Communes want closer cooperation in wake of covid

Syvicol president and Clervaux mayor Emile Eicher, pictured at a press conference in May 2020 SIP/Julien Warnand

Syvicol president and Clervaux mayor Emile Eicher, pictured at a press conference in May 2020 SIP/Julien Warnand

Luxembourg’s 102 municipalities want to work closer together in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a survey by interest group Syvicol has shown, as communes face budget shortages this year. 

Syvicol--a union of cities of municipalities in Luxembourg--surveyed more than 400 elected officials in the country’s communes about the challenges they face and the role they want their union to play in future.

“Covid has changed a lot,” said Syvicol president Emile Eicher during a press conference on Monday 5 October. The survey results showed that communes want Syvicol to play a more active role, he said.

Commune officials cited housing, transport, cutting red tape, the environment and local finances as the most pressing issues that Syvicol should tackle, with more than half saying the union should help communes coordinate their activities.

More than 85% of commune officials who took part in the study were happy with Syvicol’s role in defending their interests at national level.

Syvicol met with the government only last week to discuss commune finances as municipalities face budget shortfalls of up to €420m this year, for example through losses in communal business taxes levied on the profits of commercial companies.

Eicher (CSV)--who is also the mayor of Clervaux--said he fears local authorities will cut investments as a result and both sides agreed to meet again on 8 October to discuss state subsidies. Finance minister Pierre Gramegna (DP) is due to present the 2021 state budget in parliament later this month.

Working with the state

“Communes fulfil many tasks together with the state,” Eicher said. For example, they fund primary schools, maintain local roads and have authority over land-use planning. The Differange and Sanem communes in 2018 blocked plans for a rockwool factory over pollution fears and Bissen is in the process of deciding whether Google can build a data centre in its commune.

“The experience from the communes is extremely important,” added Lydie Polfer (DP), mayor of Luxembourg City and Syvicol vice president. But talks are underway to abolish the accumulation of mandates, meaning that mayors and members of the commune executive--the so-called college of aldermen--could no longer be members of parliament. More than a third of MPs would be affected by this reform.

Syvicol therefore wants to be recognised as a professional chamber--similar to the Chamber of Commerce or the Chamber of Skilled Trade and Crafts--said Dan Biancalana (LSAP), himself mayor of Dudelange, Syvicol vice president and elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 2018.

The professional chambers have to be consulted by parliament on bills affecting their members and Syvicol is lobbying for the same legal right, with 91% of survey respondents supporting the effort.

Other priorities identified through the survey are better sharing of best practices between communes and more training for commune officials, for example on new laws and how they should be implemented.