Friday

20th Jan 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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.

Focus

Dieselgate casts doubt over low emission zones

Many European cities use low emission zones, and some are considering to ban dirty cars. But there are limits to how well the EU standards can be used to determine which cars are clean.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Hollande thinking of EU council bid
  2. Italy to hold 70% of Monte dei Paschi bank
  3. Nato hit by 500 cyberattacks every month
  4. Hundreds of migrants face German security review
  5. Outgoing US vice-president warns Europe on Russia
  6. German far-right party calls for end to WWII guilt
  7. First Chinese freight train arrives in Europe
  8. Europe has no vision, says Italian minister

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  2. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  4. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  5. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  7. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  8. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  9. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  10. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  11. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  12. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey

Latest News

  1. 'Be patient,' ECB chief tells Germany
  2. EU cannot copy Australia's offshore asylum model
  3. Brexit men launch anti-EU website
  4. Germany details its 'Marshall Plan' for Africa
  5. IMF predicts 'pain' for UK, as banks prepare London exit
  6. EP deal could help Tusk keep Council job
  7. UN struggles to monitor fate of readmitted Syrians in Turkey
  8. European space chief: Moon village is 'more or less a fact'