Despite that current governance in the EU has been characterised as “multi-levelled,” the nation-state remains the dominant actor in terms of major decision-making. Newhouse’s statement that ‘whether within or across national borders, (regionalism) is Europe’s current and future dynamic,’ remains relevant and challenges the narrative that the “Europe of the Regions” rhetoric has been marginalised. While there are certainly countervailing trends among fringe political groups, much of the European continent’s citizens recognise themselves as belonging, intrinsically and historically to “Europe,” no matter how ill-defined the territory and/or idea is. Indeed, Europeans seem set to develop the cultural and political affinity (and trust) required to sow the continent together, and infuse it with a sense of trans-European civic responsibility.
Scully and Jones’ (eds) work on Europe, Regions and European Regionalism refocuses scholarly attention back to the important question of the shape of European regionalism (and identity) by examining the experiences of regions and regionalism across twelve states in Western, Central and Eastern Europe including: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria. This work is therefore balanced and reflective of different national experiences that have come to form the backbone of the post-Eastern Enlargement (2004, 2007) EU.
In dealing with regional integration initiatives, van Langenhove (chapter author) argues that these should fulfil at least eight functions: the strengthening of trade integration in the region; the creation of an appropriate enabling environment for private sector development; the development of infrastructure programmes in support of economic growth and regional integration; the development of strong public sector institutions and good governance; the reduction of social exclusion and the development of an inclusive civil society; contribution to peace and security in the region; the building of environment programmes at the regional level and the strengthening of the region’s interaction with other regions of the world. These are an important starting point, but still does not bring the audience closer to understanding what is implied by the term “region.”
Instead of providing a shorthanded answer, the work’s editors link regionalism to the answering of three main questions: What is a region; what is the dynamic of regionalism; and what do regions do? By posing such questions they develop a precise research framework, which country specialists should adopt. For example, when they talk about the dynamics of regionalism, the use of a three-fold classification of these various dynamics, distinguishing between Euro-regionalism, state-regionalism and regional-regionalism seems to be a useful analytical guide to study governmental efficiency and economic development of the European regional project from top-down, bottom-up or integration versus “Europe of the regions” approaches. Divisions between regions as “policy-makers” and “policy-takers” which can be traced back into European history helps understand the extent of the impact of regions on policy-making at the EU level which varies from strong constitutionally entrenched regions towards weaker systems. This brings the relationship dilemma between integration and regionalisation processes (greater representation, direct right of appeal, other) into focus for further explorations.
The contribution of the book to regional studies is found in its choice of case studies where – along with historically strong regions – the “new” countries of Central and Eastern Europe are introduced to the reader. These countries might have weaker regional capacities but definitely retain long regional histories, have developed their own politics and social trends long before Enlargement occurred. The challenges they faced, and still face, may encourage academics towards further research in areas of policy-making, policy-implementation and governance, those areas where regional and national/subnational authorities come together. Through programmes, inspired by the EU cohesion policy experience, partner countries will be able to develop and support regional development strategies aimed at reducing disparities and funding projects which will help in overcoming structural deficiencies.
The book concludes that there is a growing diversity of European regions, and a wide variety of regionalising rules and necessities. Despite of the growing powers of supranational and national authorities, Europe’s regions and European regionalism remain significant parts of the European experience. Regional governments are securing larger budgets and developing professional bureaucracies, which brings to attention studies of policy-making and policy-implementation processes at regional level. Moreover, cultural aspect in regional policy-making remains understudied. Problems of regional development for further scholarly research can be investigated: the examination of institutional adaptation and change as a result of democratic institutionalisation process by looking at selected regional policy areas within new European member states (former and current neighbouring countries), which either were implemented successfully or faced particular difficulties due to various institutional issues, culture, different mentality, and other; why and under what circumstances the EU was able to push for improvements in some areas of regional development, while fail in others; how the EU could facilitate cooperation within various sub-state actors, such as reform-minded segments of bureaucracy, and civil society representatives in particular.
In all, for scholars of the EU, this is a must read since it provides solid evaluations, coupled with empirical evidence, over the unfolding debate over the future of Europe as marked by the triumph or failure of regionalism.