Friday

21st Jul 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

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.

News in Brief

  1. Polish parliament adopts controversial justice reform
  2. GMO opt-out plan unlikely to go anywhere in 2017
  3. Slovak PM threatens to boycott inferior food
  4. France takes Google's 'right to be forgotten' to EU court
  5. Turkey accuses German companies of supporting terror
  6. Israel's Netanyahu caught calling EU 'crazy'
  7. UK does not collect enough data to expel EU nationals
  8. Polish president threatens to veto justice reform

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  2. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  3. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  4. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  6. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  9. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  10. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  12. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School

Latest News

  1. Dutch coalition talks lengthiest in 40 years
  2. Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
  3. EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions
  4. Law expert: direct EU powers have become too complicated
  5. Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive
  6. Mafia money pollutes the EU economy
  7. Central Europe should be wary of Brexit stopping
  8. Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary