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Local Councillors in the 21st Century. A Comparative Analysis of Belgium, France and The Netherlands

Tom Verhelst
Ghent University
Herwig Reynaert
Ghent University
Kristof Steyvers
Ghent University
Tom Verhelst
Ghent University
Open Panel

Abstract

European local governments are claimed to be concerned in a quest for improving their democratic quality (Stoker, 1996). This quest might be prompted by the desire to optimise public service delivery or enhance citizen participation (Vetter & Kersting, 2003). From a new-institutional point of view both evolutions could have major implications for the traditional heart of local democracy, elected local councillors, in terms of (1) role fulfilment, (2) notions of democracy and (3) recruitment and career. This paper will assess councillors’ vision on these three factors in an empirical manner, building on survey data stemming from the European comparative research-project MAELG (www.maelg.eu). The paper will use a comparative perspective to further insight in the contextual and institutional dynamics of councillors’ vision on these evolutions. Two competing views can be distinguished to analyse evolutions in European local democracy (Goldsmith & Page, 2010). Advocates of path-dependency would claim that local democracies’ historic character will reconfirm traditional country typologies. On the other hand, classic boundaries could start to blur due to the universality of reforms and diversity of implementation. The paper will test both theses in scrutinising the vision of Belgian councillors compared to councillors from neighbouring countries France and the Netherlands. Indeed, according to classic local government typologies (Hesse & Sharpe, 1991; Mouritzen & Svara, 2002), both countries share some characteristics with Belgium whilst differing on others. Additionally, the Belgian government context will allow to address the intra-country dynamics typical for federalist countries as well.