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Friday, October 5, 2007

Trend of regionalism in Europe (country by country analysis)

Here you can read an excerpt of the interesting report, Regionalisation in Europe (II. European regionalism, an overview), a working document of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, that describes the trend of regionalism in Europe in recent years and gives an overview of the situation in the regionalised countries of Europe.

Read More II. European regionalism, an overview

"7. This section of the report gives a brief overview of the state of regionalisation in Europe. It is,however, confined to a very general description of the concrete situation in each state under consideration, the aim being to show the great importance of regions and the gradual tendency for Council of Europe member states to adopt a regional organisation.

8. Certain considerations must nonetheless be borne in mind. Firstly, owing to their very nature the small states (Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, etc.) are not divided into regions, which is moreover neither possible nor, no doubt, desirable. In addition, the diversity of regions must not be overlooked and therefore there must be no confusing their various facets (geographical, political, legal, identity-linked, administrative). Quite the opposite, these differences must be taken into account.

9. At the same time, the policy governing distribution of the European Union's structural funds and projects has obliged some states to set up new regions, which are sometimes quite simply invented, in order to adapt their administrative organisation to EU rules. Many of these "regions" serve no other objective and are consequently not autonomous regions, such as those discussed in this report.

10. Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey have no politically autonomous regions, although some of them do have administrative sub-divisions of the state or subdivisions which exist for statistical, planning or, in EU member states, structural fund allocation purposes. It is nonetheless interesting to note that in some of these countries a regionalisation process is now under way.

11. Conversely, it can be seen that autonomous regions are very widespread in the larger European countries. Over twenty states have had to adopt some form of regional self-government, whether specific to a given geographical area or generally applicable, as in federal states.

12. These countries' regions are extremely varied, with very diverse degrees of autonomy and very different legal and political characteristics. Although one cannot generalise, these states may have used different kinds of autonomous status to settle historical territorial claims to power or problems of cultural and political identity.

13. Regionalisation has a firm foothold in the following states:

i. Austria
14. Austria is a federal state with nine "Länder" or autonomous regions. Each Land has an executive, which exercises all powers not expressly conferred on the federal government, and a parliament, which elects the executive and is authorised to legislate in all matters not constitutionally the preserve of the state.

ii. Belgium
15. Belgium is a federal state divided, from a territorial standpoint, into three regions: Brussels, Flanders and the Walloon region. These autonomous entities have their own legislature - a parliament made up of regional elected representatives. They are vested with many powers in economic, development, environment and energy matters and in European and international relations. However, it is the Flemish, French and German-speaking communities which are competent for culture, language and education, with an organisation and powers similar to those of the regions.

iii. Bosnia and Herzegovina
16. The Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995 established a fairly complex federation on account of the ethnic disputes and the outcome of the Balkans war. There are two entities: the Bosnian-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. The two communities making up the first entity do not have a "regional" structure within it. They have many powers and responsibilities and exercise authority over local government, but on a power-sharing basis. In the Republika Srpska the whole situation is much clearer.
The entity is almost fully autonomous, with only slight dependence on the state. The division into two entities reflects, but does not completely mirror, the presence of three ethnic groups.

iv. Cyprus
17. Cyprus is partitioned between two communities (Greek and Turkish). The United Nations proposes a federation as a solution to the dispute. In any case, the division into two ethnic and cultural entities is clear.

v. Czech Republic
18. Traditionally, the Czech Republic has three historical regions - Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, but in 2002 a decentralisation process resulted in the creation of fourteen regions (Kraje) with a regional assembly elected by universal suffrage and a significant degree of autonomy. These regions enjoy some legislative powers. For the purposes of allocation of the EU funds, the country has been split into seven regions and the district of Prague.

vi. Denmark
19. Denmark has set up five new regions with effect from 2007, but they are not politically autonomous. However, the country has two territories of considerable political and geographical importance - Greenland, part of the American continent, and the Faroe Islands. Both enjoy home rule and have a legislature and very broad powers, mostly coordinated and negotiated with the High Commissioner representing the Danish government.

vii. Finland
20. There is no genuine regional tier of government in Finland, although there are nineteen subdivisions, termed regions, which are little more than federations or groupings of municipalities. For the purpose of the EU funds, four regional groupings have been set up. The Åland Islands nonetheless have autonomous status, with a parliament, enjoying wide legislative powers, and an autonomous government, which decides policy in a very large number of areas. The region of Kainuu also has own powers in the field of service provision.

21.Recent reforms of France's traditional unitary system of government have led to the emergence of various forms of regionalisation. Mention can first be made of the autonomous status of the four overseas territories. France has also given Corsica special autonomous status and has implemented a general regionalisation process, leading to the creation of 25 regions without real autonomy or legislative powers.
Attention should also be drawn to the significant role played by the "départements" with their elected "conseils généraux".

ix. Georgia
22.There is a regional level of government, comprising 12 entities with unclear status, not all of which enjoy the same degree of autonomy. The two autonomous republics of Abkhazia and Adjaria and the capital city, Tbilisi, differ from the rest. The Georgian government is also in dispute with the republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are pursuing separatist agendas and have so far rejected the possibility of a federation.

x. Germany
23. Germany is a federal state consisting of 16 "Länder" or autonomous states. Each has a legislative assembly empowered to elect an executive, with a large number of responsibilities. They enjoy huge financial autonomy and are represented by a federal organ, the Bundesrat.

xi. Hungary
24. Hungary is administratively subdivided into 19 counties (megye) deriving a degree of importance from the country's history and identity. They have some say in regional policy-making. Hungary has also set up seven statistical or spatial planning regions, which cover several counties and deal with regional development. However, they have no political autonomy.

xii. Italy
25. Italy currently has a constitutionally guaranteed decentralised system of government with 20 regions: five enjoying special status and fifteen ordinary regions. The country also has two autonomous provinces, which are largely self-governing. The regions have been vested with legislative powers. In 2001 a constitutional reform expanded the regions' autonomy, which is now very broad, and strengthened federal mechanisms.

xiii. Moldova
26. Moldova combines three kinds of regional subdivision in a state which is defined as administratively decentralised and includes an autonomous territorial unit, Gagauzia. A reform fraught with difficulties led to the replacement of the ten regions (judets) by 32 districts (rayony), whose autonomy has in fact been reduced. Gagauzia has its own executive and legislature enjoying broad powers.

27. The twelve provinces correspond to a weak form of regionalisation, without legislative powers but with some own competences. One province, Friesland, has a somewhat distinct identity, which distinguishes it from the others.

xv. Poland
28. Following the transition to democracy a significant legislative reform modified the administrative division of the state, reducing the number of regions (voivodeships) from 49 to 16. However, these are not politically autonomous regions. Most have administrative powers, and some a degree of legislative power.
They are responsible in particular for regional and cultural development.

xvi. Portugal
29. Portugal has a unitary system of government with unequal regionalisation. There are two autonomous regions with legislative powers and a special status - the Azores and Madeira. A regionalisation reform was rejected in 1998 but new proposals for sub-dividing the country into regions are currently again being examined. Mainland Portugal has five spatial planning regions.

xvii. Russian Federation
30. The federal constitution establishes different levels of sub-state authorities, such as the 21 republics, which have their own constitutions, the six territories (kraja), the 49 regions (oblasti), one autonomous region, ten autonomous districts and two federal cities (Moscow and St Petersburg). The result is very unequal regionalisation, since the republics have certain special rights and a number of the federal subjects have signed bilateral treaties with the federation, considerably enhancing differences in autonomy.

xviii Serbia
31. This republic is currently a state composed of two autonomous provinces: Vojvodina and Kosovoand Metohija. The former has many national minorities (26) although the majority of the population is Serb. Kosovo has a huge Albanian majority and became a de facto international protectorate at the end of the war.
The international community is now debating the future status of this region, which many wish to see become an independent state, as was recently the case with Montenegro.

xix. Slovakia
32. The country has 12 (8) higher territorial subdivisions solely for the purpose of EU regional policy. There is an ongoing debate on this territorial organisation.

xx. Slovenia
33. Slovenia has passed legislation setting up regions, but they have not yet officially been constituted.

xxi. Spain
34. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 set up 17 autonomous regions. In general, the specificities of the various historical and political identities were respected. The Autonomous Communities have vast powers, excluding strictly federal powers retained by the state. They all have an executive and a parliament with broad legislative powers. However, they are not all equally autonomous; Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia and Andalusia have a status different from that of the other regions, and also from one another. The statutes of autonomy of the Canary and Balearic Island communities also differ. Similarly, the cities of Ceuta and Melilla under Spanish sovereignty in North Africa have their own autonomous status.

xxii. Sweden
35. Sweden has a decentralised tier of government in the form of 18 counties, which are more of the nature of local government authorities having some powers but not of a legislative nature.

xxiii. Switzerland
36. Switzerland is a federal state made up of cantons and half-cantons, which all have specific sovereign status (their own executive, legislature and judiciary). It constitutes a special case of virtually total regional autonomy vested in the 26 cantons, to the point where they can even conclude international treaties.
Switzerland's system of referendums also guarantees self-determination at cantonal level.

xxiv Turkey
37. There is no regionalisation process. The country has seven geographical regions for purely statistical purposes. Despite exerting pressure, the Kurd community has not been granted autonomous status, apart from certain linguistic and cultural rights.

xxv. Ukraine
38. The country is subdivided into 24 regions (oblasts), which are purely administrative in nature and have no powers of self-management, plus the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The latter has its own constitution and an independent legislature and executive, which are nonetheless subject to the laws of Ukraine and the authority of the President and the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. It is nonetheless vested with huge powers within its territory.

xxvi. United Kingdom
39. The United Kingdom has a unitary system of government. It recently went through a devolution process, conferring considerable autonomy on the historical nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland and Northern Ireland have legislative powers. Wales has a strong executive, but no legislative powers. Furthermore, a regional reform of the fourth nation, England, is under way.

40. To sum up, excluding the small states where the creation of regions is pointless, it can be seen that, in the majority of Council of Europe member states, regionalisation is either already firmly established or under way. Most of the larger countries of Europe have a well-developed sub-state level of government formed of regions enjoying considerable autonomy and legislative powers.

41. It is true that some countries have adopted semi-regionalisation solutions, that is to say a sub-state level of government above the strictly local tier but without the legal or political strength conferred by regional autonomy. In many of these countries there is an ongoing debate on organisation of this level of government taking account of criteria of subsidiarity and proximity.

42. Mention should also be made of the fact that a number of member states are confronted with linguistic, cultural and identity-related claims by ethnic groups, historical communities or national minorities, who are seeking to assert their right to a say in cultural and political matters. The best solution, at least in a number of cases, is probably a form of regional autonomy (where functionally feasible).

43. At the same time, it is unrealistic to assume that these identity-based demands will diminish or die out. On the contrary, globalisation has caused people to seek a form of return to their roots and fostered a sense of belonging to a small home community, the closest local or regional group. In response to this trend to take refuge in the nearest, most local community, in one's mother tongue and traditional culture, there is a need for recognition of these cultural and political realities via a solution that is satisfactory for all concerned, which could in most cases be of a federal or regional nature.(...)"

Full Report

Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe; Rapporteur: Mr Lluís Maria de PUIG, Report - Regionalisation in Europe, Doc.11373, 14 September 2007, pg. 6-10