Decentralisation, regionalisation, federalisation and rural development in Europe

Decentralisation, regionalisation, federalisation

In Europe over the last 45 years, it has been possible to observe several very disparate processes of decentralisation, regionalisation and federalisation. These are firstly the processes of transformation following the collapse of totalitarian systems in Southern Europe (Greece, Portugal, Spain)in the 1970ies and Eastern Europe after 1989, then the federalisation of Belgium in 1993, the special case of the federalisation of the GDR and the merger of the “Neue Länder” with the Federal Republic of Germany and the regionalisation in Italy and Great Britain (devolution). Regionalisation processes in some European states (Portugal in 1998) and partial regionalisation (Matignon process) failed in the end because they were rejected in refenda.

Europe after 1989

In the countries of the former Soviet bloc in Europe, the process of decentralisation was closely connected with the overall process of transformation of state, economy and society from a totalitarian system to a market economy in a democratic system. Here decentralisation played a central part from the start. Democratic organisation of towns and local authorities was seen as a guarantor against Stalinist central power. This led to a diffusion of competences to often very small municipal entities and in the end resulted in states such as Poland, Slovakia and Hungary suffering severe fragmentation of competences, responsibilities, services and administration. 

Regionalisation in the sense of the creation of a second level between the central state and local authorities with legislative competence, as found in Spain, Italy and Great Britain have so far been lacking in Central Eastern Europe. Here the impetus towards the creation of regions was mainly directed towards an effort to meet the requirements of EU regional policy and its support programmes. Apart from this function, the regional bodies set up in Eastern Central Europe have remained empty shells in many aspects.

The development of rural areas in Europe

The rural areas in large parts of Europe are currently seeking prospects for their development and maintenance in the 21st century. The gap in development between urban centres and rural areas is currently widening significantly. As a result of globalisation, tight public budgets and the agriculture, at least small and mid scale, and the rural areas of Europe are at the crossroads. This applies both to traditional agricultural districts in Eastern Europe as well as to Alpine areas and Southern and Western European areas inside and outside the EU. The rural areas are faced with major outstanding tasks of sustainable development in the areas of housing, employment, health, social services and public transport.

Challenges of the 21st century

In the 21st century the societies of Europe are faced with major challenges that often call for a state reform. Politics and administration should be organised democratically, at the grass roots, effectively and so as to save costs. 

Federal and strongly regionalised states and their regions, cantons and provinces and “Länder” are being exposed to growing pressure to justify themselves in view of the situation of public budgets all over Europe. Centralised states and states with a high level of fragmentation will not be able to escape a critical appraisal of their structures.

Foster Europe would like to support the understanding of regional and federal structures and multi-level governance in Europe and to discuss the opportunities and risks of decentralisation and regionalisation throughout Europe. 

At the same time, Foster Europe wishes to contribute towards developing prospects and concepts for the sustainable development of the rural areas of Europe at a regional level.