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Less local representatives in Brussels? Scenarios and impact

Notes de la rédaction

This is the press release related to the article from Emilie van Haute, Kris Deschouwer, Thibault Gaudin, Rudi Janssens, Dimokritos Kavadias, Ann Mares, Jean-Benoit Pilet, Vivien Sierens and Aurélie Tibbaut, published on October 8, 2018

In 2017, Rudi Vervoort, minister-president of the Brussels-Capital Region, suggested reducing the number of municipal councillors and deputy mayors, within the existing institutional framework (without changing the competences or the number of municipalities). For him, this was probably a response to two observations. Firstly, the comparison of the number of representatives in Brussels with those in other cities, which are both a capital city and a region within a federation (such as Vienna and Berlin), shows that the number of representatives in Brussels is relatively high, in particular if we consider the executive mandates (ministers, secretaries of state, mayors, deputy mayors, etc.). Secondly, as the current legislation links the number of representatives to the municipal population, and as Brussels has experienced significant population growth for many years, the number of municipal councillors in the nineteen municipalities of Brussels is rising. Since the municipal elections in 2012, there are 685. There were 653 in 2000. The total number of deputy mayors is also following this upward trend, rising from 132 in 2000 to 141 in 2018.

The operation to decrease the number of representatives is, however, more than a simple question of figures. The number of seats available in the elections has direct consequences, in particular on the number of seats which can be attributed to each list, and therefore on the composition of these lists, the chances for specific groups to participate in the elections, and on the way in which representatives may carry out their duties. A technical question therefore soon becomes a political and even democratic issue.

In order to document these thoughts, within the framework of the elaboration of a Brussels Code of Local Democracy, the regional government ordered a study to be conducted by an interuniversity team aimed at analysing the foreseeable consequences of a decrease in the number of local elected representatives. The 128th issue of Brussels Studies summarises the main results. Emilie van Haute (Université libre de Bruxelles), Kris Deschouwer (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and their colleagues discuss in detail the possible effect of three scenarios on ideological diversity, the workload, the formation of coalitions, gender balances and the situation of Flemish elected representatives: a reduction in the number of councillors and deputy mayors by 10, 20 and 30 %. These are of course arbitrary scenarios, but they do, however, have the virtue of highlighting the foreseeable effects of a decrease in the number of municipal representatives.

It becomes clear immediately that a decrease in the number of councillors and deputy mayors would not be a politically neutral operation.

The researchers observe first of all that the impact would be very significant on the small political factions of municipal councils. If they were further reduced, the workload would have to be divided between an even smaller number of councillors. Furthermore, the decrease in the number of councillors would affect the Flemish representatives in particular. Their number would be lower in all of the scenarios and, in certain municipalities, would amount to only one or none at all. The very small number of lists, which would disappear from the municipal councils, are almost all unilingual Flemish lists. The Flemish would also be affected during the composition of the municipal executives for small municipalities. In the municipalities with only one Flemish representative, there is a lower chance that he or she would be included in the executive, and in those with no Flemish representative, the mechanism of additional deputy mayors can no longer be used.

A decrease in the number of councillors would have no impact on gender balances among municipal councillors. But visible effects should be expected as regards the municipal executives. Women are already strongly under-represented and, in the small executives, they would likely have more difficulty to obtain a place.

All of this shows that in the context of Brussels, the institutions (closely mixing municipalities, region, community commissions and communities) are the result of a subtle and complex compromise whose inner workings are all interrelated. The most recent illustration of this situation is the effort to limit the plurality of municipal and regional offices. This has led to an opposition between French- and Dutch-speakers and to a conflict of interests up to Flemish parliament level. As regards the question as to whether a “simple” decrease in the number of councillors and deputy mayors is easier to carry out than other measures related to representatives, the answer is therefore negative of course. However, this is not a good enough reason not to forge ahead by exploring all avenues. But does this include the modification of the number and delimitation of Brussels municipalities?

References
Emilie van Haute, Kris Deschouwer, Thibault Gaudin, Rudi Janssens, Dimokritos Kavadias, Ann Mares, Jean-Benoit Pilet, Vivien Sierens and Aurélie Tibbaut, “Less local representatives in Brussels? Scenarios and impact”, Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, No 128, 08 October 2018. URL: https://journals.openedition.org/brussels/1913
Contact
Benjamin Wayens, Senior Editor: bwayens[at]brusselsstudies.be

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