ESRC Post doctoral fellowship: The challenges and opportunities for substate territories in Europe - a comparitive analysis of party strategies for autonomy, power and capacity.

  • Hepburn, Eve (Principal Investigator)

Project Details

Description

This project examined the impact of European integration on regional demands for autonomy. It explored the ways in which state and European structural change have contributed to a more pronounced emphasis on territorial interests, which in turn encouraged has substate (including nationalist and regionalist parties) parties to pursue autonomist strategies as part of a ‘Europe of the Regions’. Previous literature had failed to account for the complexity of regional responses to Europe, or to examine bottom-up party political mobilisation on European issues. This project aimed to fill this gap by offering an actor-centred account of the development and effects of multi-level governance. In particular, it aimed to identify what ‘challenges’ and ‘opportunities’ were available to substate political actors as a result of spatial rescaling.

Layman's description

This project examined the impact of European integration on regional demands for autonomy. It explored the ways in which state and European structural change have contributed to a more pronounced emphasis on territorial interests, which in turn encouraged has substate (including nationalist and regionalist parties) parties to pursue autonomist strategies as part of a ‘Europe of the Regions’. Previous literature had failed to account for the complexity of regional responses to Europe, or to examine bottom-up party political mobilisation on European issues. This project aimed to fill this gap by offering an actor-centred account of the development and effects of multi-level governance. In particular, it aimed to identify what ‘challenges’ and ‘opportunities’ were available to substate political actors as a result of spatial rescaling.

Key findings

This project produced two main sets of findings:



The Impact of Europe

The first finding was that Europe has had a profound effect on the territorial strategies of substate political parties. Nearly all of the parties examined adopted the goal of a Europe of the Regions, which was used to support a variety of territorial projects. These included constitutional goals, ranging from demands for independence to federalism, as well as socieoeconomic goals, whereby wealthier regions tended to endorse free market competition to enhance their status, whilst poorer regions sought to even out regional economic disparities through European structural funding. It was therefore clear that responses to European integration varied widely, despite the fact that regions faced similar challenges and opportunities in Europe.



The research project also revealed that parties have not had consistent positions on Europe across time. Whilst many regional parties were hostile to European integration in the early 1980s, seeing the EC as a distant and centralised structure, by the early 1990s most had begun to advocate the possibilities of autonomy in ‘Europe of the Regions’. The state ceased to be the main focus of the constitutional and economic demands of regionalist parties in Western Europe. Instead they began to shift their claims from ‘independence-nothing-less’ to a ‘special place in Europe’. However, this convergence of territorial demands for autonomy was not sustainable. Disappointment with the failure of a regionalised Europe, underlined by the continuing weakness of the Committee of the Regions, led parties to seek to protect regional interests from perceived centralisation in Brussels, which required either strengthening the external boundaries of the state or, failing this, to create a state of their own. As a consequence, the mid-1990s constituted a brief phase of cross-party convergence around autonomy aims during an era when party strategies were generally polarised around the merits and drawbacks of secession.



Party Competition at the Regional Level

The second finding was that European integration and decentralisation have fundamentally altered the nature of party competition at the regional level. Due to the devolution of powers to regional parliaments, whilst the transfer of powers upwards to Europe, regional electoral arenas have become a new focal point for party competition, and they have also created opportunities for political action at the European level.



For regionalist parties, the strengthening of the European and substate tiers of political authority (i.e., multi-level governance) means that their very own territorial aims are being altered by changing notions of autonomy, in some cases rendering the cause for independence obsolete in an age of interdependence. This problem is compounded by the regionalist parties’ experience in government at the regional level. In systems of proportional representation, regionalist parties must forge coalitions with other parties, sometimes resulting in the compromise of certain policy goals, the downplaying of demands for independence, and the need to accommodate to the system. Regionalist parties in government are positioned between a rock and a hard place: they must demonstrate their competence and success in achieving policy goals to be re-elected, but at the same time, this success in policy results undermines the need for independence.



Moreover, as a result of decentralisation, regionalist parties now face a new political rival, in the form of strengthened regional branches of statewide parties. Statewide parties have found that in systems of MLG, they can no longer pursue one strategy for office in a single statewide political arena. Instead their priorities are split between several arenas: they must adapt and respond to the creation, or strengthening, of several loci of decision-making at different territorial levels. In response, parties have refocused their strategies for different regional contexts and address regional policies and issues. Their engagement in territorial issues has furthermore altered our notion of what ‘autonomy’ means. The project showed that territorial interests were not only concerned with issues of ‘nationhood’, identity and self-determination. Rather, there were other sources of territorial mobilisation, including demands to address regional economic disparities, or gaining greater interest representation in the state rather than autonomy from it.
AcronymCOSTE
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date1/02/0731/01/08

Funding

  • ESRC: £83,561.00