1 Background and context to Europe's regions
1.1 The debates
How and why have Europe's regions and their relations with states been changing in recent decades? What roles are regions playing and likely to play in the emerging governance structures of the European Union (EU)? These structures, still in the process of formation, raise strongly contested normative as well as empirical questions, and regions occupy a central position in debates about past trends and possible futures. Three main political models have been proposed for the future of the EC, and each of course has to give an account of the regions. What is a model? Well, it is a simplified picture of more complex developments, showing their most important features. For instance, in debates about the EU's ‘democratic deficit’, is the answer a reassertion of liberal democracy in nation states, a return to a ‘Europe of Nations’ in the revealing misnomer of traditionalists opposed to regionalism and wedded to the so-called ‘nation state’? Alternatively, should democratic reconstruction involve a ‘Federal Europe’ super-state? Or does the future lie with sub-state identities in a decentralised ‘Europe of the Regions’? Which of the three models represents the most likely future? And which is the most desirable one? In the case of these political models, it is important to note that they are based partly on empirical accounts of what has happened, and partly on normative visions of what ought to happen in the future. For each has its own political supporters, and that means the debate is by no means simply academic! Away from the quiet of the ivory tower, politicians are arguing about the future of Europe. And there can be no doubt that what becomes of Europe will be determined in part by the models that the politicians have in their heads. All three models have been widely touted and all three reflect elements of reality; yet none on its own captures the complexities of a regionalising Europe. Instead, should we perhaps expect ‘more of the same’, with regions playing an increasingly important role in complex multi-level structures which continue to involve the nation states, the EU's central institutions, and other transnational political actors (see Bromley, 2001)? Perhaps in a sense the future has already arrived.