22nd Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Round table on recent developments in regionalisation: Progress and limits of regional democracy in Europe
Strasbourg, 20.03.2012 - While regionalisation in Europe is advancing from year to year, the pace of progress is nevertheless very irregular: this was the focus of the round table discussion on recent developments in regionalisation held on 21 March by the Chamber of Regions of the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. Participants looked at the regionalisation situation in three member states – Belgium, Slovenia and Russia – and in Morocco, a country which as part of the regionalisation process has opted to provide its regions with the resources needed to ensure that they operate more efficiently.
Opening the round table, Urs Wütrich-Pelloli, the Swiss Vice-President of the Assembly of European Regions (AER) expressed regret that the austerity policies pursued in certain countries, such as Ireland, were hampering the regionalisation process. Stressing that regions should not have to pay the price for situations for which they were not responsible, he said that in difficult times, regions offered considerable added value, meeting citizens’ real needs. He also referred to the situation in Hungary where certain powers, such as in the field of health care, had recently been “re-centralised”, while others, such as development, had been assigned to the regions.
Presenting the situation in Belgium, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Minister President of the country’s German-speaking community, pointed out that, originally, Belgium had been the result of a balance between its regions, which constituted its true power: this was partly the reason why the country had been able to operate for 500 days until October 2011 without a central government. Having lived through 5 structural reforms since the 1970s, Belgium was now preparing for a new strengthening of power in the regions, whose budgets and responsibilities would shortly be expanded, including in terms of tax autonomy. “I think that it is because of our compromises and because of federalism that Belgium will still exist in 20 years’ time,” he concluded, reiterating the importance of the regions in preventing friction between communities.
However, while regionalisation was making progress in some countries, the opposite was the case in others: Stane Vlaj, a professor in the Faculty of Law and European Studies in Ljubljana (Slovenia) painted a harsh picture of centralisation in his country, which in his view was being further entrenched by the new government: “we are the most centralised country in Europe and nothing is changing,” he lamented, expressing the view that the Congress in its monitoring visits had not been sufficiently critical of the “non-functioning of local self-government”.
Svetlana Orlova, Vice-President of the Congress and Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly, then outlined recent developments in the field of regionalisation in her country. As a result of new laws that had been enacted, it would in future be easier to stand for local and regional elections, as procedures had been made considerably less strict. Furthermore, regional governors and senators would now be directly elected. Ms Orlova said that “subsidiarity is growing in Russia and has the necessary resources”, a point of view also expressed by the President of the Chamber of Regions, Herwig van Staa, who felt that “Russia had made significant progress in the field of local and regional democracy.”
Lastly, the Chamber invited Abdelkebir Berkia, former President of the Rabat-Sale-Zemmour-Zaer Regional Council (Morocco) to talk about progress in regionalisation in that country. He pointed out that while there had been 7 economic regions in Morocco since 1960, they had not been given sufficient powers. Now, they would be given both responsibilities and resources, as part of a regionalisation process which would show due regard for central government and which would apply to the whole country, including the south and the Sahara. He concluded by saying that above and beyond the progress in regionalisation for the country itself, this reform would also enable Morocco to strengthen its co-operation with other regional structures of the European institutions.