Regions making themselves heard

The International Court of Justice’s decision to uphold Kosovo’s declaration of independence will rekindle debate on the future of European regions with strong identities. On 24 July, the Romanian Vice-President of the European Parliament Laszlo Tökes called for autonomous status for Transylvania. And in Brussels, more than 300 regional delegations are lobbying to protect the interests of sub-national entities across the continent.

Published on 26 July 2010 at 16:46
Eliznik |  Looking forward to the next regional development directive. Traditional group in Transylvania.

Does the former Institut Pasteur in Brussels ring any bells? Most people have not heard of it. The small palace, which is only a short walk from the city’s European Quarter, is not mentioned in any of the guides to the Belgian capital. Then again the organisation that is headquartered there is not really involved in the promotion of tourism, at least not in Brussels.

The historic building is home to the Bavarian Representation, or to give it its full title, the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union. What you may wonder is the role of this representation which was established in 1994. The short answer to that question is that it lobbies European institutions to promote Bavarian interests, whether they be in car manufacturing (i.e. on behalf of BMW), or agriculture (for example on behalf of livestock farmers).

Romanian regions have a low profile in Brussels

If you are unfamiliar with regional lobbying, you might be tempted to think that the Bavarian delegation is something of an exception, but in fact it is by no means unusual in Brussels which is home to 300 such representations, which function as embassies for regions as diverse as Scotland, Catalonia, Veneto, and the Hungarian region of Transdanubia. And all of these organisations send money home in different forms, which improve the lives of citizens in their particular territories. Brussels is the world’s largest negotiating table, and as it is in other fields, one of the recipes for success in negotiations is "Think global and act local."

Romanian regions do not maintain this level of presence in Brussels, though in recent years we have seen the timid emergence of a few of regional offices. But as a rule these tend to lack the essential quality which makes regional politics tick: motivation. They do not have local patriotism of the kind that impels a guest-house owner in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to announce that he is first and foremost a Bavarian.

Populist sparring between Tökes and Băsescu

As Romanians, we have to content ourselves with regional representation in the European capital that is limited to a handful of officials with a brief to lobby on behalf of odd groups of counties that were arbitrarily linked together under Ceausescu and later designated as development regions. Unfortunately, we have yet to overcome a ridiculous national complex that prevents us from recognizing the existence of strong regional identities.

Worse still, in Romania one of the side effects of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the independence of Kosovo will be to further postpone honest debate on the future of regions, and the amplification of the hysteria that surrounds this issue. And that is how we should interpret the populist sparring between European Parliament Vice-President Laszlo Tökes and Romanian President Traian Băsescu on the theme of the autonomy of Transylvania (a region with a Hungarian speaking majority), which was greeted by an ironic or perhaps a self-satisfied smile from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the 24 July colloquium on Central Europe. In the meantime, the hundreds of regional representations in Brussels continue to work hard to obtain definite goals. And the results of their efforts are clearly visible.

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