4.3 Regional networking and alliances
Increasingly, regions have become important players in their own right. Partly because of encouragement and legitimation from EU institutions, but also on their own initiative and in response to the threats and opportunities of the SEM, regional interests have been demanding more powers and resources. In many cases regional authorities have played a key, neo-corporatist role in stimulating economic development, linking ‘Eurocrats’, multinational companies, the local bourgeoisie, politicians and trade unions, and educational and training establishments. The lack or weakness of regional political structures is increasingly seen as having a debilitating effect on regional economic performance. This ‘new regionalist’ argument (see Section 3) is widely used by regional groups seeking more autonomy or self-government.
To further these political objectives, regions have increasingly become involved in creating transnational alliances with other regions, new cross-border regional entities, and the Committee of the Regions. There was an upsurge of transnational inter-regional cooperation manifested in a multiplicity of regional groupings and associations reaching across the member states. Thus the ‘Four Motors’ – the ‘bourgeois regionalism’ or ‘high-tech’ association of Baden-Wurttemburg, Lombardy, Rhone-Alpes, Catalonia, and, more recently, Wales – was established in 1989 with encouragement from the EU (see Figure 2 in Section 3.2). It was explicitly presented as an alliance which would enable these strong regions to take a ‘pathbreaking role’ in the new Europe (Harvie, 1994), while for Catalonia it was also a means of asserting its own separate national identity and pursuing its own ‘European’ interests rather than making common cause with poorer regions in Spain. However, while some of these alliances continue to reflect substantial economic and political linkages, many had little substance or were arbitrary and lacked identity or legitimacy (for example, the ‘Atlantic Arc’ linking Wales, Brittany, Aquitaine, Galicia). The diversity of regions, particularly across different states, militates against the formation of coherent regional alliances and only rarely do they link the interests of ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ or rich and poor regions. In general the new cross-border regions formed by contiguous regions from either side of a border (for example, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) are on firmer footing, though such entities often suffer from having a history of antagonism (for example, Kent and Nord Pas de Calais) rather than a history of cooperation on which to build.