basically means that, together with developing and implementing projects and activities under the ZMO umbrella, ZMO staff conduct the same activities on behalf of individual members, without requiring them to pay for them.

Cooperation in the field of water supply and purification facilities has been one of ZMO’s priority joint projects since the creation of this entity, and prior to the enactment of the legal framework for IMC in Romania. At present, ZMO has set up a plan for 2008–2013, which will include several stages:

  • rehabilitation of the city’s water supply and purification facilities, as part of a EUR68 million project funded through the Pre-Accession Instruments in Romania;
  • creation of ApaRegio, local public utilities ICDA, and converting the Oradea Water Company into a regional services operator, also under the ApaRegio name. All municipalities are members of the ApaRegio Association and, together with the ZMO, are shareholders of the ApaRegio company;
  • expansion of these services in the neighbouring municipalities (where such services were lacking).

To this end, a series of small-scale projects developed and implemented by ZMO staff on behalf of some of the member municipalities, within the framework of a governmental programme (No. 7 Ordinance Programme) and the European Fund for Agriculture and Rural Development (EFARD) (Article 3.2.2). These small-scale projects will result in the creation of several segments of the regional water supply and purification network, which will be fully operational and interconnected, and connected to the city’s facilities. Funding for each of these projects was acquired separately on behalf of each municipality involved. ZMO member municipalities were joined in this project by Tinca, a neighbouring municipality that is not a ZMO member.

Cooperation in the field of waste management was formally initiated in 2007 and is limited to the neighbouring rural municipalities. Since waste management services for the city had already been improved, even to the extent of establishing one of the few ecological dumps in western Romania, the REOSAL ICDA for local public utilities, created in 2007, only groups the municipalities together. This Association is focused on setting up joint waste management services in the municipalities through the REOSAL regional operator, a company owned by the municipalities. Funding adding up to UER1,450.00 was obtained for developing these services in the ZMO member municipalities, as well as in the Associate’s member municipalities of Girişu de Criş. Currently, REOSAL is not self-sustainable, since it still needs some time to take over contracts with the citizens due to certain legal matters, But there is widespread expectation that once this transition stage is completed, the company would yield a profit.

Establishment of the IMC practice

Initiation, first steps and phases of the process: The IMC was initiated as early as 2001, but was given a new impetus in May 2005, following a visit made by a Local Councillor from Oradea (Marcel Tarţa, also the first Director of the ZMO) to Brussels, Belgium, and the contact established with the METREX, the Network of European Metropolitan Regions and Areas.

Cooperation was established under the form of NGO (the only available legal form at that time). After the introduction of the ICDA by Romanian law in 2006, the ZMO changed its legal form. Currently, it is an inter-community development association (quasi-public body), with multiple competences. This change of legal form was necessary since the NGO was not legally allowed to take over services from the municipalities or to implement projects involving the use of public property.

After the setting up of the ZMO with the legal status of NGO, two years of activity were solely dedicated to drafting macro-level development plans for the Oradea Metropolitan Area, which extend to 2026. During this period, the following documents were drafted, discussed and approved by the Council of Mayors and the Assembly of Members, and then by the local councils of the member municipalities: the Strategic Framework for Sustainable Development 2007–2026, the Territorial Planning Strategy 2007-2020, andthe Portfolio of Priority Projects 2007–2013. This planning process coincided with the process of recruiting staff for ZMO.

Use of external advice: External expertise was sought during the above-mentioned strategic planning period, especially in the legal field, mostly because, up that point, there had been no legal framework for IMC in Romania. Economic, but not managerial, expertise was also contracted at this stage.

Difficulties and obstacles: The main difficulties at this stage were linked to the lack of legislation in the field, since the legal provisions introduced the ICDA only in 2006. After the introduction of this legislation, problems surfaced due to some of its imperfections and the poor coordination with EC initiatives in IMC.

Main success factors:

  1. Thinking strategically, based on an example: ZMO is not innovative, but rather a combination of lessons learned from the Western European experience of metropolitan areas and regions, and of acknowledging the importance of thinking strategically before acting.
  2. Flexibility is needed in acquiring information: Setting up and running the ZMO project is an ongoing learning process given the constantly changing legal framework and the operational environment.
  3. Innovation is needed in applying legislation in favour of the initiative: At some point it was important to find ways of applying the legal framework in a manner that supports this initiative, especially since it was not always explicit.

Aspects related to cooperation in water supply and purification services, and waste management: The delegation of services from the municipalities to the local public utilities ICDAs was sometimes a difficult process in the case of three of the municipalities, due to their lack of knowledge and information. One local council formally rejected the idea of delegation but then finally accepted it. Once the presentation of the SWOT analysis pointed to the obvious advantages, these difficulties were overcome.

Benefits and shortcoming of the IMC practice


The main direct benefits for the municipalities are: highly qualified personnel with expertise in planning, coordination, project management and fundraising; an integrated development plan that they could have not developed on their own; and setting up of and/or improvement in certain services, all at very low costs.

The main direct benefits for citizens are the development of local infrastructure, the setting up of new public services, and an increase in the value of their properties. Stable medium-term economic development will also create a stable environment that will attract investors, create jobs and improve living standards.

Facts about benefits (data provided by the Executive Director of ZMO):

  • In 2004, the ratio between the cost of land within city limits and the neighbouring municipalities was 4 to 1; now it is 1 to 1.
  • A municipality of 4,000 inhabitants pays an annual membership fee of EUR5,000. This would not be sufficient to pay for one qualified person in project management and for fundraising for one year; at the same time, member municipalities benefit from a EUR68 million water supply and purification project.


Shortcomings for the municipalities:

The ZMO has a lack of personnel. In addition, there is a high turnover of personnel, since the ZMO cannot afford to pay experts at current market rates. This has led to some deficiencies (delayed responses, minor communication problems) in the relationship between the ZMO Association and the member municipalities.

Shortcomings for the citizens:

No significant shortcomings can be identified, since in the rural communities, ZMO actually created services where there were none before. The main shortcoming identified by the citizens would likely be the fact that the newly created services are not free of charge.

Aspects related to cooperation in joint water supply and purification, and joint waste management:

The sector-specific legislation, especially in the field of water supply and purification services, was imperfect and, in some points, actually inapplicable. ZMO successfully lobbied the Central Government and some of these imperfections have been corrected through governmental ordinances.

Future plans for the development of the IMC practice

Areas of cooperation: As mentioned above, the long-term target of ZMO is full delegation of services from the municipalities. This includes the short- and medium-term expansion of cooperation areas, which is focused on joint local public transport and joint forest management. Joint local public transport would be managed through an ICDA, following the model of the waste management and water services presented above. Joint forest management would be directly run via a public company (regie autonomă) and would focus on attracting funds from the EC Fauna programme.

Membership: There are plans to expand the ZMO to include five municipalities from Hungary, which due to geographical proximity (closer to Oradea), would prefer to be included in the ZMO rather than associate themselves with the Hungarian city of Debrecen.

CBC: Plans also include furthering cooperation with the Municipality of Debrecen as part of the European Group for Territorial Cooperation (GECT) Oradea–Debrecen. Planning is at an advanced stage: the Romanian and Hungarian parties are actually preparing joint projects aimed at improving transport infrastructure (roads, fast railway connection, local airports).

Legal form: No change of the legal form of the cooperation is currently envisaged.

Main lessons learned on how to establish IMC and make it a success

Lesson 1: Creating a successful metropolitan area implies cooperation between the city and the neighbouring municipalities based on the criterion of “urban agglomeration”. It is illogical to involve a large number of neighbouring municipalities in the project if they do not have close links with the city. Romanian law allows for municipalities to enter in a metropolitan area if they are up to 30 km from the city. The use of the “urban agglomeration” criterion led to the largest distance between the city and a neighbouring municipality member of the ZMO being 9 km.

Lesson 2: Delegation of services from the municipalities to any form of IMC should be in stages, one service at a time. This would allow for serious planning and smooth operations of the delegated services.

Lesson 3: We are still learning!

Replication of the best practice is possible, but only if local specifics are taken into account. The Central Government can assist in such replication by creating special funding programmes for metropolitan areas, similar to those in other EU states. The national associations of municipalities can assist in dissemination and exchange of best practices, and should do so by inviting representatives of the newly created Federation of Romanian Metropolitan Areas to make presentations during their events.

Readiness to support other municipalities to establish IMC

The representatives of the IMC see themselves as a public entity; all their documents are public and available to those who are interested. They have already provided some assistance to representatives of the Municipalities from Bacău and Piatra Neamţ.


The information about this practice was collected and presented by Cristina Stanus.