5.4 Weaknesses of the regionalist project
In normative terms, as with empirical reality, regions are not necessarily more desirable than states, and in some respects could be distinctly worse. Despite the many shortcomings of existing states, it is by no means self-evident that regions would fare better in the face of global forces, and most regions, being significantly weaker than their states, would arguably be significantly less effective in delivering economic welfare, cultural and other rights. Such rights may be decreasing in existing states but the capability of these states is still much more substantial than that of any foreseeable regional alternatives. A ‘Europe of the Regions’ could indeed turn out to be a multiplicity of smaller competing units all ‘beggaring their neighbours’, and without the possibility of the state-organised regional transfers or cross-subsidies which are still generally much more important to disadvantaged regions than EU aid. While the German Länder are very powerful, it was the German state which made the crucial (albeit inadequate) resource transfers to former East Germany.
As with ‘new regionalism’ (see Section 2), the ‘Europe of the Regions’ project has the same dangers of underestimating the continuing economic importance of the state, overestimating the coherence of most regions, and conceding too much ground to the dominant neo-liberal ideology which would weaken the state's intervention and redistributive capabilities. Indeed, in some richer regions (for example, in northern Italy), regionalisms have been partly motivated by opposition to transfers from themselves to despised poorer regions, and nationalism has no monopoly on supremacist racist attitudes. Contrary to the benign vision, some regionalisms can be very parochial, even xenophobic, as well as progressive – they are not inherently either one or the other. As for the question of Europe's future, the answers on empirical and normative grounds suggest that it is unlikely to be a ‘Europe of the Regions’. It seems equally as unlikely as a return to the ‘Europe of nation states’ model, or the development of a fully-fledged federal ‘United States of Europe’ super-state.