Wednesday

27th Mar 2019

Interview

'National governments declining in importance'

  • Franz Schausberger - "regions have to become stronger so that the citizens can strengthen their identity and participate in regional and local democracy." (Photo: Institute of the Regions of Europe)

As more key powers are transferred to Brussels, it poses an existential question for central governments.

A recent study on public finances by the European Commission found that member states, even traditionally centralised ones, have "generally increased" their decentralisation in recent decades.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

This is true for not only for policies such as local infrastructure but also for education, social protection, housing and health care.

Meanwhile, regional and local public spending has increased in most member states and local authorities are broadly accounting for a larger share of the general government deficit.

To this trend comes the transfer of core state activities such as budget planning and spending to the EU level.

"In my opinion national central governments will become less important and will lose more power. They will become more and more impotent," says Franz Schausberger, founder of the Austria-based Institute of the Regions of Europe.

Regions have to become stronger

To compensate, he notes, "regions have to become stronger so that the citizens can strengthen their identity and participate in regional and local democracy."

But Schausberger, who is also a professor of modern history at Salzburg University, says calls for decentralisation are not to be conflated with the "separatist" movements of Flanders, Scotland and Catalonia.

"The independence movements in these countries have different historical, political, economic and mostly nationalistic causes."

"If people with the regions are satisfied then the common Europe will be strong. If not, then we will have the contrary development. I always say that decentralisation is the contrary of separatism."

To the criticism that regionalism, particularly in richer areas, can seem like a call to close the door to less well-off regions, Schausberger answers that solidarity "must exist in Europe."

That richer regions such as Salzburg pay a bigger contribution to the common Austrian pot than poorer regions is clear to a "certain limit"

"In economically good times, it is no problem that the regions are paying into a common pool for the whole state, but if there is an economic crisis, then they also feel it," he says, in reference to Catalonia, where there is a strong independence movement and anger at the level of transfers its makes to the rest of Spain.

"They say: it is no longer so easy for regions to pay and they look for something in return – such as own taxes and fiscal decentralisation. Then the central government has to discuss with them. If they don't they will look for a radical solution."

The other danger the current economic crisis brings with it, according to Schausberger, is the "general trend" across Europe of central governments cutting back on regional spending.

New EU EU treaty

In Austria, which along with Belgium and Germany, is considered to be a fully federalised state, "there are a lot of discussions, as well as concrete moves, to reduce local and regional democracy."

"But you need to offset national governments losing power. People should have the possibility to identify more and more with their regions as a counterpart to the not very transparent but more powerful Europe."

His answer is a new treaty convention with a "major focus" on decentralisation. Brussels should stick to "major issues" such as economic governance and stop trying to regulate in the minutiae.

"The national level will never disappear but there should be an equal importance between Brussels, national and regional levels," he said.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2013 Regions & Cities Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of our Regions & Cities magazine.

Magazine

Catalan separatist looks to crisis with hope

It is often said that on the long and winding road to European union, it takes a crisis to move ahead. Now the same may be true for regional independence. "Independentism has become a cross-cutting movement."

Scottish EU membership is 'no formality'

The rest of the UK should support a 'fast-tracked' application for an independent Scotland to join the EU, according to a report published Wednesday by MPs.

Magazine

A deep dive into the EU regional funds

While the regional funds account for a full third of the EU budget, they are somewhat under-reported. EUobserver's latest edition of the Regions & Cities magazine looks at the EU's cohesion policy.

Magazine

A tourist's guide to EU-funded Amsterdam

When it comes to projects paid for by EU regional funds, most people think of roads in Romania or bridges in Bulgaria. But richer regions also receive money. EUobserver takes you on a tour of selected projects in Amsterdam.

News in Brief

  1. EU tables plan for joint approach to 5G security
  2. MEPs agree to scrap summer time clock changes by 2021
  3. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  4. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  5. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  6. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  7. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  8. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm

Magazine

A deep dive into the EU regional funds

While the regional funds account for a full third of the EU budget, they are somewhat under-reported. EUobserver's latest edition of the Regions & Cities magazine looks at the EU's cohesion policy.

Magazine

The EU Agencies Race

In this edition of EUobserver's Regions & Cities magazine, we take a closer look at some of the EU agencies, exploring how their location matters and the benefits for cities and regions to host them.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law
  2. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  3. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  4. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  5. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  6. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  7. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  8. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us