“What to do with Brussels” has gained some serious electoral value. Several parties have acknowledged that this topic needs to be addressed in the light of the upcoming communal and regional elections.
This is the first of a series in which we present an analysis of the proposals made by the current political parties (and hopefully the new ones too).
CDH: the 3rd way – where does it lead?
CdH, characteristically, begins with dividing the field into “Status Quo” on one side and “Clean Slate” on the other, emphasizing that they do not support either of these extremes, but choose to walk the middle way.
Merging the communes has no place in this middle way. Firstly, because the commune has an important role in terms of proximity, especially for functions such as child care, education, culture, sports etc. But more importantly, merging communes and end up with 12 or 10 or 6 only enlarges the competition between (fewer but bigger) communes and the Region.
We agree with the first statement. The commune is important. We do however fail to why they would need a full government to take care of functions mentioned above (in fact, cdH later on proposes merging such functions over communal borders, so we are not sure where they want to go with this statement).
We even more strongly agree with the second: the last thing we want is 12 communes. Or 6. We want 19. But only ONE government. And of course, the Region must be included in this redesign. Why else go through the pain of a redesign in the first place.
We’ll be honest: the paragraph above summerizes our position towards this 3rd Way: it has valid points, but cannot convince us. What is worse: after reading the proposal, we were left with an image of lasagna. A slightly different lasagna, but lasagna nonetheless.
What follows is a summary – and commentary – of their original text, which can be found here.
Gouvernance et efficacité: vers une nouvelle dynamique bruxelloise
The tagline roughly translates into: Governance and competence – towards a new Brussels’ aptitude.
But what does it mean?
The proposal is centered around 5 principles:
- Redution and simplification
- Strengthen the Francophone alliance
Reduction and simplification
With this, cdH means reduction and simplification of the public administration, which – in their words – leads to a reduction of public cost and a higher efficiency of service. They divide this principle into a reduction of the number of elected representatives on local level (30%) and on regional level (absolute numbers), and the reduction of the number of public agencies and administrations.
At first sight, this looks like a great opener. We’ll talk about the reduction of public structures in a bit, but we can be very short about the reduction of representatives: This is not what it seems. In fact, it is nothing more than an dummy package.
30% reduction of representatives: a genuine simplification or a zero-sum game
The proposed 30% is not arbitrary. In fact, this number is chosen in the light of the famous “decumul” (which essentially means that locally elected persons shall no longer combine this with a regional seat as well. Currently, this is common practice: a lot of mayors, aldermen and local council representatives have a seat in the regional parliament).
It works as follows:
If everyone abstains from cumulation, then there will be a higher number of distinct representatives, which means a higher total cost. In order to correct for this higher total cost, the number of representatives has to drop.
In other words: the rationale here is not to have a reduction of representatives because right now, there are too many and we can do with less. The rationale is nothing more than a zero-sum game: reduce the number of representatives to correct for the rise in cost that a “decumul” would entail.
Even though we strongly support simplification, this reasoning makes us very suspicious. Very. Because what happens when this “decumul” does not happen? Will cdH then still support a 30% reduction? Or lower it to 10%? This position has too many open ends to be trustworthy.
Simplify the institutional landscape
CdH starts of with a call for an extensive audit to map all Brussels public structures, ranging from government to intercommunals to non-profits, and merge them in case of overlap in capabilities and/or missions, or fully reintegrate them in the governmental administrative structure in case they are 100% (or nearly 100%) publicly funded.
We support this. But this is not a proposal for better governance. In our view, this is a proposal for eradication of mismanagement, and for us, this is a prerequisite. A sine qua non. The Brussels institutional landscape is obscure by design. The several intercommunals and non-profits do not exactly have a track record in transparancy, and in some cases their existence is justified only by partisan self-serving power consolidation, or language law avoidance.
The text continues with a few other proposals for merging services and management capabilities across the municipal boundaries, which we gladly support. But merging across municipal boundaries is the exact opposite of a justification for the existence of 19 separate autonomous administrations.
The next principle is Convergence.
The idea here is to develop a collective roadmap and apply this to all layers of governance, modeled after the EU-2020 (an economic middle-long term plan, spanning 10 years). Each of the communes would then have to commit to this plan, and execute it within the context of their capabilities.
This roadmap should have quantifyable goals, supervised by a new independent “Brussels Plan Buro”.
Apart from the immediate Soviet ring it has to it, we think this does address one of the problems the current Brussels governance. Each commune has the same capabilities. Each commune can execute their own roadmaps autonomously without caring about their neighbours. So we definitely support aligning.
But who in this plan decides the “collective roadmap”? And if this collective roadmap is binding, why is autonomy on communal level still needed? And who is this independent “Brussels Plan Buro”?
But it doesn’t stop here.
To guard the convergence of this roadmap, there should be a Convergence Committee, comprised of all levels of executive power: federal, the 2 language communities, representives of all 19 communes, chaired by the Region. This Convergence Committee can break up into task forces, depending on the topic.
Finally, there should be a Commune Committee, comprised of regional ministers and the 19 communes. This Committee has a more executive nature. It creates initiatives and action plans.
We fail to see how 19 full administrations + Commune Committee + Commune Committee task forces + Convergence Committee + Regional Government is an improvement of the current situation.
We merely suspect that the introduction of these Committees nicely offsets the loss of positions in merging the services and management capabilities on communal level, leaving us with yet another zero-sum game.
Especially because the next paragraph in the original text proposes to strengthen the Region by shifting capabilities such as mobility, parking, taxes, urban planning and big infrastructure from the level of the commune to the Region.
All we read here is one big argument for combining the strategical decision making and collective topics on the level of the Region (of which we are strongly in favor), while reducing the communal work to execution (of which we are strongly in favor), while maintaining the position that communes need a fully fledged administration, including autonomous decision making. And that, we don’t understand. It makes no sense other than in a context where the goal is not really to simplify, but to create the illusion of simplification while trying to not upset the current order.
The next principle is citizens participation in the decision making processes. Unfortunately, this paragraph gets very little attention and is not very clear on how, why and in which capacity this participations should take place, other than a “needs-based” implementation of this principle in all layers of the administration.
We are very much in favor of citizen participation, so we would really like to know more details here, because “needs-based” can easily be misused as a political menu à la carte, whereas we think it should be an integral part of the democratic fabric.
Strengthen the Francophone alliance
We get it: they’re a Francophone party. But we’re growing a little tired of the “Brussels is primarily Francophone” mantra. So, we will not discuss this further.
The 3rd way, for us, is merely a zero-sum game, the next in a long row of blueprints for obvious complications and future derailment. A compromise that shifts positions around, trying to keep current politicians happy, but at the end of the day does not really bring simplification. It seems as if cdH wants to have it both ways: innovation while keeping the status quo. And this form of self-delusion is what we don’t tolerate anymore.
They do however include a few proposals that we consider truly valuable. These proposals are not of a structural nature though; they are more like rules of engagement; a Code of Conduct. We want to list them separately, because it’s only fair to end on a positive note:
No more “placeholders” on electoral lists:
A very common strategies used by all the current political parties: Put a big name on both the communal and regional list, attract a lot of votes, and then let one of the seats (usually the communal one) to someone else on the list. An understandable strategy, but not democratic.
No prevalence based on list order:
Another common strategy that cdH wants to see gone: The top names on the list get the seats, even when their vote count is lower than names closer to the bottom. The most extreme case here is the “pusher”, usually a Really Big Name With No Intention To Grab The Seat But Solely There To Attract Votes, who is placed on the very bottom of the list.
No more separate entities for non-profits that have their main funding from public finances:
Setting up non-profits is the number one strategy used for partisan power consolidation and avoiding Belgium’s language law. Untangling this knot can only be welcomed!
No payment for mayors and aldermen residing in boards of such entities:
Of course. If residing in a board of directors is Important for your Job, then it simply is Part of your Job.
De-politicization of the public administration by transparent recruitment processes, done by independent jurys, both for fonctionnaires and external parties:
Another partisan power consolidation technique that we really need to get rid of.
Publication of all decisions, acts, opinions and studies made by governmental bodies:
Obviously. It is an absolute disgrace that even Transparencia has a hard time collecting this information.