Flanders subdivided into 15 districts after approval of 'historic' decree

The Flemish Parliament has approved a decree that divides Flanders into 15 districts as part of an "internal Flemish state reform". This reform aims to counteract administrative fragmentation, which has created a "complicated spaghetti" of inter-municipal partnerships and supra-local cooperations over the years.

With a clear division into 15 districts, the new system intends to do away with the jumble of local collaborations, agreements and partnerships in areas such as waste collection, water distribution, mobility and police zones. From now on, municipalities will no longer set up their own collaborations across regional boundaries. The districts, on the other hand, can establish partnerships with each other.

Over the decades, countless local partnerships and inter-municipal companies were set up throughout Flanders. Altogether, these cooperations led to "a jumble" of at least 2,229 cooperation agreements across 300 municipalities and five provinces. "Behind every one of these partnerships was logic and specific reasoning, but the lack of a structural framework led to a tangle", Flemish minister for Domestic Administration Bart Somers explains in a press release. "The most recent study in 2012 showed that just 33 municipalities had more than 100 partnerships between them, and the average Flemish municipality had 68."

"Today, we reached an 'internal state reform' to end this and permanently strengthen local governments. The choice is clear: fewer structures, fewer mandates, more transparency, efficiency and local strength", Somers concludes.

In early 2021, the Flemish Government had already agreed to divide Flanders into 17 so-called "reference regions", but an agreement on how to divide the Limburg province had not yet been reached. The government has now decided to keep the province together as one large district, mainly because several well-established partnerships already exist at the provincial level. As a result, Flanders will now be subdivided into 15 instead of 17 districts.

"We are not creating a new layer of government – there are no new elections or additional structures. What we do offer are more transparency and better democratic legitimacy."

For any new cooperation being set up, the new district boundaries will go into effect from Spring 2023 onwards. Existing structures will have until the end of 2030 to reorganise.

With its federal government, three regional governments, three language communities, ten provinces and several hundred municipalities, Belgium is already known for its many different layers of government and complex political structures. With the new districts, however, Somers says Flanders is "not creating a new layer of government – there are no new elections or additional structures. What we do offer are more transparency and better democratic legitimacy. Complex societal challenges can be tackled better with these districts. It is an immense efficiency exercise that allows local authorities to work together better."

In the past, the Flemish government has repeatedly attempted to reduce fragmentation by merging municipalities into larger ones. These efforts, however, have often been met with strong resistance from local authorities.




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