Researchers from the universities of Twente, Maastricht, Utrecht and Leiden have concluded that the office of mayor as we know it today will eventually be untenable. The various roles that mayors have to fulfill are proving increasingly difficult to combine. There are higher and more contradictory demands on mayors, which they find increasingly difficult to meet. The authority, prestige and attractiveness of the office will decline as a result. The main reason for this is that over the past 10 years, mayors have become increasingly part of the political game, while many tasks require them to be independent and above the parties.
First of all, the researchers identify practical problems. The various tasks of the mayor have come to require more time and attention, making them more difficult to combine. In addition, there are important problems of principle. More and more power has been concentrated in the hands of the mayor, which is not in keeping with the requirements of the democratic constitutional state. From that perspective, the fact that the mayor is simultaneously the chairman of the city council and the chairman of the municipal executive has become more problematic. This also applies to the responsibility of mayors for public order and safety and for administrative integrity: power and counter-power are not in balance here.
The researchers arrived at these findings on the basis of a comprehensive study commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. They outline three possible solutions to strengthen the office of mayor. The first solution is that the mayor no longer has any tasks that require a neutral position. This would involve transferring the mayor's council chairmanship to a chairperson elected from the council. Consideration could also be given to transferring responsibility for administrative integrity to the King's Commissioner. The second solution is to reduce the political role of mayors, for example, by reducing their responsibilities in the area of public order and security. The final solution is to strengthen the independent role of the mayor. Mayors would then be elected directly by the electorate and no longer selected by the municipal council.
The researchers also note that the support for mayors has not kept pace with the increase in the size of the office. Stronger support for mayors could therefore also provide some relief for the problems that have been identified.
The research was conducted by Prof. Marcel Boogers (University of Twente), Prof. Klaartje Peters (University of Maastricht), Dr. Hans Vollaard (University of Utrecht), Prof. Bas Denters (University of Twente) and Prof. Geerten Boogaard (University of Leiden). Based on recent insights from the literature and policy documents, they mapped out the state of affairs of mayors in the year 2020. Furthermore, 21 in-depth interviews were held with current and former mayors. In addition, three group interviews were held with a total of 31 mayors. Finally, a large-scale survey of mayors, aldermen and city councillors and a citizens' survey of residents were used in this study.
The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations commissioned the research in order to obtain a clear picture of current developments in local society and municipal administration and their significance for the interpretation of the mayor's office, the attractiveness of the office, the position of mayors in the local force field and the way in which they are selected, equipped and supported. The study should provide building blocks for the agenda for mayors, in which the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, in consultation with the Ministry of JenV and the Dutch Association of Mayors, make proposals for strengthening the mayor's office.
Yesterday, the report with the study on the state of the mayor's office anno 2020 was sent to the House of Parliament. The report and letter can be found here.