Financialisation à la belge: mapping the changing nexus between finance and local governments

David Bassens, Laura Deruytter

Research Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research

FWO Research fellowship

This project examines how and why Belgian municipal governments are increasingly using innovative financial tools to balance their budget and provide public services. This development is captured by the phrase ‘financialisation à la belge’. The term financialisation refers to the increasing role of financial markets in different spheres of society, and in this case, governments in particular. While taking place around the world, financialisation is not a uniform process, but shaped by local conditions and agents. Using the term ‘à la belge’, the project therefore embeds financialisation in the multi-scalar context of Belgium, by tracing the geographical and historical contingencies of the changing nexus between finance and the state. First, the project maps the altering financial position of municipalities in the political-institutional landscape from 1985 onwards. Second, through a dual case study, the project interrogates two financial mechanisms, one relating to state funding (Municipal Holding and Dexia), and one relating to the outsourcing of infrastructure services to intermunicipal companies (Farys). The third step is to explain these mechanisms by examining the network of financial and political agents that anchor financial instruments in every day public policy. Overall, the projects aims to qualify the emergence of financialised local governance in Belgium, augmenting our understanding of the constitutive yet variegated process of financialisation of the state.