Friday

15th Nov 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 20 year's of archives. 30-day 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. Germany: EU banking union deal possible in December
  2. EIB: no more funding of fossil-fuel projects
  3. UK defence chief: Russia could trigger World War III
  4. Hungary's Varhelyi will face more questions
  5. Police put former Berlusconi MEP Comi under house arrest
  6. MEPs criticise Poland for criminalising sex education
  7. UK will not name new commissioner before election
  8. Trump expected to delay EU car tariff decision

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 MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner
  2. Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room
  3. Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner
  4. EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors
  5. Hungary's commissioner-to-be grilled over loyalty to Orban
  6. Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act
  7. Leftist MEPs call on EU to address crisis in Chile
  8. Mustard gas and cod: Last chance to stop Nord Stream 2?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us