Well Connected? On relations between regions and the European Union

July 27, 2016 - nr.100

Conclusions and recommendations

1. Conclusions

It has been known for some time that the responsibility for implementing EU legislation largely rests on subnational authorities. The Europeanisation of policy is perceptible at all levels and has been under way for a long time. Regions are no longer secondary players. This trend has been exhaustively described in all the reports listed in the request for advice and, most recently, in the very detailed advisory report of the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure.[1] It was also acknowledged by the government and the subnational authorities in the 2008 Local and Central Government Relations Code, which expressly includes an article on the European Union.

The decentralisation of the welfare state in the Netherlands involves issues that are not of a purely national nature but also have an EU angle. Although these are policy fields in which the EU has a shared competence, it is quite conceivable that the decentralization being carried out by the present Dutch government may bear an even greater EU imprint in the future as European integration proceeds. All tiers of government must be aware of and prepared for this. Not only various opinion formers but also the Vice President of the Council of State have commented on the declining importance of central government as a tier of governance. As the direct relationship between the EU legislator and the implementing authorities (i.e. subnational authorities) is not formally defined in the European treaties, the AIV believes that this may become a problem in due course as the regions take on an increasingly important role in the implementation of legislation.

Regions are gaining in importance, even independently of the transfer of competences. In many countries the search for greater regional autonomy is a clear trend. There is also a growing realisation that socioeconomic growth is mainly attributable to the regions, and cities and new forms of governance are evolving more and more independently of the three existing tiers of government. In short, a shift in governance is occurring, in which the centre of gravity is moving from the centre to the subnational and regional levels, with greater involvement of private and non-governmental actors.

European institutions
Nonetheless, the burden imposed on the regions by the EU is not reflected in their formal position or in their ability to influence decisions in the EU. In formal terms, they are represented in the CoR and on various bodies that consult with central government. In developing policy, the European institutions pay insufficient attention to the interests of the regions, and this must change. In terms of treaty law the European Commission focuses on the member states when it comes to implementation at subnational level. A new balance must therefore be sought. The Commission could seek this by assigning the regions a greater role in policy development and in the review and evaluation of legislation. It must find pragmatic ways of expanding the substance of its relations with the regions. It could do this by consulting them on a permanent basis and making explicit provision in its proposals for implementation by the regions. The same applies to the other EU institutions such as the Council and the European Parliament. The latter in particular must pay greater heed to implementation when assessing proposals. Although institutional changes are not required, a change in the attitude and focus of the European Parliament and the Commission is necessary. Much greater attention should be paid to the implementation and practicability of European policy both generally and in the context of Better Regulation. It is therefore not primarily about the nature of the rule, but about how it should be implemented. In the AIV’s opinion, the authorities responsible for implementing legislation must have greater discretionary powers. However, it would also note that this should not be seen as a licence for gold-plating EU directives.

Committee of the Regions
Although the Committee of the Regions (CoR) is useful as a network organisation, it will have to focus more on its core business (i.e. representing the interests of the regions) rather than, as at present, adopting political positions and operating through political groups. This has detracted from its ability to represent regional interests and means that it currently has little influence in the legislative procedure. Its institutional role need not be strengthened, nor does it need new powers. However, its internal structure does require modification. The added value of the CoR lies in its technical and specialist knowledge of legislative implementation and its ability to provide a regional perspective on European issues, rather than in the adoption of political positions. In concrete terms, the CoR can achieve this by strengthening its role in the implementation and evaluation stage of the legislative procedure. The Dutch delegation could advocate this within the CoR.

Comparable regions are increasingly forming coalitions with one another through networks and bilateral cooperation. Cooperation between individual subnational authorities and the umbrella organisations would promote their effectiveness in Brussels.

Central government
In recent years much progress has been made in involving the regions more closely in EU policy developments and decision-making. Although more can still be done, the possibilities for closer involvement have certainly been increased, both in agreements and in practice. Nonetheless, central government still takes too little account of the interests of subnational authorities. The present arrangements, as recorded in the Local and Central Government Relations Code, are basically non-binding, mainly concern work procedures and, in the AIV’s opinion, put too little emphasis on the importance of developing a joint strategy to be jointly promoted in Brussels. This applies to all stages of the legislative procedure. Subnational authorities have a detailed knowledge of implementation which could be important to the Dutch position in the preliminary, negotiation, implementation and evaluation stages. It is these authorities which are increasingly responsible for and knowledgeable about European legislation. Nonetheless, subnational authorities are not involved by central government in certain fields. This calls for the development of common positions, a process that will undoubtedly prove difficult because the regions may disagree among themselves as well as with central government. Solidarity should be the principle underlying each position in Brussels, as too many interests may otherwise be lost. This will require an active role on the part of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations which, in its capacity of ministry responsible for subnational authorities, has the task of protecting the interests of the regions and involving them properly and in good time in the formation of policy on Europe.

2. Recommendations

Recommendations 1-4 are mainly concerned with the European institutions. The AIV calls on the government to implement these recommendations actively in its policy and in its contacts with the EU institutions.

1. The AIV welcomes the Commission’s increased focus on impact assessments, but considers that they should make more explicit mention of the costs of implementation for subnational authorities. The Committee of the Regions could be involved as an expert on implementation by subnational authorities, but should guard against assuming the Commission’s responsibility for assessing the costs of implementation. However, the CoR could support the Commission by providing an outline assessment of the possible impact for subnational authorities. Implementation problems affecting subnational authorities are also relevant to the Commission’s new REFIT Programme: the aim should be close cooperation with the CoR. The AIV recommends that the government take steps to achieve this. At national level, in the Interministerial Working Groups for the Assessment of New Commission Proposals (BNCs), the central government and the subnational authorities could review these impact assessments in their totality, as well as the implementation by Dutch subnational authorities.

2. Although institutional changes are not required, a change in the attitude and focus of the European Parliament and the Commission is necessary in relation to regional interests. According to the AIV, greater importance should be attached to the practicability and costs of implementing European policy both generally and in the context of the Better Regulation Agenda. When assessing proposals, the European Parliament should give much greater consideration to implementation, particularly implementation by subnational authorities.

3. The AIV recommends that the CoR should focus on its core business of assessing and analysing the implementation of EU policy at regional level and adequately representing regional interests. The CoR was not originally established as a political body and should therefore not act as such. It should also avoid duplicating the work of the European Parliament. The AIV is against undue focus on political angles and opinions, since there is then a risk that the CoR will simply repeat debates that have already taken place in the European Parliament and that its opinions will have little if any added value. The CoR should therefore consider carrying out an internal evaluation of the effectiveness of working in political groups.

4. The AIV recommends that when writing opinions the CoR should confine itself to using its technical expertise and knowledge of implementation in the regions or providing a regional perspective on current European dossiers (e.g. the refugee crisis). It could also make more strategic use of these opinions to influence the agenda of the European Commission and the European Parliament.

As regards central government and the subnational authorities:

5. As subnational authorities try to influence decisions on EU legislation both through central government and through direct channels and as regional interests by no means always coincide with the interests of central government, there is a risk that subnational authorities and central government may end up opposing each other in Brussels. The AIV recommends that subnational authorities adopt an attitude of solidarity rather than competition in Brussels. It is essential for them to act earlier and more frequently to coordinate their interests and seek ways of working together. Too often subnational authorities, even when acting within umbrella organisations, keep representing their own regional interests and not the common interest, thereby dooming their activities in Brussels to be largely ineffective. The AIV recommends that when acting within these collaborative organisations the subnational authorities should regard themselves as acting as representative of all their partners and of the national interest.

The AIV considers that where central government and the subnational authorities are unable to resolve their differences, the position they adopt in Brussels should be based on the ‘do no harm’ principle rather than the ‘agree to disagree’ principle and that the Local and Central Government Relations Code should be amended accordingly.

6. To reduce the regulatory burden in the EU, the AIV favours the inclusion of both a sunset clause and an evaluation clause in legislation, particularly where it is to be implemented by subnational authorities. The latter should therefore be involved in reviews and evaluations as a matter of course, preferably through a team to coordinate different Dutch authorities’ input (an IBDT). The government could request the Council of State to advise on the criteria to be fulfilled by a sound national evaluation system.

7. The central government and all government ministries should expressly take account of the fact that responsibility for implementing legislation increasingly rests with subnational authorities. Although central government has less and less knowledge of policy implementation, it is the party at the negotiating table in Brussels. Too often this fact is still denied or overlooked by central government and civil servants. They will have to be thoroughly briefed by officials of the subnational authorities. At each stage of the legislative procedure, central government should coordinate with subnational authorities wherever the latter are involved in implementation. The central government and the subnational authorities will undoubtedly regulate this properly in the Local and Central Government Relations Code, but, as is so often the case, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

8. The AIV considers that it is still not sufficiently clear how many experts from the regions/ subnational authorities participate in comitology and other expert committees, and whether there are contacts between experts of the subnational authorities and central government regarding their contribution to implementing legislation. To improve strategic positioning, the AIV advocates greater transparency about the contribution made and positions taken by these experts.

9. The AIV considers that subnational authorities should be able to claim the status of a quasi-ministry as of right in respect of dossiers which they consider to have priority and should not be dependent on the goodwill of various line ministries. The AIV favours the sharing of information during the entire legislative procedure, including implementation and evaluation, as well as the inclusion of local and regional authorities in Dutch negotiating delegations to the Council. It also recommends that the status of quasi-ministry should be included as a matter of priority in the Local and Central Government Relations Code. The AIV also considers that the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, in its capacity of ministry responsible for subnational authorities, should ensure that they have full access in good time to the relevant interministerial processes and information and other systems. This would ensure that the regions and municipalities are increasingly involved in European policy- and decision-making.

10. The AIV regards the introduction of IBDTs as a big step in the right direction, and urges that they be established more routinely in all government ministries and for every priority dossier. In the case of dossiers that have priority for subnational authorities, IBDTs should be set up at the earliest possible opportunity. How subnational authorities should be involved in the entire process should be recorded in a separate section of each relevant BNC file. The AIV believes it would be worthwhile involving an implementation lawyer in the IBDT from the very outset so that any problems that subnational authorities may encounter in implementing legislation can be identified at an early stage.

11. The AIV endorses the idea that the government should consider the future position of the regions in the Netherlands and any structural changes that may be necessary. Increasingly, the regions are likely to lead rather than follow as the system of government evolves. Central government will gradually lose administrative authority. In view of this trend, the government would be well advised to consider whether the system of government established in the 1848 constitution is still adequate as a model for the structure of governance in the Netherlands.

[1] Council for the Environment and Infrastructure, Ruimte voor de regio in Europees Beleid (Room for the region in European policy), September 2015, p. 15 ff.

Advice request

Professor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Chairman of the Advisory Council
on International Affairs (AIV)
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague

Date  15 April 2015

Re  Request for advice on ‘Glocalisation’

Dear Professor De Hoop Scheffer,

Although key policy fields are increasingly shifting into the realm of the EU, some observers contend that there is a parallel tendency towards regionalisation and decentralisation. Though ‘Europe has become home turf for subnational authorities, and Brussels has become an extension of The Hague’,[1] regions in various countries are asking for more autonomy and the Netherlands is decentralising key parts of the welfare state and social security system. This explains why some observers have identified a trend towards ‘glocalisation’ – a mixture of globalisation and localisation.

The Treaty of Lisbon strengthened the position of regional and local authorities. With its introduction, regional and local self-government was officially recognised in the EU treaties for the first time. The definition of the principle of subsidiarity was also broadened to include local and regional levels of government. In addition, regional and local authorities are now consulted more frequently on the legislation they must implement, while the Committee of the Regions can appeal to the European Court of Justice regarding breaches of the principle of subsidiarity.

Nevertheless, central government remains the primary point of departure for EU policy. Member states are represented on a national level in the European Parliament and European Council. The member states’ representation in both the European Parliament and the European Council is organised at national level, and it is the national parliaments that have a formal position in the EU, while local and/or regional authorities are represented only in the Committee of the Regions. It is worth asking, however, whether the above trend should also have implications for EU governance. Should other, additional ways be found of connecting the local and regional to the EU-wide?

To explore this question, the government has commissioned research on the substantive alignment between the European, regional and decentralisation agendas,[2] the effects of EU policy on local and/or regional authorities[3] and potential areas for improvement. It is also conducting a review of subnational authorities’ role in EU policy development,[4] which builds on the existing review of the EU’s significance for municipalities and provinces.[5]

A broader analysis of long-term social, economic and governance trends could contribute to these efforts by providing a strategic framework and generating innovative recommendations. The House of Representatives has also expressed interest in discussing the functioning of the Committee of the Regions.

The government would appreciate receiving an advisory report on this issue from the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) by November 2015. It should address the following questions:

Preliminary questions:

Taking account of previous studies, to what extent is there a trend towards ‘Europeanisation’ of policy areas in which subnational authorities play an appropriate role? Is there, conversely, a trend towards decentralisation of issues that have a European dimension? Does the societal trend towards regionalisation impact on the EU and/or vice versa?

Principal questions:

1. What impact should the trend towards regionalisation have on EU policy development, in terms of both its substance and procedures?

Taking the relevant studies and current initiatives into account, are there grounds for the regions to become more closely involved in developing Dutch policy on the EU? Should the government or the EU institutions change the way they operate to accommodate the trend towards regionalisation? If so, what would this entail?

What role do local and regional authorities play in the EU? More specifically, how does the AIV assess the functioning of the Committee of the Regions? Does it adequately represent subnational authorities in the preparatory phase of the decision-making process? Could this be done better or differently? If so, what role should Dutch members of the Committee play?

2. How should these trends affect the EU’s institutional architecture?

Does this have implications for the EU’s interinstitutional relations? Does the Committee of the Regions currently occupy an adequate position within the EU’s institutional structure?

I look forward to receiving your report.

Yours sincerely,

Bert Koenders
Minister of Foreign Affairs

[1] Response of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities, the Association of Provincial Authorities and the Association of Regional Water Authorities to the Council of State’s third periodic report on intergovernmental relations (‘It Can Be Done Better’), The Hague, 25 April 2013, p. 6; Advisory Council on Public Administration (ROB) report Met Europa Verbonden (Connected to Europe).
[2] Leiden University, De Wisselwerking tussen Europa en Nederland: Een Verkenning van de Europese Politieke Prioriteiten en hun Invloed op Nederland en haar Openbaar Bestuur (Interaction between Europe and The Netherlands: A Review of European Political Priorities and their Influence on The Netherlands and its Public Administration), expected April 2015.
[3] University of Twente, EU Better Regulation en het Nederlandse Openbaar Bestuur: naar een Effectieve Borging van het Proportionaliteitsbeginsel (EU Better Regulation and The Netherlands’ Public Administration: towards an Effective Protection of the Principle of Proportionality), expected April 2015.
[4] Evaluation of action plan Europe and Subnational Authorities and outcomes of the consultations between the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Association of Netherlands Municipalities, the Association of Provincial Authorities and the Association of Regional Water Authorities, Parliamentary Paper 33 750 VII, no. 64, 24 June 2014.
[5] Advisory Council on Public Administration, Met Europa Verbonden, een Verkenning van de Betekenis van Europa voor Gemeenten en Provincies (Connected to Europe, a Review of Europe’s Impact on Municipalities and Provinces), November 2013.
Government reactions

Letter to the House of Representatives of the States General containing the response of the Dutch government to the advisory report by the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) ‘Well Connected? On Relations between Regions and the European Union’

1. Introduction

In the Netherlands, municipal, provincial and water authorities bear considerable responsibility for both implementing and influencing European policy. To this end, the Urban Agenda for the EU, which was laid down in the Pact of Amsterdam during the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union, created scope for improving legislation, knowledge exchange and access to EU funding – all in close consultation with urban regions and other stakeholders, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Like other initiatives, the Agenda serves to inspire and influence decision-making. In addition, in recent years a number of policy fields once under the remit of central government have been decentralised. At EU level, the definition of subsidiarity has grown broader since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. This has strengthened the position of subnational authorities, as well as that of the Committee of the Regions, which can now bring proceedings before the European Court of Justice if the subsidiarity principle is infringed. These developments led the government to request an advisory report from the AIV on this matter; specifically on whether they could have implications for the EU’s governance and institutional set-up. In this connection the government also asked the AIV to assess the performance of the Committee of the Regions.

The request for advice was not made in isolation, however. The government has also commissioned other initiatives and studies. The request is closely linked, for example, with the decision in 2014 by the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Association of Provincial Authorities (IPO), the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) and the Dutch Water Authorities (UvW) to commission an exploratory policy survey. This was intended to enhance both the provision of information to subnational authorities and the feasibility of central government and subnational authorities working jointly on EU dossiers. By letter of 16 September 2015 (Parliamentary Paper 34300-VII-6) the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations informed you in the report Samen Sterk in Europa (Strength through Cooperation in Europe) about the agreements that had been made. 

The concepts set out in that report are broadly in line with the AIV’s recommendations. The report observed that cooperation on EU dossiers was generally good between central government and subnational authorities. The greatest added value, it said, lay in the sharing and deployment of each party’s expertise and networks. It then made recommendations aimed at enhancing cooperation on EU dossiers and identifying strategically important ones. The provision of information on the EU policy cycle, for example, was improved by allowing access to the Council’s Extranet. In the autumn of 2016 the arrangements set out in the report ‘Strength through Cooperation in Europe’ will take definitive form. The government sees support for its approach in the AIV’s recommendations.

2. The AIV’s recommendations

2.1 General observations

Below a response will be given to the recommendations in so far as they are addressed to the government.

2.2 European institutions and the region

1, 2 and 6. Attaching greater importance to the practicability and costs of implementing European policy

The government agrees with the AIV’s recommendations concerning implementation costs incurred by subnational authorities. This is in keeping with the government’s efforts on Better Regulation (see Parliamentary Paper 22112, no. 1984). The European Commission has, as part of its Better Regulation agenda, enlarged the scope for interested parties to have their say (e.g. via public consultations). It is important that subnational authorities make use of this scope in practice when the Commission proposes new legislation. The government would refer, in the context of the REFIT agenda, to the active role that subnational authorities already play. For example, the Dutch provinces have already identified day-to-day problems they face in making and implementing provincial policy, problems that are caused by EU rules.1 This list of problems has now found its way to the REFIT platform.

The government attaches importance to this active stance taken by Dutch subnational authorities towards the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council, in addition to the role that can be played by the Committee of the Regions. The government also believes it is important to take account of subnational authorities’ standpoints in the decision-making process. Those authorities should be involved early on, when the Commission is drafting new legislation (this can be done e.g. via active input into Commission consultations). But their interests must also be taken into account when proposals are considered by the Council and the European Parliament. Direct involvement by subnational authorities in assembling BNC files will ensure those interests are included when the Netherlands determines the position it will adopt in the Council. The government shares the AIV’s view that far more attention should be paid in the European Parliament to the practicability and cost of subnational authorities implementing EU legislation. The European Parliament has its own responsibility in this regard, however.

BNC files already contain a separate indication of the potential impact that proposed EU legislation will have on subnational authorities, e.g. with respect to finances, regulatory pressure, the administrative burden and decentralised legislation. In practice, however, it has proved difficult (including for the IPO, VNG and UvW, which participate in BNC consultations) to determine at this phase precisely what that impact will be. The government therefore believes it is important for subnational authorities and the relevant ministry to cooperate throughout the process as regards the level of subnational authorities’ involvement on dossiers they consider priorities. The government sees no added value in mandating subnational involvement across the entire process in a separate section of every relevant BNC file. This would limit the adaptability of all the authorities concerned as the process moves forward. The discussion should be about the substance, and not the structure, of the file.

In a broader sense, the institutions’ focus will need to shift from considering new legislation to evaluating and improving existing legislation. The government therefore supports the inclusion of evaluation and sunset clauses in EU legislation where they can facilitate improvements. Thanks in part to the government’s efforts, a clause was included in the Interinstitutional Agreement on Better Law-Making that provides for the use of sunset and evaluation clauses. The expectation is that such clauses will be included in legislation in practice.

3 and 4. The Committee of the Regions

As stated above, the government believes it is important that the subnational authorities’ views on prospective legislation be taken into account in the decision-making process. In this respect, the technical expertise of the Committee of the Regions is helpful in identifying the regional impact of EU legislation. In the government’s view the Committee’s effectiveness can be seen in its broad range of instruments and means of exerting influence, and in the formal and informal contacts it maintains with the institutions and among the regions. The government shares the AIV’s view that the CoR should continue to focus on the core business of its mandate.

5. Arrangements when central government and subnational authorities are unable to resolve differences

Central government and subnational authorities are well-versed in developing common Dutch positions and action on EU legislation. For an optimal result, it is crucial that subnational authorities actively identify areas where they expect that EU legislation could potentially have an impact, and EU decision-making dossiers that they consider priorities. To this end, it has been agreed that the umbrella organisations the IPO, the VNG and the UvW will present their priority EU dossiers once a year at the interministerial Working Group for the Assessment of New Commission Proposals (‘BNC Working Group’). Agreements can then be made, for example about the type and degree of collaboration between the ministry concerned and the subnational authorities.

The report ‘Strength through Cooperation in Europe’ notes that in the event that central government and subnational authorities fail to resolve a difference of opinion, the ‘agree to disagree’ principle is applied.2 This means that each party can arrive at a position in its own bodies on its own responsibility (Parliamentary Paper 3400-VII-6). The government believes that the ‘do no harm’ principle set out in the AIV’s advisory report cannot be applied as an overarching principle when subnational authorities have divergent interests or when their interests deviate from those of central government.3 The government recognises, however, that the ‘agree to disagree’ principle requires central government and subnational authorities to inform each other fully about the positions they take and the reasons for them. The government believes it is important to avoid a fragmented picture emerging in Brussels of Dutch EU positions.

7 and 9. Involvement of subnational authorities in European decision-making

During the Dutch EU Presidency, the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations explicitly requested that the interests of urban areas and subnational authorities be taken into account in the EU decision-making process. To this end, on 30 May 2016 the European ministers responsible for urban policy adopted the Pact of Amsterdam, which sets out the ‘Urban Agenda for the EU’, and on 23 June 2016 the Council’s Conclusions on the Agenda were adopted. This launched a new model for cooperation between urban areas, member states and the European Commission, a model aimed at improving EU legislation, access to EU funds and knowledge exchange. Its goal is to promote growth, quality of life and innovation in European urban areas.4 To support this initiative, the Europe and Local Government Knowledge Centre has identified how and to what extent EU legislation could potentially obstruct the policies pursued by municipalities and other subnational authorities.5

Furthermore – in keeping with the report ‘Strength through Cooperation in Europe’, the AIV’s recommendations and the wishes of the VNG, the IPO and the UvW – the government attaches importance to involving the subnational authorities in the preparatory phase. In accordance with the arrangements agreed during inter-authority discussions held on 6 July 2015, they should be able to play a role similar to that of the line ministries. The working methods of the teams that coordinate different Dutch public authorities’ input on EU dossiers (IBDTs) are a good example of this approach. This means subnational authorities now have better access to information, including access to documents classified as ‘Limité’ in the Council’s Extranet. In November the new Delegates Portal will be launched, replacing the existing Extranet. The government will ensure that the subnational authorities are briefed in a timely fashion on using the Portal.

The IPO, the VNG and the UvW are closely involved, via the BNC process and the IBDTs, in developing the Netherlands’ position on EU dossiers. It is up to the subnational authorities to take their share of responsibility and make appropriate use of the opportunities the government offers, so that the different tiers can work together in partnership. From a constitutional standpoint it is by definition impossible to award subnational authorities the status of ‘co-ministry’. After all, the term ‘ministry’ is reserved for functional elements of the national executive which are headed by a Minister (article 44, paragraph 1 of the Dutch Constitution).

8 and 10. Dossier teams (IBDTs)

The government agrees with the AIV that collaboration between central government and subnational authorities in IBDTs is an effective instrument for working jointly on dossiers that have a major impact on subnational policy areas. The instrument gives expression to the active involvement of subnational authorities in EU decision-making. They can offer highly valuable expertise in these processes, particularly with regard to the potential impact of proposed legislation on policy implementation

When it comes to the participation of experts from the regions in expert committees, the government considers that both central government and subnational authorities should have a clear picture (each working on the basis of their own responsibilities and capacities) of which experts are involved and to what degree their positions are taken into account.

11. The Dutch system of government

The AIV closes by recommending that the government consider the future position of the regions in the Netherlands and any changes to the system of government that may be necessary. In a report entitled Maak verschil (‘Differentiate’), the National Advisory Committee on Public Administration and Governance made recommendations concerning the functioning of Dutch public administration in the light of future developments with a view to an incoming government (Parliamentary Paper 31 490, no. 198). The report emphasised that public administration can be made more effective not only through far-reaching organisational restructuring, but also through other, more adaptive working methods. The Committee advised using differentiation, deregulation and dehierarchisation to adjust the working methods and set-up of public administration so that it can align more effectively with the increasing importance (economic and otherwise) of developments at regional level. The AIV’s recommendation can thus be seen as underlining the importance of this report and the elaboration of its conclusions.


1 <http://www.ipo.nl/files/5914/4361/1885/IPO-boekje_EU_NL_DEF-LR.pdf>.
2 The ‘agree to disagree’ principle was previously applied to the dossier on cohesion policy in the run-up to the current Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020. The central government and the IPO had different standpoints on the budgetary aspects of this dossier, but worked in concert on its substance (specifically the thematic focus, substantive programming and efforts to limit the administrative burden). To this end the central government and subnational authorities set up an inter-authority working group (whose representatives included the IPO and the VNG) to prepare for the negotiations. The working group published a joint Dutch paper on the dossier.
3 The Local and Central Government Relations Code sets out agreements between central government, provinces, municipalities and water authorities that contribute to an effective interplay between the various subnational authorities so that each can fulfil its responsibility in the system as a whole. Paragraph 9 of the Code (on Europe) states: ‘Subnational authorities and central government will retain the scope to act independently.’ Paragraph 11 states: ‘The Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations will promote compliance with the Local and Central Government Relations Code within central government. The umbrella organisations will promote compliance with the Code among their members. Compliance with the Code will be discussed at least once a year in inter-authority consultations.’
4 Parliamentary Paper 34 139- 17, The Dutch EU Presidency in 2016, Urban Policy.
5 <https://www.europadecentraal.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Samenvatting-Bridge.pdf>. 
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