Luxembourg/ Municipal mergers
Mergers are a way for communes to achieve very specific objectives in the interests of both communes and their citizens. So what advantages can a merger bring to a commune?
The benefits of a merger
- high quality services in every municipality in the country;
- increase the efficiency and scope of the tasks to be carried out, in particular through a larger and more professional local administration in the various fields;
- enable the professionalization of political mandates;
- strengthen communal autonomy;
- avoid "outsourcing" the management of certain inter-municipal projects, and encourage more direct and transparent management;
- improve regional development;
- strengthen local democracy and political transparency;
- achieve gains in administrative and financial efficiency for communes;
- achieve medium-term economies of scale and create financially stronger, more stable communes.
Interviews with the heads of the merged communes revealed the following:
- a qualitative change in the way communal services operate following the expansion of administrative and technical structures;
- synergies enabling the creation of new services or the introduction of greater task specialization;
- increased financial resources to offer certain services to the population;
- new dynamism for consultative commissions and local associations;
- a strengthening of communal autonomy.
The merger process
Every merger of communes is unique.
There is no predetermined procedure. However, there are a number of compulsory milestones that must be completed, at one time or another, by all communes embarking on this exercise. The purpose of this chapter is to describe these steps and support communes in completing them, culminating in a merger.
In order to structure the merger process properly, and to ensure that no stage is overlooked, a retro-planning exercise is essential to ensure that the merger project is successfully completed.
From the adoption of the deliberation of intent to merge, it takes 12 to 18 months until a merger becomes a reality. So, ideally, the communal referendum on the merger should take place 1 year before the merger becomes effective.
The procedure for organizing a referendum should therefore be initiated at least 3 months before the planned date of the referendum, in order to meet the deadline.rendum in order to comply with the deadlines laid down in the amended electoral law of February 18, 2003, particularly as regards the closing of lists and postal voting.
The merger process is divided into three distinct phases:
In principle, the initiative for a possible merger of the commune comes from the college of burgomasters and aldermen.
At this stage, the question may arise as to whether it would be useful to carry out a preliminary analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of a merger for the commune. In practice, such an analysis has proved superfluous in some communes, where the will, or even the need, to merge was unequivocal.
The same applies to the identification of one or more potential merger partners: in some cases, existing inter-municipal cooperation is already so close that this question no longer arises.
On the other hand, when questions or even doubts arise within the local council, an in-depth preliminary analysis is recommended.
In principle, this analysis is twofold:
- an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the commune's current situation, based on an inventory of the existing situation (quality and number of services offered to the population, state and availability of infrastructures...), the opportunities and risks it will face in the future (development potential, positioning in the region...), and the expected outcome of a possible merger;
- an assessment of potential merger partners.
This phase summarizes the procedural steps that communes must take to bring their merger project to fruition.
- Deliberations by local councils (CC) on the conduct of exploratory discussions
> Deliberations sent to the Minister of the Interior for information.
- Joint analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of a merger
Possible consultations with communal commissions, local associations or the general public (working groups, workshops, surveys, etc.).
- Definition of joint future projects and a common identity
Political and administrative organization of the new commune: name, coat of arms, personnel, use of the special state subsidy, composition of the future college of burgomasters and aldermen (CBE) and the CC, elections (relative majority system), transitional phases, etc.
- Deliberations of intent to merge CCs
> Deliberations sent to the Minister of the Interior for information.
- Draft merger agreement drawn up between State and communes
- Agreement signed by Minister of the Interior and CBEs
- Drafting of merger bill by Minister of the Interior
- Deliberations by CCs with a view to organizing a referendum
> Deliberations sent to the Minister of the Interior for information.
- Presentation of the merger project and communication with the population
Brochures, information meetings, social networks, etc.
- CC deliberations adopting:
- the merger
- the merger agreement
- the draft merger bill
> Deliberations sent to the Minister of the Interior for information.
- Merger bill submitted to the Chamber of Deputies by the Minister of the Interior
- Vote in the Chamber of Deputies and publication of the merger bill
- Merger takes effect
on the date set by the merger law
Deliberations by local councils on the conduct of exploratory discussions
The communal council may instruct the college of burgomasters and aldermen to conduct exploratory discussions with the partner commune(s).
The relevant deliberation, even if it does not irrevocably mean that the commune will merge, expresses the commune council's firm intention to start down the road to merger. While unanimity among the members of the local council is not essential, it is reassuring for the continuation of the work that the deliberation is supported by a large majority of council members.
The potential partner municipality(ies) also take a decision on the conduct of exploratory discussions.
It also proved essential to inform and involve the commune's staff at this stage, particularly with regard to fears about their future professional situation.
In this way, communal staff can already play an active role in the merger process, in particular by putting forward their knowledge of the commune's specific characteristics.
Joint analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of a merger
Once the decision to hold exploratory discussions has been taken, a joint analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of merging the communes concerned is carried out.
There is no standard operating procedure for this phase. There are two possible scenarios:
- From the outset, the members of the commune councils have shared the same views on the merits of merging. In this case, a summary analysis of the key elements of a merger may suffice.
- If, however, several council members are undecided or reluctant to merge, a detailed analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of a merger is recommended.
Defining shared future projects and a common identity
A municipal merger offers a unique opportunity to launch new projects in the interests of the community's citizens. This is the stage at which joint plans for the future of the new community are drawn up.
We recommend that inter-communal meetings be held on a regular basis, according to a set schedule and with precise agendas. These meetings are usually prepared by the colleges of burgomasters and aldermen, and if necessary, accompanied by external experts (Ministry of the Interior, SYVICOL or others).
On certain aspects of the merger, it may prove difficult to reach agreement between communes (e.g. On certain aspects of the merger, it may prove difficult to reach agreement between communes (e.g. name of the merged commune, location of the future communal headquarters and any annexes, distribution of seats on the communal council, allocations of certain key personnel, projects to be carried out and their potential sites, etc.). The challenge was to find solutions acceptable to all.
The seat, name and coat of arms of the new commune
As mentioned above, while discussions on the future seat, name or coat of arms of the new commune can be lengthy and cumbersome, these choices can be clear and easy to make from the outset.
The communes will have to choose a seat for the new commune, which will be included in the merger law. However, it is perfectly feasible to maintain the operation of certain annexes located in the former communal houses.
The name should enable citizens to identify with the new entity. In previous mergers, communal councils were keen to adopt simple names that were easy to remember and communicate. Some communes have kept the name of one of the former communes or merged the two names, while others have opted for a locality or a common geographical feature (valley, hill, river, etc.).
A merged commune can either create a new coat of arms, or keep the existing coats of arms of the former communes. If a new coat of arms is to be created, the municipal authorities must apply to the State Heraldic Commission, set up within the Ministry of State, which must approve and register the new coat of arms.
Of course, in addition to a coat of arms, a commune may also choose to adopt a logo, an option chosen by an increasing number of communes.
Administrative organization and services of the new commune
The administrative organization of the new commune provides an opportunity for in-depth reflection on the determination, organization and equipment of the commune's future services. There are many possibilities: extending the opening hours of commune offices, increasing staff numbers, reorganizing the technical department, new approaches to infrastructure maintenance, creating new services (housing, public relations, etc.).
It is up to political leaders to find appropriate solutions that meet the needs of the population.
Special state subsidies
The State supports municipal mergers with a subsidy set by the Government Council. The Ministry of the Interior is at the disposal of the communes to inform them of the terms and conditions currently in force.
The allocation of the state subsidy is determined by the merger bill, based on negotiations between the communes and the state. To date, the communes have opted either to allocate the subsidy to specific projects, or to repay communal loans.
Political organization: composition of political bodies, elections, transitional phases
In all communes, whether they vote according to the majority or proportional system, it is possible to increase the number of seats in the communal council and in the municipal council.the number of seats on the communal council and the college of burgomasters and aldermen during the transitional period (i.e., one or two legislatures starting of the merger), and to give each former commune the status of an electoral district in which a quota of councillors is to be elected, in order to ensure that each of the former communes is represented on the communal council. Nevertheless, each elector votes for the councillors of all the districts. The law may also provide for each former commune to be represented on the college of burgomasters and aldermen.
Communes voting according to the majority system, but exceeding the threshold of 3,000 inhabitants after the merger, may keep this electoral system in place for a transitional period.
The political leave of elected representatives is directly linked to the number of seats on a commune's municipal council. The elected representatives of a merged commune, with a temporarily enlarged communal council, can therefore benefit from more weekly hours of political leave, enabling them to devote more time to implementing the merger.
Deliberation of intent to merge
When the conclusions reached by the local councils in relation to the analyses carried out are positive, and there is agreement on the fundamental issues, the local councils adopt a deliberation declaring their intention to merge, and instruct their aldermenic colleges to implement this decision.
Drawing up the draft agreement and preliminary draft law
It is up to the colleges of burgomasters and aldermen, in consultation with their communal councils, to draw the conclusions of the discussions on the development of the new commune and to set them down in the form of priorities and projects to be carried out in a draft agreement to be negotiated with the State. The Ministry of the Interior assists the communes in drawing up this agreement and advises them on the legal aspects.
The agreement signed between the communes and the Minister of the Interior serves as the basis for the draft bill to merge the communes concerned. The elements to be included in the bill to merge two or more communes are detailed in Appendix 2. The Ministry of the Interior drafts the preliminary bill in consultation with the communes.
In Luxembourg, it is accepted that a merger of communes can only take place if a consultative communal referendum on the proposed merger has been held beforehand. The procedure to be applied corresponds to that defined by the communal law for the organization of communal referendums. This procedure must be initiated at least three months before the date set for the referendum, in order to comply with the deadlines laid down in the electoral law, particularly with regard to the closing of lists and postal voting.
The decision to hold a referendum is taken by a resolution of the municipal council. The referendum is prepared in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior. Ideally, it should take place around 12 months before the merger law comes into force, so as to be well prepared for the practical implementation of the merger.
Presentation of the merger project and communication to the public
Prior to the referendum, the various elements of the draft agreement are presented to the general public at one or more information meetings. This will enable voters to cast an informed vote on the day of the referendum.
In addition, a survey of a representative sample of the population can be an interesting indicator for taking final communication measures.
Most merged communes have also opted for the publication of an all-in-one brochure to present the advantages of the merger, the new projects that will be carried out and all the changes that will take place (name of the commune, composition of the communal council, etc.).
A regular feature in the "Gemengebuet" on the joint initiatives and projects of the communes concerned is also a useful way of keeping the population informed.
Organizing one or more information meetings for citizens is a practice adopted by all communes that have merged in the past. Some simply held a meeting prior to the referendum, while others preferred to keep citizens informed as work progressed.
Good preparation of these meetings is essential. Some communes have enlisted the help of consultants to organize them, or to lead the debates. Reviewing all the disadvantages of the merger beforehand, so as to be ready to respond with arguments during the debates, proved to be a successful strategy for the merger project.
Deliberations adopting the merger, the agreement and the draft bill
After the referendum, the municipal councils hold a final vote on the merger and adopt the agreement by deliberation. The preliminary draft law finalized by the Ministry of the Interior is also adopted by the communal councils.
The Minister of the Interior then submits the bill to the Chamber of Deputies, and the legislative procedure begins. Once the law has been passed, promulgated and published, the merger takes effect on the date set by the law.
Experience has shown that the phase between the referendum and the birth of the new commune is of vital importance for a successful transition, both administratively and technically. As a rule, the implementation phase is not yet complete at the time of the merger.
Organizing the new administration and staff
As the staff's hierarchical superiors, the colleges of burgomasters and aldermen can determine the organization of the future administration, in line with the priorities set out in the merger agreement.
It is advisable to involve staff in the reorganization of services and the resulting distribution of tasks, taking into account their qualifications and, as far as possible, their interests and aspirations.
During a transitional phase, it is possible to have several communal secretaries, although it is essential that tasks are properly allocated by the college of burgomasters and aldermen of the merged commune.
As far as the collector is concerned, communal law does not allow this post to be shared between several people. In this case, either amicable arrangements must be made with the potential incumbents, or the municipal council of the merged commune must choose (by vote) the new commune's collector from among the incumbents of the former communes. Receivers who are not appointed will retain all their benefits and career prospects, but will have other responsibilities in the merged commune.
Standardization of taxes, subsidies and by-laws
Communes wishing to merge have every interest in standardizing, or at least harmonizing, communal bylaws, taxes and subsidies to associations prior to the merger, so that the merged commune will have a coherent image from the outset. This requires a high degree of collaboration between the political leaders and secretaries of the merging communes. Harmonization in two or three stages may prove prudent, particularly when a commune has to increase the amounts of its taxes and fees substantially.
Rates for municipal business and property taxes will be set in the merger bill.
Budget, accounts and financial situation
The merged commune will face a new financial situation. Ministry of the Interior officials are available to provide local authorities with a simulation of their new financial situation prior to the merger.
In order to guarantee the collection of revenues and the payment of communal expenses from the merged communes, a budget for the new commune must be drawn up by January 1 at the latest. This budget will be drawn up jointly by the communes intending to merge, before the merger takes effect.
Under the provisions of the Communal Law, operations relating to the collection of revenues for a given financial year and the payment of expenses incurred up to December 31 may be extended to April 30 of the following year. However, given that a merger is often scheduled to take effect on January 1, communes must close their accounts for the current financial year before this date.
Communal accounts must therefore be drawn up and their latest detailed financial statements sent to the Ministry of the Interior before this date. At the same time, communes are required to merge their accounts and hand over their cash to the merged commune's tax collector. To do this, they are asked to consult the relevant departments of the Ministry of the Interior, which are at their disposal.
Managing the various PAGs
Ideally, the PAGs of the merging communes should be analyzed in advance, so as to have the key elements to consider before the merger takes place, with a view to standardizing planning.
As soon as the merger takes effect, a gradual harmonization of regulations and zoning will have to be carried out, with an overall perspective, while respecting national land-use planning directives and instruments.
Not only will a certain budget have to be set aside for IT adaptation, but it will also have to be organized in good time to ensure that there are no problems of incompatibility between systems once the merger becomes effective.
Representation in existing inter-municipal cooperative ventures
Communes intending to merge are advised to carefully study the impact of the merger on the syndicates of communes, nature parks and the regional social office. A review of agreements signed with other communes is also recommended.
Setting up a participation and communication strategy at the very start of the process will help to facilitate it, to determine when it is appropriate to involve the commune's key players and how to present the merger to them. However, such a strategy is highly dependent on local, political and temporary specificities.
Finally, the merged commune comes into being on the date stipulated in the merger law. At this stage, however, the transition phase is not yet complete.
Overview of municipal mergers since 2004
(Law of December 21, 2004 merging the communes of Bastendorf and Fouhren)
(Law of July 14, 2005 merging the communes of Kautenbach and Wilwerwiltz)
(Amended law of May 28, 2009 merging the communes of Clervaux, Heinerscheid and Munshausen)
(Law of May 24, 2011 merging the communes of Bascharage and Clemency)
(Law of May 24, 2011 merging the communes of Burmerange, Schengen and Wellenstein)
- Parc Hosingen
(Law of May 24, 2011 merging the municipalities of Consthum, Hoscheid and Hosingen)
(Law of May 24, 2011 merging the communes of Ermsdorf and Medernach)
(Law of May 24, 2011 merging the communes of Esch-sur-Sûre, Heiderscheid and Neunhausen)
(Law of December 19, 2014 merging the communes of Eschweiler and Wiltz)
(Law of April 15, 2016 merging the communes of Hobscheid and Septfontaines)
(Law of April 15, 2016 merging the communes of Boevange-sur-Attert and Tuntange)
(Law of June 16, 2018 merging the communes of Rosport and Mompach)
(Law of March 3, 2023 merging the communes of Grosbous and Wahl)
(Law of March 3, 2023 merging the communes of Bous and Waldbredimus)