Year XXXIV, 1992, Number 2 - Page 93
Federalism and Regionalism
The aggressive regionalism which is gaining popularity in some Western European states comes in two forms: one that is essentially separatist, often displaying unequivocally racist characteristics, and accompanied by violence (of its actions and the crude nature of its propaganda); and one which is respectable, and employed with the aim of broadening the basis of consensus. These two forms are adopted by different political groups from time to time – yet on occasions the same group will use both of them in alternation, depending on what is politically expedient at any given moment.
In an effort to gain respectability many regionalist movements use parts of federalist philosophy and terminology, and declare that they pursue a strategy of transforming the present national states into federations of regions. As a result, the word “federalism” is of increasing significance in political debates (even though to a different extent from country to country), and is being simultaneously loaded down with ambiguity. Aside from this, the same term is being used on a different level altogether to signify (paradoxically) the bogey, part real, part imaginary, of the centralisation and bureaucratisation of the Community.
In light of this ambiguity it is essential to distinguish the “federalism” of these regionalists from federalism as we understand the term – that is to clarify the differences that separate the two political programmes and the values which govern them. Indeed, the need to clarify the situation is so much more important because the differences might well seem obscure to a casual observer. The potential for misunderstanding arises from the fact that we stand for multi-tier federalism, and so argue that within the framework of a European federation (and in the future a global federation) the national states will have to become federations of regions – and regions will in turn have to consist of smaller units which reach down to the lowest level based on city districts. Besides, the majority of regional movements also declare their acceptance of the prospect of European unity.
The main difference exists in the area of concrete political choices taken in the context of Europe’s particular historical situation. The current period is characterized by the fact that the fall of Communist regimes in the East has denied Eastern European states of the very basis of their legitimacy, and has simultaneously deprived states in Western Europe of the image of an enemy (which was their main impulse to unite). In this way, the historic crisis of the national state has become an acute political crisis which can only have one of two outcomes: either a federal union between European states; or the collapse of the states themselves (the most vulnerable ones, at least) into anarchy and chaos, as demonstrated by the tragic example of Yugoslavia. For the latter scenario, there exists the sole prospect of achieving precarious equilibriums by installing the unstable hegemony of those states in the region that are able to preserve their status as middle-ranking powers.
In the context of this widespread instability, the actions of a political force in this arena must be judged by the extent to which they serve to bring about by their deeds (as opposed to the ideological screens or the hidden intentions of the key players) one outcome or the other. Examined from this point of view, there can be no doubt that the federalists, to the extent that they are struggling for the federal unification of European states above all else, reinforce the drive towards unity; while the regionalists, in so far as primarily they seek increased autonomy for the regions from national states, strengthen the push towards disintegration.
This contrast over strategies mirrors another one on the more general level of values. The specific value of federalism is peace, which is to be brought about by substituting the rule of law for the use of force in relationships between states. The priority of every authentic federalist project is therefore the achievement of international democracy, and thereby the gradual extension of the sphere of political solidarity between peoples, which is brought about by their membership of a single political community. The aim of regional “federalism”, on the other hand, is to render more tenuous this same bond of solidarity between the citizens of regions within the same state – often with the aim of enabling rich regions to escape the burden of contributing to the development of poor regions. It is indisputable that such claims are rooted in situations of real unease and a grave loss of consensus that have been brought about by inefficient governments. But this is not enough of a justification to make up for the lack of legitimacy that these claims suffer from. The process of human emancipation has progressed through the centuries by means of the gradual enlargement of the orbit of Kant’s civil constitution: from the Greek city-state, to the national state, up to continent-wide federations such as the United States – and Europe, as we would like it to become. It is for this reason that the Federalists insist on unity above all else. And this also explains why they have nothing in common with those who insist primarily on division.
Only federalism, which wants first and foremost to unite, places itself in opposition to nationalism. The overcoming of the national dimension, by creating wider spheres of solidarity, cannot justify itself by reference to another sort of “national” entity which is bigger. Federalism’s legitimacy derives specifically from the fact that it is the overcoming of the idea of the nation as an exclusive community, and hence it can but culminate naturally in the unity of the human race. Perpetual peace will only be achieved through world federation, and through projects of federal regional unification whose legitimacy rests exclusively on the fact that they are an advance towards this wider objective.
In contrast, regional “federalism” cannot draw on cosmopolitanism as the legitimizing principle of its plans, and hence remains enclosed in the cultural sphere of nationalism. It claims the autonomy of the regional community, which is presented as the natural antithesis to the traditional nation (the latter being denounced as purely ideological and artificial). But this “natural” community is no more than a different incarnation (itself both exclusive and homogenising in nature) of the national idea – the only community which is considered as being capable of expressing the identity of those who belong to it, and of providing a demarcation line between friend and foe. It is for this reason that all forms of “internal federalism”, lacking a solid ideal foundation, are destined in reality to degenerate into micronationalism – aggressive in asserting a provincial and indistinct identity, and blinkered by a reactionary attitude that rejects the vast cultural heritage bestowed on us by the historic nations of Central and Western Europe. Without doubt, therefore, the end-point of the movement for regional “federalism” is separatism. Moreover, regional “federalism” betrays its intimately nationalistic nature by the intolerance that its adherents show towards any infra-regional communities (such as cities and city districts) which aspire to autonomy. Yet such infra-regional communities are closest to the everyday lives of citizens, and should constitute the very foundation of a multi-tier federal system, since a multi-tier federal system is the only form which can provide an effective solution to the problems of our complex societies, and a just response to the demands for democratic participation which the current institutional structures of industrialised states in the West leave unsatisfied.
A federal Europe of the future will not be able to limit the government levels to one on a pan-European scale, and one at the level of individual states. From the point at which the national states’ current monopoly over power is broken, the principle of self-government will spread to all spheres of interdependence in which the lives of men and women tend naturally to be expressed. In this way, a strongly innovative model of democracy will take shape in Europe. This awareness must constitute an important part of our politico-cultural baggage. But it must not obscure another principle: that of the absolute primacy of the value of peace among peoples, and therefore of the struggle for European federal unity as a first step towards the unification of the entire human race.