Challenges of the metropolitan governance of Barcelona

Mariona Tomàs

Professor of political science and administration at the University of Barcelona

The debate on metropolitan governance is present throughout the world. The question of what powers, what funding and election system for political representatives should exist at the metropolitan level has been raised since the beginning of the 20th century. Recently, there has been a wave of metropolitan reforms in Europe, which have resulted in the creation of metropolitan governments in Italy, France, England, Portugal and Poland.

In the case of Barcelona, there is also a recently created metropolitan government: the Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB). Likewise, there are several challenges that are expressed in a broader reality than that of the 36 municipalities that belong to the AMB. Indeed, the AMB is the nucleus of a more extensive metropolitan region, the Metropolitan Region of Barcelona (RMB), which includes 127 towns in the Baix Llobregat, Vallès Occidental, Vallès Oriental and Maresme regions, in which we must add 72 municipalities of the vegueria del Penedès: a reality of almost 200 municipalities that share various problems, such as territorial cohesion, access to housing, climate change, mobility or economic development, but without governing bodies. For this reason, hard policies (related to land management), but also soft policies (related to caring for people), require a regional dimension.

In the case of Barcelona, it is a territory with a high institutional density with more than one hundred instruments of inter-municipal cooperation. Thus, apart from the municipalities, the AMB, the regions and the Barcelona Provincial Council, there are consortiums, associations, companies, etc. This fragmentation makes it even more difficult to coordinate metropolitan policies and the metropolitan vision of the challenges and solutions to be implemented. Therefore, a simple coordination between municipalities is not enough to cope. Faced with this situation, there are several options, more or less institutionalized.

At one extreme, the territorial structure of Catalonia could be adapted and organized to the needs of the current reality. To do this, the debate on metropolitan governance should be broadened at the level of Catalonia and the State (giving it a regulatory framework, if possible). The driving role of the Generalitat would be key and, therefore, this is a solution that is not in the hands of local authorities and that, probably, would go through a presentation in the Parliament of Catalonia. The precedent of the Law of vegueries (approved but not applied) makes this route unlikely. Furthermore, it is a long-term solution while the demands for improvement of metropolitan governance are urgent.

In search of a more immediate solution and with fewer reforms, more flexible and adapted tools (agreements, consortia, agencies) could be promoted in those areas in which it is detected that they are necessary, with the support and commitment of the Generalitat of Catalonia . For example, the sectoral consortium model could be a good answer to cover the needs of the municipalities of the RMB, provided that a financial and political commitment is obtained from the Generalitat de Catalunya.

Without creating new institutions or entities, another way would be to activate existing instruments. For example, executing and implementing the proposals already provided for in the Territorial Plan of the Metropolitan Region and reconstituting the Barcelona Metropolitan Territorial Planning Commission. This commission could meet periodically and set a calendar of actions, since until now it has been inactive.

Finally, little institutionalized initiatives could be carried out, of rapid creation, based on a horizontal model in which all municipalities were represented. For example, mechanisms to promote networking, such as the Air Quality Table among metropolitan municipalities.

In any option, the set of metropolitan actors, both institutional and business, from the third sector, etc., should be consulted. Agents who have a vision of the territory and who know it directly cannot be ignored. If decisions are made only from the administrations, there is a greater risk that the initiative will not go ahead.

Whichever formula is chosen, it is essential to deal with real issues on which the municipalities demand coordination. These themes are especially three: mobility, housing and social rights. It is therefore necessary to work from these issues that generate consensus and on which there is a common denominator. For this, it is necessary to overcome the mistrust between the great metropolis and the smaller municipalities. The feeling still prevails that Barcelona and its metropolitan area have greater weight in the distribution of (scarce) resources. One way to overcome misgivings would be to strengthen the fiscal and functional autonomy of local governments, as municipalities have been demanding for years.

In any case, a shared and multilevel governance is necessary among the already existing actors. Taking into account the territorial scope - we are talking about more than five million inhabitants - the role of the Generalitat is essential and it is necessary that, in one way or another, it takes sides in the metropolitan debate.

"What governance do we want for the metropolitan region of the future?" is a conference organized by the Catalunya Catalunya Foundation, the Barcelona Metropolitan Strategic Plan (PEMB) and the Club of Rome, which is part of the“ Multilevel Metropolis ”debate series of the participatory process Barcelona Demà Compromís Metropolità 2030, launched by the PEMB.You will find more information about the session here