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Cosmopolis Lunch Seminar with Laura Deruytter (VUB): Municipal ownership of energy and water utilities in a context of financialised capitalism. A study of intermunicipal companies in Belgium

2 April 2020 , Geography Dept. - Room F 4.66- (VUB - Pleinlaan 2, BE-1050 Brussels, Building F) from 12.00h to 13.30h

This presentation focuses on how intermunicipal companies re-channel financial risks and opportunities of and through the municipal apparatus. My aim is to know whether these municipally-owned but often off-balance public utility companies function as a Trojan horse that introduce financialising tendencies into municipal policy. In Flanders, Belgium, intermunicipal companies have grown significantly and are currently more important than municipalities in terms of asset and debts. At the same time, they operate somewhat under the radar, at the interstices of state and market, and of political and democratic control. While being less strictly regulated than municipalities in terms of financial management, IMCs have been diversifying their (financial) activities since the 2000s, while their bonds and shares are generating a growing interest among private, financial investors. Yet, by being municipally-owned, IMCs still offer tools for the provision of foundational services in the public interest, such as facilitating social services and investing in energy transition. In a context of budgetary restraint, the question is whether this public interest will survive contemporary financializing pressures. I examine this concretely through two cases studies of intermunicipal companies, in the energy and water sector respectively.

Bio speaker:

Laura Deruytter is a researcher and FWO Fellow at Cosmopolis – Centre for Urban Research at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. For her PhD research, she examines the changing nexus between finance and local governments in Belgium, with a focus on municipalities’ engagement with financial markets through municipal companies. Laura holds a MSc in Geography from Ghent University. She is also editor of AGORA, Dutch-Flemish Magazine for Socio-Spatial Issues, and board member of FairFin, an NGO for sustainable and just finance. 

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