Cooperating as a way of pooling services and resources

Sharing means doing things differently

Katia Buoro, Xavier Desjardins, 2012

Administrative unities are often too small and thus too lacking in resources to establish the services that citizens expect. Swimming pools, libraries, bus networks, and waste treatment factories are services that many expect, though it is often not convenient for individual towns to set them up on their own. Faced with this difficulty, many countries have tried to fuse towns together. In the 1960s and 1970s, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy undertook vigorous administrative reforms that result in creating larger municipalities that would be in a position to finance good quality infrastructure and expanded administrative and technical services. But these reforms can be onerous, politically difficult and slow to implement. One alternative to institutional reforms is cooperation between local territories. This solution is a technical response to a political and administrative problem. It seeks to reconcile jurisdictional autonomy while allowing for more effective action.

In France, the first inter-municipal cooperation syndicates, the SIVU (syndicats intercommunaux à vocation unique, or single purpose inter-municipal syndicates) created by the law of 1890, were intended to facilitate the sharing of competencies across municipalities. Cooperation of this kind consisted primarily in establishing networks (transportation, electricity, and so on) or building heavy equipment.

Cooperating to create networks is often seen as a weak form of inter-municipality, in which no serious political stakes are involved. Often, syndicates are quite discreet and rarely seek to have their choices debated. In fact, however, the stakes are far from insignificant. Consider the following question, which could be very complex for a small rural town: should it build a small biochemical water treatment facility or get connected to a larger purification facility? Such questions are economic (how much does each solution cost?), but also environmental. Yet they are rarely debated publicly once towns have joined sewage management syndicates. Behind these technical choices, major political choices have obviously been made: are such services to be managed by public authorities or contracted to private businesses? To what environmental policies are they tied? What will rates be? In short, as is true in the managing of all public services, the stakes are considerable.

Furthermore, pooling equipment necessarily creates solidarity between territories. The examples of funereal and cultural policies (see below) demonstrates that sharing resources like cemeteries or theaters alters the policies that one follows.

Two examples that will be considered in this dossier:

An inter-communal union with the sole vocation of “administering [funeral] deaths” in the Paris region.

When culture is shared, cultural projects are redefined.