The idea that regions are replacing nation states and that the future of Europe lies in a loose, decentralised federation of regions is a misinterpretation of recent and current developments.
This ‘small is beautiful’ ideology of a ‘Europe of the Regions’ can be rejected on empirical and normative grounds: it is still largely the existing member states which control EU integration and define the regions; the strongest regional threats to nation states come from nationalist movements wanting their own ‘nation state’; most regions would be too weak to cope with the pressures of globalisation; and their very diversity rules them out as a replacement for nation states.
Section 5 brings the discussion to a head. We have suggested that neither a return to a ‘Europe of Nations’ nor a Federal European super-state is likely. Of the three models under discussion, a ‘Europe of the Regions’ is the most plausible. But this has also been rejected as a likely outcome.
A key skill in any kind of academic study is to be able to summarise an argument, and then assess it critically by looking for flaws in the evidence or in the logic. That is what you should do here. As a final exercise, try to answer these two questions:
Briefly summarise the main points of the argument against the likelihood of a ‘Europe of the Regions’.
The idea is more normative (what some people would like to happen) than empirical (what will happen).
The trend towards regions growing in importance has been exaggerated.
The thesis about the decline of the nation-state has also been over-stated.
Moreover, it is not a zero-sum game: regions do not simply gain at the expense of states. For example, devolving power to a region might strengthen rather than weaken states.
States continue to define the powers of regions: hence they set the limits on regionalism.
And it is states who still control the direction and pace of European integration.
Regions are too varied in their interests, power, and democratic legitimacy to combine effectively in pursuit of their interests.
Can you think of any counter-arguments?
In this course we have claimed that ‘weaker’ versions of regionalism have been favoured in EU circles, partly because the Commission wanted ‘allies in the regions rather than enemies in the states’. This claim sounds rather logical and attractive, but no evidence is cited for it.
It has also been suggested that ‘the stronger version had more resonance at the popular level’. Whilst there may have been evidence for this from Scotland and Catalonia, one could equally argue that it has been notably absent from popular demand in Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal and so on.
We have attacked John Hume's conception of a ‘European federation of equal regions’ that would leave competing nationalisms behind, because regions are unequal in power and resources. However, in the USA the 50 constituent states vary enormously in terms of geographical area, wealth and population, but it could be claimed that each of them has some claim to equality with the others in terms of domestic policy making.
It is too simple to say that states set the limits to regionalism. Whilst they may have dictated the original constitution or devolution settlement, regional autonomy can generate its own momentum. In the cases of Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders or even Northern Italy, the movements towards independence may become so powerful that states are simply unable to control them.