Inter-municipal cooperation caught between public and private, between government and undertaking: towards a future-proof legal framework

Cities can work together to provide local public services. But these ‘inter-municipal cooperations’ face major legal challenges: e.g. questions arise about their lack of democratic legitimacy and their preferential treatment (e.g. tax exemptions) vis-à-vis private companies pursuing the same activities. In the past, these forms of extended local government often involved loss-making activities like water distribution. Since the 1980s (European free market) they have evolved into economic and even competitive market players (e.g. in the energy, tech and health sector). This paper summarizes the conclusions of my doctoral research. The questions are answered 1) whether such market-oriented/competitive objectives still belong to the essence of local government, 2) what legal problems these activities cause, 3) and whether remedial legislative intervention is possible. Inter-municipal cooperation in Belgium is the starting point followed by comparative legal research with the Netherlands.