Solidarity and/or competition between municipalities in the same agglomeration

Synthesis of the exchanges of the 2005 session, Toulouse

Claire Lanly, 2005

In Toulouse in June 2005, the meeting of the platform addressed the general problem of the political governance of agglomerations and metropolitan territories that extend beyond their borders in four sequences.

The first sequence}} focused on the question of solidarity and/or internal competition between communes of the same intercommunality. This is illustrated by the example of the rapid implementation of the AéroConstellation development project to accommodate the manufacturing and assembly site of the new Airbus aircraft, recognized as strategic by all the actors, and located in the organized part of the metropolitan territory within the Greater Toulouse Agglomeration Community. Through this example, the difficult question of the distribution of political responsibilities, but also of the revenues and costs induced by the housing areas created in parallel with the industrial project, is also addressed in the institutional and financial inter-municipal system created by the Chevènement law (1999) in France.

The second sequence was devoted to planning exercises in France and in Quebec, on territories beyond the agglomerations, which could be described as life basins. Thus, the « interSCoT » approach of the Toulouse metropolis was presented, in more or less constructive dialogue with existing or emerging inter-municipal institutions, as was that of the Schéma de cohérence territoriale (SCoT) of Greater Besançon, prompted by the arrival of the TGV outside the central urban area, and that of the Montreal Metropolitan Community, based on questions and advances on the functioning of the metropolitan public transportation network.

The third phase focused on the capacity to develop cooperation in terms of solidarity with populations in difficulty or simply with modest means through the distribution of subsidized housing (rental or ownership), by analyzing the phenomena at different geographic scales - city center, agglomeration, and living areas - using the examples of Toulouse and Rennes.

The fourth section looked at the practices of involving civil society in agglomeration discussions and projects in France, practices that were developed for a time within the framework of « development councils » following the Voynet law (also in 1999), as well as in the Walloon region in various forms, such as citizens’ panels, communal consultative councils, or consultative commissions for land use planning (CCATs) at the communal level1. She also looked at the use of the popular initiative referendum in the particular context created by the canton of Fribourg, in Switzerland, which has promoted collaboration between territories through legislation.

Solidarity and competition in agglomeration institutions

The presentations in the first segment highlighted how the AéroConstellation project, an industrial site project to assemble the Airbus A380, has brought together all the public partners in a multi-level cooperation (State, region, department, Greater Toulouse agglomeration community - CAGT) due to the expected economic and fiscal benefits. It required support in terms of the creation of residential and tertiary zones nearby. The CAGT has committed itself to significant investments, which are rapidly amortized, given the flow of professional tax (TP) brought by the industrial project. In a sense, it can be said that the project has « created » the CAGT.

Local taxation in France is largely based on the TP; since the 1999 reform of intercommunality, known as the Chevènement law, it has been collected at the level of the agglomeration community by the so-called single professional tax (TPU); this system is the result of a long maturation since the 1970s, when the strategies of the communes in terms of TP were highlighted in order to attract industrial investments to their territory, to the detriment of the dynamics of financial solidarity necessary to finance agglomeration facilities. Paradoxically, this outcome comes at a time when the TP, strongly criticized for its perverse effects at the macroeconomic level, is being phased out and replaced by a tax based on the company’s real estate base and its added value. The debate is now shifting to the question of redistributing a portion of this local business tax to the communes to cover their expenses; in this case, the expenses created by the arrival of new inhabitants with service requirements in the communes of the northwest of the Toulouse conurbation. A law passed in 2004 opened up the possibility of funds for assistance between the member municipalities and the agglomeration community.

Thus Joseph Carles, Professor at the IEP of Toulouse and also President of the SEM Constellation, expresses himself on the subject of inter-communal cooperation in the French style: «  a bastard device between the institutional enlargement of the communes through the election of councillors by universal suffrage, which would consecrate the disappearance of the communes, and an attempt to rationalize the management of the territories with regard to the relevant size of the latter ". He pleads for institutionalized cooperation to be accompanied by the possibility of complementary conventional approaches facilitating the implementation of multi-communal but infra-communal projects.

Planning on a metropolitan scale

The following sequence highlighted the interest of planning approaches in terms of learning about multilevel, vertical and horizontal cooperation, which is weakly or not at all institutionalized in France, but also the limits of these exercises.

One element common to the two French cases presented is an important, exogenous project, providing the ferment of development necessary for the constitution of a shared vision between local institutions: the A380 project already presented for the Toulouse region, which led to a dynamic of vertical cooperation between actors (State, Department, CAGT) and also federated the existing intermunicipal structures ; the arrival of the TGV outside the Greater Besançon Agglomeration Community prompting the latter, in agreement with the local State, to enlarge the study perimeter of the SCoT and to discuss with the peripheral communities.

In the case of Montreal, in parallel with the creation of a new institution, the Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC), the financial withdrawal of the province of Quebec from the financing of metropolitan public transport may also have had an impact in forcing the solidarity of the catchment area, at least on this question of the assumption of the transport operating deficit (see notes 2 and 3).

However, beyond the initial impetus, tensions quickly arose in the absence of an uncontested leadership.

In Toulouse, the initiative for an « interSCoT » approach between planning territories with different contours from the various inter-municipal cooperation structures4 of the metropolitan area was, for a time, strongly supported by the State representative ; The latter has not been able to ensure continuity at the same level of commitment and has not found a relay, or has even come up against the opposition of certain institutions at the intermediate level (Region, Department of Haute-Garonne) or inter-municipal level (Community of the agglomeration of Murétain, which rejects any centralized vision of Toulouse, including the study process carried out by the urban planning agency). However, a star-shaped recomposition scheme, with development orientations attributing metropolitan economic functions to each of the major sectors, seems to be able to achieve consensus among the actors of the Toulouse urban area. Agreements between distinct SCoT territories are therefore possible. It was not envisaged to go beyond the administrative boundaries of the department, however.

The planning territory of the Greater Besançon SCoT covers 118 municipalities, with the Communauté d’agglomération (CAGB) accounting for two-thirds of the population and some other municipalities being grouped in five communities of municipalities peripheral to the CAGB. Despite an iterative approach since the Master Plan was adopted in 2002, dealing successively with transportation and housing, there is still (in 2005) a great deal of difficulty in identifying common territorial issues, which are nonetheless well identified by the studies: coherence of the public transportation system (streetcar, TER, Bus) and park-and-ride facilities in connection with the new TGV station, control of urban sprawl, economic development, and cooperation in the promotion of tourism in the area, all with a shared system for observing changes in the area.

On the Montreal side, the perimeter of the CMM is a compromise between the « census metropolitan area », corresponding to the life basin, and elements of political expediency. It brings together municipalities that have been merged into agglomerations and municipalities that have been grouped into Regional County Municipalities (RCMs). The Mayor of Montreal is ex officio president of the CMM, which has a council of 28 members delegated by the municipalities.

The planning exercise, which falls within the competence of the community, is in its infancy in 2005 and, spatially, is based essentially on a provincial law for the protection of agricultural space that offers tax incentives to farmers and places any changes in land use under the control of a judicial commission. Competition between communes (or MRCs) in peri-urban areas is based on the development of urbanization, with local taxation based on land exacerbating the competition. The departments are refining their retrospective analyses of development, which has focused on the motorway interchanges where shopping centers have been established. Their prospective analyses highlight the availability of sufficient land for activity in the fairly distant future. However, they point out the inadequacy of public transport access to these sectors of activity, which is a challenge for the future.

Territorial scales, political networking and solidarity issues in housing

This theme is illustrated by two French examples of rapidly developing regional metropolises.

On the one hand, we note the difficulty of catching up on the construction of social housing in the Greater Toulouse Agglomeration Community (CAGT), a central part of the metropolitan territory. The Local Housing Program (PLH) adopted by the CAGT enshrines this principle of catching up, but without giving itself sufficient means in a context where the land references are given by «  the framework working in aeronautics ", and where there is no tradition of land anticipation. Actions to finance land for social housing are therefore carried out on an ad hoc basis, using the fund made up of the penalties owed by the municipalities for failure to comply with the 20% social housing threshold instituted by the Solidarity and Urban Renewal Act (SRU), adopted in 2000.) Nevertheless, it is planned to move towards a more systematic policy of obliging the construction of social housing by using the constraint in the regulations of the Local Urban Plans (PLU). In the framework of the CAGT, the city of Toulouse, a large central municipality due to past mergers, remains a singular case. Although it is obliged to develop social housing, it also concentrates large housing estates, particularly in the large Mirail district. It devotes significant funding to urban renewal, without any financial contribution from the CAGT, and therefore without benefiting from the solidarity of the peripheral municipalities. Most of the housing facilities are also located on its territory. Nevertheless, the peripheral municipalities contribute in part to the reconstruction of the demolished supply, as does the SICOVAL, within the framework of a contract signed with the State, while attempting to reach the 20% threshold for social housing.

Beyond this central core of the agglomeration, which does not exhaust the subject of the location of social housing at the metropolitan level, as the regional representative of social housing operators points out, the situation is even more a matter of communal egoism, even if there are inter-communal Local Housing Programs (PLH): In these peripheral areas, the decoupling of housing policies and land law is total, with communal PLUs imposing no obligation to create social housing ; where, in spite of everything, social housing is created, there is a great temptation to allocate it in priority to households in the intermediate social category who cannot find housing in the private sector or access to property due to the cost of land, to the detriment of the most disadvantaged populations.

In the Rennes conurbation and beyond, in the Pays de Rennes system, which is more organized than that of the Toulouse region, we are also witnessing phenomena of spatial specialization, despite a long tradition of cooperation and anticipatory land-use planning in the central city, which has become large after the mergers of communes, and in the central zone, which was constituted very early on as a «  district ": families and young households migrate to the distant peripheries, where land is affordable, because of mobility that is greatly facilitated by road infrastructures. Conversely, the most precarious populations stagnate in social housing, concentrated in the central zone, particularly in the city center, without being able to envisage mobility towards home ownership in the central zone because of land prices. As a result, social housing is still quantitatively insufficient and concentrated in large housing complexes, with the problems that this generates, even with a significant effort to produce new housing.

In this context, the Rennes agglomeration has adopted a community PLH with an ambitious objective of building subsidized housing (social rental and home ownership) by mobilizing significant community financial resources to achieve it. Jean-Yves Chapuis, vice-president of the Community, advocates a mixed tax system: it should be possible to increase the Community’s resources (which are currently based on the TPU) through additional taxation, in particular to better support the communes in the central zone that accept a development well coordinated with the public transport network.

The following debate highlights the absence of political debate on solidarity within territories, as well as on the question of density in the central zone of urban areas. The territories experienced (where people work, live, consume, access leisure and culture) are of very variable geometry (multiplying inhabitants depending on the area of life) but always distinct from the political network, which remains centred on the commune, the place of the best-identified election, in France as in the other developed countries represented.

The communal fact remains very strong and is reflected in places where citizens meet and socialize (sports clubs, for example). As a corollary, we can observe that communes are functioning more and more like « clubs » where entrance fees are limited, a fact that is aggravated in France by the small size of the communes on the urban periphery. This thesis is developed by Marie-Christine Jaillet, scientific organizer of the Toulouse platform. Doesn’t the absence of debate reflect the (unacknowledged) desire for a segregated city, contrary to the general discourse on social diversity? However, a Swiss speaker pointed out that there is at least a national debate in France on this issue, unlike in other countries where the debate is now totally absent.

Citizen debate / association of civil society ?

In France, the Voynet law (1999) commits agglomerations and countries to set up Development Councils, representative of civil society. The representatives of the development councils of the agglomerations of Pau and La Rochelle emphasize the interest of an approach that involves a third actor with a more transversal vision than the one that results from the one-on-one meeting of sectoral elected officials (also from a member municipality, and therefore the bearer of its interests) and their referring technical services. These councils are also independent of representative systems, which allows them to « go beyond territorial limits ».

In order for their reflections to go beyond restricted circles, the two presidents of the development councils present emphasized the need to have means of communication to make citizens react and express themselves more widely.

The Greater Lyon Development Council is recognized for the quality of its points of view and proposals, based on an organization that makes extensive use of contributions, which are then widely debated.

In the Walloon region of Belgium, initiatives to involve civil society are mainly at the municipal level (see note 1), whether they involve « debating policies and projects » or co-production, or even support for residents’ projects; the same is true of certain institutionalized mechanisms such as the Consultative Commissions on Land Use Planning (CCAT). Gathering « living forces » of the territory, they are provided for by law and must give an opinion in the framework of the elaboration of urban planning documents and are consulted on any planned derogation to an urban plan.

On a larger scale, during the preparation of the sectoral plan for Walloon Brabant, the « citizens’ panel » technique was tested, usually reserved for ethical or societal issues.

In Switzerland, a Tripartite Conference of Agglomerations (CTA) was created, bringing together the confederation, the cantons and the municipalities. In 2004, the CTA unanimously adopted recommendations on collaboration in agglomerations, which allow for a great deal of flexibility in terms of organization and the objects of cooperation or policy coordination. The federal government does, however, provide financial support for model cooperation projects.

In 1995, the canton of Fribourg adopted cantonal legislation to promote the creation of agglomerations based on proposals from citizens: a referendum on a popular initiative (10% of signatures from voters in the areas concerned) was the catalyst for the creation of the Fribourg agglomeration based on five municipalities. The State Council has proposed extending this to ten municipalities. The constituent process has been slow to take hold, as the population seems to be much more open than the elected representatives. Nevertheless, the prospect of federal funding, following the recommendations of the CTA, has given it new impetus.

These different experiences of participatory democracy, which complement representative democracy, have in common the ability to question elected officials upstream of decisions, to help them to get out of the sectoral logics in which technical services can confine them, and even to educate them in a world that is becoming more complex; in a word, to « over-legitimize » them. The experiences of development councils in French urban areas thus raise questions about the modes of relationship that these councils maintain with elected officials, starting with the mode of appointment of councillors. But can there be citizen involvement without it being organized by a political leader? Rather than a method of co-production of the decision, the association of citizens appears more like a system for defusing conflicts. And which citizens are we talking about? Those who vote (in Geneva, for example, 38% are foreigners)? Those who participate? There is a risk of considering citizens as a homogeneous group, whereas they are in turn citizens - of a commune -, users, workers, or even elected officials.

The involvement of citizens, in a case such as that of Fribourg, nevertheless brings another dynamic, by stimulating elected officials to think outside the box. But the slow construction of the Freiburg agglomeration also offers another example of an institutional structure that has barely been created and is already outdated.

Intercommunity: solidarity or competition?

What emerges first of all from the Toulouse platform is the absence of a stabilized system on a territory : arrangements dominate on stages of variable geometry, in an integration that is as much vertical, between different levels of institutions, as it is horizontal and intermunicipal. In Toulouse, the platform, like the functioning of the Toulouse conurbation, puts down a « rationalizing » vision of the agglomeration that does not stand up well to the period of rapid change that we are experiencing.

In such a context, projects linked to the globalized economy (such as AéroConstellation) are federating elements that can, nevertheless, be extended by more strategic reflections. Long-standing habits of inter-institutional cooperation are also often conducive to development. What about territories in decline? Paradoxically, they can be a breeding ground for more structured approaches to territorial projects.

In any case, whatever the systems of inter-institutional arrangements that take shape, we always come up against the absence of solidarity, even in apparently virtuous systems: the processes of exclusion are rather at work through a combination of the cost of land in central (or attractive) areas, the development of mobility, and the creation of pockets of relegated territories whose (European, global) competition between territories only exacerbates their disqualification.

There are, however, ways of pooling the benefits of projects (land anticipation policies, recovery of capital gains and, of course, taxation), ways that are increasingly forgotten in highly fragmented public policies. Starting from an analysis of territories by values (land, housing) and mobility, by identifying the new centralities that have emerged, would nevertheless offer the keys to organizing their governance.

Faced with global economic developments that amplify competition between territories, their mode of government can obviously only be multipolar, combining « vertical » and « horizontal » alliances. Who can then manage these processes of impulse and then of permanent adjustments (alliances, fragmentation, coalition of interests, etc.)?


[#note#] It should be recalled that in Belgium the current communes are the result of mergers that took place in 1977 following a 1975 reform. The average population of the communes increased from 4136 to 16565 inhabitants, but with significant differences between the three regions (Walloon, Flemish and Brussels-Capital).

[#note 2] A movement to bring communes together that was likely to be dismembered with the political alternation in Quebec (opinion expressed in Toulouse in 2005), which did not happen (May 2009)

[#note 3] A new presentation of planning within the MWC took place at the Montreal platform (May 2009).

[#note 4] Essentially SICOVAL, a community of agglomerations today but one that was formed a long time ago to the south-east of Toulouse, and the recent community of agglomerations of Murétain, to the west.

En savoir plus

a("") Loi Voynet] of 1999

Loi Solidarité et renouvellement urbain of 2000