Europe's Rising Regionalism

Courtesy Reuters


The nation-state is too big to run everyday life, and too small to manage international affairs. So say many of Europe's regional and big-city leaders, who are themselves gaining influence and authority. European cities and regional governments are acquiring bigger budgets and developing more professional bureaucracies. National cultures are being squeezed between a broader popular culture and briskly reviving regional cultures.

Europeans are finding national interests hard to see, let alone define. The role of European governments is just as ambiguous. National leaders had an easier time during the Cold War, when, thanks to NATO, they could satisfy the essential need, military security. But in this transitional time, economic security is far more pressing, and far more elusive. A second industrial revolution is causing serious social dislocations. The nation-state's inability to keep unemployment at a tolerable level while maintaining the social safety net has accelerated Europe's growing devolution of authority.

With European governments losing or ceding control of national economies, their constituencies are turning to the market for help. Two parallel and related processes have emerged. One is regionalism, the other globalization; instead of working through national capitals, European regions are linking themselves directly to the global economy.

As the role of central governments shrinks, democratic societies are being fragmented and factionalized politically, culturally, and linguistically. Mainstream political parties, especially in Europe, are losing their credibility and support. The institutions of government are under even heavier pressure. At varying speeds and to varying degrees, authority is drifting down from national capitals to provinces and cities. Regionalism, whether within or across national borders, is Europe's current and future dynamic. Its sources vary, but it is judged on many sides to be partly a protest against the authority of national capitals by people who see themselves as belonging, historically and otherwise, more to "Europe" than to a nation-state of clouded origins and dubious boundaries.

The nation-state is in most cases a relatively recent formation, and in many places the process

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