Europeanisation of municipalities and provinces: from ad hoc to self-evident

Overhandiging rapport aan minister van Binnenlandse Zaken
Photo: VNG, from left to right: Arthur van Dijk (House of the Dutch Provinces), Jan van Zanen (VNG ) and Minister Hanke Bruins Slot (Interior and Kingdom Relations).

European integration intersects with municipal and provincial policies in multiple ways. From paying volunteers at the fire department, migrant workers, procurement of youth care, to the air, soil and water quality around us. But an up to date, representative and well-supported overview of how municipalities and provinces adapt to European integration was lacking until now. Researchers at Utrecht University have now charted this. Their research provides the foundation for municipalities and provinces to better adapt to European integration. Important conclusion: they need a clear, substantial strategy for this. On Monday 22 May, the research report was presented to the Dutch Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Hanke Bruins Slot.

Commissioned by the Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten (VNG) and the House of the Dutch Provinces (HDP) in Brussels, and with support from the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Utrecht University has charted how municipalities and provinces have adapted to European integration, from procurement of European subsidies, carrying out European laws, European influencing of policy, participation in European (knowledge) networks to positioning on the European market.

Download the report 'Van ad hoc naar vanzelfsprekend: Hoe Nederlandse gemeenten en provincies inspelen op Europese integratie.' (website VNG, in Dutch)

Important findings

These are the most important findings from the report:


  • The degree of Europeanisation varies considerably among municipalities. Especially bigger municipalities and municipalities near the German and/or Belgian borders are more Europeanised. On average, provinces are more Europeanised than municipalities.
  • The differences vary on an organisational level. Especially smaller municipalities respond to European integration in an ad hoc fashion, while there are also municipalities and provinces in which civil servants and administrators devote themselves to making Europe an integral and natural part of their organisations and policies.
  • Less than half of the municipalities and about three quarters of the provinces consider themselves capable or very capable when it comes to carrying out European laws. Problems in the carrying out of European laws are not always communicated well to The Hague and Brussels. As there are already all kinds of new European laws ready to be implemented, that can result in problems while these laws are carried out. If municipalities and provinces do not follow European laws, that can be detrimental to municipalities and provinces, for instance if permits are successfully challenged in court.
  • Applying for European subsidies requires capacity. That is especially tricky for smaller municipalities to generate. Besides this, there is also a common misunderstanding in politics, governance and management that European subsidies can quickly fill gaps in their own budgets. Even though subsidies are means to realise the local and European policy goals.
  • European influence on policy occurs less often in municipalities than in provinces. That is not a surprise. Lobbying is labour intensive. And on top of that, it requires knowledge on the lesser known European playing field. But if municipalities and provinces see their residents' health, nature and economy as important, they cannot get around influencing European policies. They cannot and do not have to do that alone as small players in a European setting. They have to resort to collaboration for this in the region, in the province, at national and European levels with other governments, the corporate world and knowledge institutions.
  • A clear strategy is required. The procurement of European subsidies, participation in European (knowledge) networks and European policy influencing as well as positioning on the European market of the local/regional economy, require clear strategies in order to not be ad hoc, but instead line up with European integration in a purposeful and consistent way. By doing so, a municipality, province or collaboration gains fame, influence and appeal in certain (policy) fields. By integrating European integration into their own substantial strategies, this also becomes a more self-evident part of their policies.

Research team

Hans Vollaard, Marij Swinkels, Lucia Feiters, Harmen Binnema en Lisanne de Blok from the Utrecht University School of Governance (USG).

Project team VNG-HNP: Simone Goedings (project leader), Alexander van den Bosch, Machteld van Dijk, Petra Bassie, Frans van de Waart, Lisa Brakband, Chitra Thakoerdat en Linda Akkerman.

More informatie and full report

Would you like to know more? If you do, please download the full report or contact Hans Vollaard:

Download the report ‘Van ad hoc naar vanzelfsprekend: Hoe Nederlandse gemeenten en provincies inspelen op Europese integratie’ (website VNG, in Dutch).