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Democratic effects of institutional reform in local government : the case of the Dutch Local Government Act 2002

University of Twente
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  • Law
  • Political Science


This dissertation focuses on the effects of institutional reform in local government: more specifically the democratic effects of the Dutch Local Government Act 2002. This new legislation was introduced to address two problems. First, the new legislation tried to strengthen the role of the council in its relation to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. This relation was problematic because the formal legislative and executive primacy of the council was becoming increasingly fictitious. As a consequence of several developments the primacy of the council was hollowed out and the dominance of the executive branch became ever stronger. In order to enhance democratic accountability, the reformers wanted to reduce this executive domination and to strengthen the underdeveloped control mechanism of the council. Second, the reforms aimed at improving the relation between the council and the citizens. The reformers feared that several developments may have had negative effects on the legitimacy of local government. In order to address this issue the new act aimed at strengthening the representative function of the council and increasing councillors’ responsiveness to citizens. The main question that is answered in this study is whether the institutional reforms introduced through the new legislation were successful in achieving their envisioned democratic effects (with regard to democratic accountability and responsiveness). Institutional reforms can encourage or restrict particular types of behaviour of actors. The study uses the Theory of Planned Behaviour to understand the factors that might produce behavioural change: personal attitudes, social norms, and a person’s ability to show the behaviour. Moreover it also focuses on the effects of socialisation and recruitment in bringing about attitudinal and behavioural change. On the basis of repeated surveys amongst councillors this research shows that the new legislation was at least to some extent successful in changing councillors' role orientations: they consider responsiveness activities, but especially accountability activities as more important than before. Furthermore, the perceived executive dominance decreases. No behavioural changes in terms of time distribution were found. Changes in the councillors' role orientations are mainly caused by the selection mechanism: councillors with a specific profile taking place in the council.

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