De bestuurskracht van de Belgische gemeente

  • Rudolf Maes


It is a striking point that, in the general context of the municipal administration's reform, this administration itself is never brought into discredit. When criticisms are formulated, they concern the fact that not all municipalities are able to offer their inhabitants the services which they normally may expect, as well for their immediate human development as for the adapted extension of the material infrastructure and of their vital environment. This normally raises the question of the municipalities' administrative power.
The factors which determine that power can be considered in direct or indirect connection with the number of inhabitants.
In the first place, the population has to be sufficiently differentiated to enable the conception of a development-policy that comes up to the requirements of the present society. One may assume that in municipalities with 2.000 inhabitants, which perform a centre-function or are located near a town-centre, the possibility exists to elect a properly composed common council. For rural municipalities the number
of inhabitants must undoubtedly be higher. Moreover, the municipality should have the disposal of specialised personnel to help the municipal authorities with the conception and practice of their policy. In
Belgium a municipal secretary cannot do bis work properly if the municipality does not count 2.500 to 3.000 inhabitants.
In the second place, administrative power is determined by available finances. Calculations have been made per category of municipalities, based on disposable data concerning 196.5 and 1966.
As far as the extraordinary accounts are concerned, which essentially refer to investment expenses, it is relevant to note that the average figures per inhabitant are equally high in municipalities with less than
1.000 and with 10.000 inhabitants. But, taking into account the cost of planned infrastructure-works, it is a fact that only from 10.000 inhabitants on a municipality has the disposal of sufficient finances to perform
a development-policy.
The figures concerning ordinary accounts, which refer to operation- and administrative costs, show that a municipality with less than 1.000 inhabitants - although offering less services - has to spend more per
inhabitant than a municipality with 5.000 to 10.000 inhabitants. lts fiscal charge is also higher than that of a municipality belonging to the latter category.
The figures clearly show the disadvantage of smaller municipalities.
In that context one should not forget that practically 63 to 70 % of ordinary expenses concern the actual operations and municipal debts.

Seen in proportional relations, small municipalities have but little means to take care of policy-tasks.
To be complete «municipality with administrative power» also means «municipality with a democratic function». As a matter of fact, administrative power is not exclusively determined by sufficient financial
resources or by a minimum of differentiation of the inhabitants. Generally speaking one can assume in this context that the geographical size of the territory does not normally hamper the functioning of a
local democracy. More attention however should be given to the question if that functioning is not rather hindered by the number of inhabitants, when a certain population-maximum is exceeded. lt appears
indeed that local authorities have less appeal in urbanised municipalities or as soon as a population-number of 20.000 to 30.000 inhabitants is reached. For that reason, attempts should be made in bigger municipalities to stimulate the population's participation in policy-matters.
Activities with a definitively technical character, need a wider approach. So it seems more advisable to work on the basis of regions, rather than on the basis of large municipalities.
Taking into account the big number of small municipalities, one can state as a conclusion that the municipal elections miss a great part of their signification in the majority of Belgian municipalities. Practically two thirds of them have no possibility to perform an adapted policy.
Changing the constitution of those who are responsible for that policy cannot give much of a result as there are no material means to realize a modern policy with administrative power.

How to Cite:

Maes, R., (1970) “De bestuurskracht van de Belgische gemeente”, Res Publica 12(3), p.427-456. doi:

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Published on
29 Sep 1970
Peer Reviewed