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30 March 2017

The Hague shows little regard for municipal and provincial interests

The Dutch government is hardly receptive to local and regional interests, and prefers to keep running the financial show itself.

So Edward Figee of the University of Twente finds in his PhD thesis, entitled ‘Listen to Us! – Regional and Local Public Affairs in the Dutch and European Political Arena’. The EU government is more receptive, only here local authorities have to compete with national interests. These operations in the national and European political arenas result in “fights” between the various rivalling parties, because (financial) self-interest is prioritized, meaning that the parties do not really co-operate and the local and regional public affairs message is not quite as powerful as it should be. Figee will defend his thesis at UT on 31 March 2017.

Local and regional government agencies (municipal and provincial authorities) have been active in both the national political arena in The Hague and the European political arena in Brussels since the 1980s. They appoint their own representatives to the governments, who follow the decision-making processes that are relevant to them and intervene where necessary. These local authorities act individually or in association with other local authorities, depending on the nature of the interests that are at stake (e.g. roads, construction, water, the environment, regional economy).

Drawing attention to one’s issues

This process was partially caused by ongoing decentralization (i.e., the mechanism by which the national government devolves its power to municipal and provincial authorities), and also partially by the fact that religious and socio-political barriers have been removed in society, which has resulted in interest groups gradually losing the religious and socio-political footing with which they are familiar. Such groups have had to find other ways to raise attention for their interests – among other ways, by addressing local and regional authorities. In his PhD thesis, Figee investigates the routes and ways in which municipal and provincial authorities seek to raise awareness of local and regional issues in the national and European political arenas.[1]

Europe

What is remarkable is that there is not a great deal of knowledge of the European political arena at the local and regional levels, neither among public affairs  professionals nor among municipal and provincial politicians. “Europeans through and through” turn out to be indispensable to the internal and external organization of local and regional public affairs geared towards the European arena. Further research (including case studies) will be required to determine whether the EU will be more likely to consider local and regional interests following Brexit and due to the populism we are currently witnessing in the EU.

Study methodology

Public Affairs (PA) is an Anglo-American concept that denotes the influencing of the interest relationship between organizations (such as companies and local and regional authorities) and the political and administrative circles in which they move. In order to gain an insight into how local and regional PA “works”, Figee carried out qualitative and quantitative research. In addition, he conducted 41 in-depth interviews with PA professionals, administrators and politicians, who held 93 local and regional positions between them. The focus was on the political arenas, the internal and external organization of local and regional PA, and required competencies in terms of knowledge, skills and attitude. Furthermore, he distributed a survey among approximately 1,100 PA officials (effective response: 293), so as to gain an insight into the PA professional’s profile. The survey included a self-evaluation of the official’s PA competencies.

[1] Figee did not take into account collaborative efforts by municipal and provincial umbrella organizations, or by VNG [the Association of Dutch Municipalities] and IPO [the Association of the Provinces of the Netherlands], since these parties focus exclusively on promoting generic local and regional interests.