Regions of Europe - a necessity

Time to re-think democracy

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A contribution to the ongoing
Conference on the Future of Europe.



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A concept that could deepen and improve democracy by bringing citizens closer to politics and politics closer to citizens.




Research, text and illustrations

Göran Hansson

© 2021


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Preface

The Schuman Declaration of 9th of May 1950 marks the start of what would become the European Union. The aim of the project was to make interstate wars in Europe impossible. So far, the EU has been successful as a peace maker making the member states engage in constructive dialogue and peaceful cooperation.

The European Treaty is based on an ‘ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’. During the 70 years since its creation, the EU is still struggling make the closer connection to the citizens of Europe - A People’s Europe.

For the past ten years, since the Treaty of Lisbon 2009, the EU has not focused enough on the visionary principles of the 1990s when the regions of Europe took place in the European political landscape.

The propose of the EU Conference on the Future of Europe is, the way it is presented, to find a new path forward.

It seems necessary for the EU revitalise the visionary principles of the 1990s by deepen democracy and bring politics closer to the citizens.

This presentation proposes a grass root oriented political organisation based on the concept of the Regions of Europe and the Principle of Subsidiarity.

Many people believe, as I do, that decentralisation is the best way to secure a more peaceful, prosperous and a more democratic Europe.

I strongly believe that the principles of this proposal, if implemented well, can make European citizens feel more closely connected to the European Union. It corresponds well with the ambitions laid out in the European Treaty of an ‘ever closer union among the peoples of Europe'.

CALL on the EU Commission and the EU Parliament.




Regions of Europe - a necessity

The Proposal

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1. Who owns the democracy?

It is high time to bring Politics closer to Citizens and the Citizens closer to Politics.



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2. Conceptual confusion.

Many different words and descriptions on the subject of regional self-government have circulated in the dialogue with states.

But, in my opinion, only two basic concepts are practically useful - federalism and regionalism.

Federalism is limited by state-based constitutional restraints.

Regionalism is based on continuous negotiations and therefore more apt to adjust and change when circumstances changes.

Regionalism means more or less autonomous regions as part of a flexible and multifaceted political organisation.

But over the years most efforts to gain greater regional political self-determination have been in vain - most states are firmly holding on to their control.



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3. Parliaments for whom?

The European Union, states, regions and municipalities are levels where political decisions are made. But instances for whom?

Recent voter turnout shows that the couch has become an attractive alternative for many. What is the alternative for someone who wants to have a say on where politics are going?

It is often reported that streets and city squares are arenas for popular protests.

People obviously have something important to say but seem to notice that politics is not listening.



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4. Is independence the answer?

All over the world, peoples, nations and cultural regions dream of independence as sovereign states and perhaps a seat in the UN General Assembly.

But is independence really the solution?

To me independence just means moving the same old structures to a new geographical area without really solving the basic issues and problems.

There must be a better way of organising politics.



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5. Treaty of Westphalia 1648

Exhausted after centuries of wars, conflicts, conquests and empire-building efforts - Europe’s leaders met in Westphalia, Germany in 1648. It was at the end of the Thirty Years War. An agreement was negotiated - the Treaty of Westphalia. It would change the European map and, over time, the world map.

The Westphalian peace agreement was a practical agreement. It established sovereign state formations – each one not to interfere in the other's internal affairs. Each state could create its own political, economic and administrative structures at will. It included the right to build a military capacity deemed necessary. Something that would prove to be a mistake that the people of Europe would soon experience.

What the negotiators probably did not realise was that the Treaty of Westphalia would lay the foundations for a system of sovereign states - a system that would eventually spread throughout the world.



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6. An event that changed Europe

The conflicts in Europe since Westphalia had mostly been about state sovereignty and state borders.

The storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 was a purely political move - aimed at concentrating political powers to the state and its capital. That would eventually become a model for other state formations in Europe.



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7. Model for Europe’s future states

A new state model emerged - one language, one culture, one parliament, one currency, one military, one legal system, one education system and so on.

The new regime in France used the force of nationalism to centralise political powers.

The state claimed to be a nation. From there we have the expression "state nation-building".



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8. The new state model — rapid expansion

The spread of the French model, on a Westphalian Treaty platform, went relatively quickly. It took only 150 years for the new concept to spread to all corners of Europe and eventually to the rest of the world.

It is therefore fair to say that the “modern” state is not as old as many of us may think.



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9. Regions pushed back into obscurity

Autonomous regions did not fit well into the new order - all powers to the state. Many of the old cultural regions of Europe were pushed into obscurity.



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10. The spread of the state - a violent affair

The establishment of the new state order in Europe was a violent affair. Europe became a battlefield.



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11. The Birth of the European Union

Jean Monnet, a French economist, and Robert Schuman, a French politician, presented on the 9th of May, 1950 - the Schuman Declaration. They proposed a model for peace and cooperation in Europe. That date can therefore be called the birthday of the European Union.

What was said between the lines in the declaration was: no more wars should start from the soil of Europe. The goal was to make interstate wars in Europe impossible.



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12. From Coal & Steel to Lisbon

The latest treaty of the EU was Lisbon 2009, 12 years ago. EC (European Community), formally becomes EU (European Union).

These treaties - Rome, Schengen, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon - were created in order to make future inter-governmental wars and armed conflicts in Europe impossible.

These could very well be “The Steps” the founders were talking about in 1950.



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13. EU as a Peace Project

A unified and coherent Europe must be seen as the solution for peace and prosperity in Europe.

The states must continue to engage in constructive dialogue and peaceful cooperation.

This is in line with the visions expressed in the Schuman Declaration of 1950.



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14. Competing players

For the past ten years, since the Treaty of Lisbon 2009, the EU has not focused enough on the visionary principles of the 1990s.

The EU institutions have been busy making the EU work as intended, despite the disruptions caused by some of the member states, financial crises and hibernating state nationalist ambitions.

Some member states have seen power slip away and become reluctant players on the EU playing field.



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15. The Democratic Deficit

The decision-making process leading to a final EU decision can be compared to a hamburger. A hamburger has layers slices of bread, meat patties, cheese slices, lettuce leaves and tomatoes.

Layer upon layer upon layer ....

It takes in some cases, nine layers of decisionmakers before the citizens will get their final EU decision.

In addition, several decision-making bodies have a rather poor transparency into parts of the process.

Not surprisingly, this extensive decision-making system is sometimes referred to as the "Democratic Deficit".



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16. A lesser Democratic Deficit

Let us assume that we trust the European institutions. We already have elected politicians in the European Parliament. Let us assume that the majority of these are wise individuals who collectively make good decisions.

Instead of nine, we get five democratic institutions for the citizens to get their final EU decision.

Now we have a decision-making "hamburger" that the citizens can handle. The EU democratic deficit has been significantly reduced.



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17. In search of a balanced Europe

Stronger and more active regions in the EU political process could be a more balanced and democratic Europe.



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18. Trust in democracy on decline

The trust in state-based democracy is declining among all age groups.

Frustrations with anti-democratic and autocratic tendencies in some parts of the world will in all probability result in more popular unrest, violence, demonstrations and protests in the streets and city squares.

The EU peace project depends on stability and trust in the system.

The concept of the Regions of Europe, as described in this proposal can help revitalise democracy - a Peoples Europe - since political decisions are taken as closely to the citizen as possible in accordance with the Principle of Subsidiarity.



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19. The opposition grew...

There has been a worldwide increase in authoritarian state nationalism and a declining confidence in democracy as well as a general lack of confidence in international legal agreements and obligations.

Some groups obviously want to prevent the EU from becoming stronger at the expense of the state.

The risk of a setback for the EU project is now tangible.


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20. At the cross-road...

The citizens of the European Union appear to be at the crossroads. Either we support the idea of the strong state and choose to believe state nationalistic slogans like "Let's take back control".

Or we can restore confidence in a more citizen-oriented popular democracy at all levels of political decision-making. Local, regional, state and the EU.



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21. One possible outcome

A decentralisation of state functions - to regionalise - could compensate for the diminishing influence and sovereignty of the member states.

With enhanced political participation for the regions, the state and its regions - together - on one side of the scale and the EU on the other could form a more balanced Europe.

Stronger and active regions in the EU processes could therefore be seen as part of the future and a revived and more diverse Europe.



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22. Another possible outcome

"Let's take back control!" and “Make my state great again!” exclaims EU sceptics. They dream of the good old days when the sovereignty of the state was the rule.

If these forces continue to be strengthened, the regions may again risk being pushed back into the obscurity of history.



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23. Back to square one

Europe and the EU are not in chaos yet. But there is a risk that Europe may return to being governed by its historic disparate principles of sovereign states.

Back to square one.



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24. Tug-of-War on the world's climate

Can we trust the state and the state system to solve our climate and environmental problems?

Climate sceptics and climate alarmists are facing each other in a tug-of-war over our future.

Recent history suggests that the state, and the global state system it built over the last 150 years, may not be the best political level to look after nature for us.

Maybe it is high time to bring both nature and the climate closer to the citizens. It is time to give the citizens the empowerment to decide how to use and protect their neighbourhoods, towns, cities and regions.



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25. "Sudan" - the last northern white rhino

We are probably facing the largest mass extinction of wildlife since a meteor struck and formed the Chicxulub crater near the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico 65 million years ago.

The upcoming risk of mass extinction seem to be happening because of the inability of the global state system to take the necessary steps to protect and preserve the earth's nature and fauna.



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26. Corruption.

There is no doubt that widespread corruption is a serious obstacle to positive development in many parts of the world.



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27. High-tech warfare.

Military activities have always destroyed what communities or individuals have built. Homes, public buildings, hospitals and other infrastructure are often put in ruins.

The world state governments spend a staggering amount of money on the military.

The global military expenditure is going up. Not down.



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28. A dangerous power game

Within the European Union, only France and the UK had nuclear weapons. But the EU collectively posed a strong deterrent to the use of these weapons. This meant that Europe for all practical purposes could be called a nuclear-weapons-free zone.

One of these two nuclear states has now left the community. By invoking the Westphalia sovereignty, it will be free to use its super-efficient weapon systems at will.



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29. Diversity of languages and cultures

Leaders in the EU and the Council of Europe have made it clear that cultural diversity in Europe is the foundation on which Europe must develop.

But there is reluctance in some states to accept and support regional diversity in the fields of language, traditions and culture.



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30. A possible scenario

A language mass extinction, a lingocide, in the world is at our doorstep. This happens quietly and almost unnoticeable.

Why do we not see more widespread protests against the demise of linguistic and cultural diversity?



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31. The European state has a size problem

The state has a size problem - it is too big and too small at the same time. Too small for the global challenges and too large for the softer values; language, culture, traditions.

The time has come to adjust the tasks and responsibilities of the state to more realistic and efficient levels of society.



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32. Politics closer to Citizens.

The Principle of Subsidiarity can be used as a tool to decentralise politics and thereby bring politics closer to the citizens.

By applying the principle of subsidiarity at the levels below the state, the door opens to a stronger and deeper more profound popular root contact in politics.



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33. Subsidiarity - who does what?

The principle of subsidiarity is a broader concept, more philosophical than bureaucratic.

It is a philosophical principle based on the insight that a society consists of many layers of potential and willing political decision makers. Political decisions should be taken as close to the citizens as possible.

This philosophical view is expressed in one of the reports presented by the EU prior to the Maastricht Treaty 1992.

“Subsidiarity cannot be reduced to a set of rules and procedures; it is primarily a mental attitude.”



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34. The Treaty of Lisbon - 2009

Many state governments see devolution of the state as a threat to status quo. A dominant governance of the EU institutions is firmly held by the member states.

As a result, a practical definition of the Principle of Subsidiarity has found it difficult to pass the system. Subsidiarity has therefore only been vaguely defined in an EU context.

Subsidiarity therefore, in most cases, only applies between the state and the EU and not further down in the system.



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35. Principle of Subsidiarity - a better way

The idea that political decisions should be made as close to the citizens as possible ought be self-evident to most people.

The same reservations on which issues be dealt with in Brussels or in the state capitals can also be applied to the relationship between the EU, the state and the regional and local levels.

According to the principle of subsidiarity, decisions that can be taken at regional and local levels should be taken there.

The Treaty on the European Union states: RESOLVED to continue the process of creating an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity”.



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36. Logic of the Geography

Many state borders have its origins in colonisation, military conquests and political power struggles.

This has caused many state borders to be obstacles to free human social contacts and activities.

In an open society, human activities are shaped according to the Logic of the Geography.

The Logic of the Geography is a natural geographical direction to which people feel orientated and connected.



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37. Let the negotiations begin...

All negotiations should begin with determining the rules of the game.



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38. EU Committee of the Regions - CoR

TheCommittee of the Regions shall be consulted in areas considered important for the citizens of the regions and the local communities.

With the CoR areas of competence, the EU has provided the parties with a starting point and a roadmap for the negotiations on subsidiarity, ensuring that political decisions are placed at the best and most efficient levels in a multifaceted political organisation.



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39. Criteria for optimal regional division

During the 1990s, when the enthusiasm for bringing back the regions into the political arena was at its highest, a number of criteria for a regionalisation circulated in Europe.

These are issues that could be relevant to consider for a successful outcome of subsidiarity negotiations.



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40. Subsidiarity in practice

These are examples of public and political functions that could be suitable for negotiations in accordance with the Principle of Subsidiarity.



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41. Regions in Sweden

There is a regional division in Sweden which, thanks to the Logic of the Geography, reasonably well corresponds with the old provinces.

It is the regional division that the Swedish government already registered in the EU within the NUTS classification system. The old historical regions and Sweden’s EU regions - “Riksområden” - are geographically close.

One wonders why the state has made an effort to break up the historical regions and replace them with non-political bureaucratic regions.



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42. The Report - Ansvarskommittén

The most elaborate, up-to-date and EU-adapted investigation ever made in Sweden was handed over to the responsible minister in 2007.

The report was produced by the appointed Ansvarskommittén - the Committee of Responsibilities.

Because it is so well documented and well written, it can be retrieved from the state government’s drawers where it has been sitting for the last 13 years.

It could form the basis for negotiations about the future of the regions in Sweden and a more efficient distribution of public responsibilities.



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43. The proposal - Ansvarskommittén

The Committee identified four conditions for addressing these challenges:

  1. "Development potential (capacity for development and progress)"
  2. "Enhanced citizen participation"
  3. "Holistic approach and reduced sectorisation, and"
  4. "Improved clarity in the division of responsibilities and the allocation of public tasks"

It is precisely these points this presentation on the Regions of Europe has addressed.



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44. Regions - no further obstacles

There does not seem to be any further obstacles to start the regionalisation process in Sweden.

What remains is to dust off the investigative report from Ansvarskommittén and use it as a basis for negotiations based on the Principle of Subsidiarity and the concept of the Regions of Europe.

Everything is in place and the only thing that is missing is the positive attitude that the EU mentioned in its inquiry from 1992:

“Subsidiarity cannot be reduced to a set of rules and procedures; it is primarily a mental attitude."



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45. Democracy with grass root contact

There is a way forward is to restore confidence in the democratic system, as this presentation has attempted to show.

  1. The method is the concept of the Regions of Europe.
  2. The tool is the Principle of Subsidiarity.
  3. The legal foundation is included in the EU Maastricht Treaty of 1993 (Treaty on the European Union).
  4. The necessary attitude for a successful outcome is found in an EU inquiry from 1993: "Subsidiarity ... is primarily a mental attitude."

By allowing citizens - preferably through personal vote where possible - to cast a ballot five times, the citizens could have a full democratic dividend and thereby an improved grass root contact with politics.

Politics closer to the Citizens. Citizens closer to Politics.

A visionary dream? Perhaps. But hopefully visions drive politics forwards.



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46. Regions - the Future of Europe

This presentation has described a forward-looking political organisation based on the concept of the Regions of Europe and the Principle of Subsidiarity.

This concept places every political and public decision at the best and most efficient level.

The state will also find its place in this new multifaceted political organisation.

Now it is up to the member states, with the support from the European Union, to accept what seems to me to be the inevitable. The untouchable sovereign state has done its part in history and it’s time to move on.


It is time for change - for the sake of peace, climate and environment.

And for the sake of prosperity and cultural diversity.

A debate on a regionalisation of Sweden has been going on for more than a quarter of a century.

It's time to put the spade in the ground and let the negotiations begin.

The Tools are the Principle of Subsidiarity and a positive attitude and good will.

Regions of Europe - a necessity!



Epilogue

The investigation report from the Ansvarskommittén (the Committee of Responsibilities), submitted to the Swedish government in 2007, stated in its sub-report:

“Long-term perspective is needed to ensure the conditions for sustainable welfare.”

“At the same time, the Committee wishes to emphasise the importance of initiating the process of structural change to start immediately, so that a reformed social organisation is in place and has had time to establish itself when the demographic and socio-economic challenges become acute starting in 2020 and beyond."

It is a bit tragic that 14 years has passed since it was written and very little has happened on the regionalisation project suggested by the report. We are now in the 2020s in roughly the same place where we were in 2007. The urgent challenges mentioned in the report are here in 2021, just as predicted in the Committee’s investigation report.

The question is whether the state of Sweden would continue to delay for another 14 years or ensure that "structural change to starts immediately".




Call for change

NOTICING that the conditions for the EU Basic Regions (NUTS) differ in political status. Some regions have strong and extensive legislative powers, others are limited to specific public sectors, while yet other EU regions are bureaucratic constructions without any real democratic legislative powers.

NOTICING that the belief in state-based democracy is falling among all age groups – many citizens seem to be slipping away from politics.

NOTICING that the Treaty on the European Union states: “RESOLVED to continue the process of creating an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.”

CALLING on the European Commission to strengthen the position of the regions within the EU system and take the necessary steps, in collaboration with the Member States, to extend the Principle of Subsidiarity in ARTICLE 3b in the Treaty of the European Union to specifically include the regions and local governments as suggested in the preamble to the Treaty “in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity”.

The concept of the Regions of Europe, as described in more details on in this presentation, may benefit all levels of politics - EU, Member States, Regions as well as giving the local communities and individual citizens a more profound influence over daily life.

Stronger and more politically active regions is the future of Europe.




About the author

Research, text and illustrations

Göran Hansson

Ret. Master Mariner

Founder and Chairman of Stiftelsen Skånsk Framtid.
Former Chairman of the General Assembly of UNPO

© 2021


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I am a retired Master Mariner and spent more than 50 years in the service of shipping industry. I have lived with my family on four continents and visited most countries in the world. Over the years I have seen widespread mismanagement at state government levels as well as unfair treatment of small nations and peoples.

I have had an interest in the concept of the Regions of Europe as a means to revitalise grass root democracy. I have published two books on the subject - “EU and the Regions” (1994) and “Regionalism for the 21st Century” (1999).

I have never been directly involved in politics nor have I ever been a member of any political party. I have voted in general elections since 1960.

There must be a better way of organising politics. My hope is that the ongoing Conference for the Future of Europe will find that “better way”.

Göran Hansson © 2021




A contribution to Conference on the Future of Europe 2021
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