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Antwerp is the biggest municipality in Flanders and it should become even bigger if the merger goes trough

Flemish municipalities get money for mergers

Flemish municipalities get money for mergers

The regional authorities are offering to take on municipal debts to help with the process

Many municipalities in the Belgian region of Flanders are going ahead with mergers in an effort to streamline and lighten administrative costs. Since December of 2021, many small regional authorities have started to announce merger deals with their neighbours or have started negotiations for such.

Bundling up smaller municipalities into more manageable units

Some have even proposed referendums to gauge the public’s perception on which neighbouring municipality they should merge with. This, however, is not a very popular measure, as many people prefer smaller government structures, which provide more accountability and can address the specific character of an area.

Nevertheless, the Flemish government is pushing hard on the mergers by offering to take on the merged municipalities' public debt. Currently, there are around 300 municipalities in Flanders, of varying sizes. Bundling them up would simplify and streamline local administration, as well as give the municipalities more resources to implement more ambitious climate policies.

Furthermore, the Flemish government incentivises bigger mergers, meaning – the more inhabitants the new municipality has, the more debt the regional government will take on. At the same time, the regional authorities' approach is quite soft, only providing financial incentives for the authorities, while giving the chance to them to sort the rest out.

However, they might decide to take a more heavy-handed approach, similar to a Danish policy in 2007 which reduced the country's 271 municipalities to 98.  

Here is the debt-relief scheme at a glance:

  • 200 euros per inhabitant if the newly merged municipality has between 20,000 and 25,000 inhabitants;
  • 300 euros per inhabitant if the newly merged municipality has between 25,000 and 30,000 inhabitants;
  • 400 euros per inhabitant if the newly merged municipality has between 30,000 and 35,000 inhabitants;
  • 500 euros per inhabitant as the newly merged municipality with more than 35,000 inhabitants.

All the municipalities in Flanders that have announced mergers

Many municipalities have already announced mergers, which should take effect by December 2025. One of the larger ones is between Mechelen and Boortmeerbeek, which is supposed to have 100,000 inhabitants, making it among the top 5 largest in Flanders. Although they announced their intention, as well as the start of negotiations in April, authorities have said that the decision will not be finalised until 2023.

Another notable case is between the municipality of Borsbeek and the city of Antwerp by the year 2025. While negations will not be finalised in 2023, both sides treat the move as a fait accompli, with Antwerp Mayor Bart Albert De Wever, going as far as saying that this is a historic step and promising Borsbeek residents that their district will retain its unique character.

The move would beef up Antwerp with an additional 11,000 people and expand its municipal borders for the first time since 1983.

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