political revue


Year LXI, 2019, Single Issue, Page 99






By 2050, around 70 per cent of the world’s population, almost 7 billion people, will be living in urban areas. This figure, unprecedented in the history of mankind, reflects a trend that is destined to impact increasingly on the dynamics of international relations and the development of entire countries and cities, especially those that have been drawn most deeply into the process of globalisation. In short, cities are becoming more and more interconnected and equipped to use technologies and infrastructures that, worldwide, are changing the way in which individuals consume space and time. However, at both continental and global level, the world still lacks institutions equipped to rise to the challenge of governing the phenomenon of growing global interdependence. Furthermore, those responsible for tackling the global challenges we face, while well aware of this phenomenon,[1] find themselves helpless in the face of it. For this reason, it has become crucial to understand how cities are changing, and also to identify and analyse the nature of the relations between them, the institutional frameworks within which they interact, and the power relations that govern their interactions. It has been estimated that by 2040, the world will be faced with the need to invest 15 trillion dollars in infrastructure in order to boost and and manage trade flows and global connectivity between the world’s major urban areas, between more and less developed countries, and between urban and rural areas.[2]

For geographical, historical, political and economic reasons, Europe lies at the heart of these challenges.[3] However, although continental Europe should, by now, have the experience necessary to affirm a new model of state — specifically, one in which coordination between different, independent levels of government can and must coexist with democratic control of, and participation of the citizens in, decision-making processes split among these levels — , this new institutional model is struggling to take shape and become established. Instead, we are witnessing resurgences of localism and a tendency to retreat into old ideological, national and/or micro-national positions that, in addition to being narrow and anachronistic, hinder any progress towards a more integrated, structured and coordinated institutional system on a supranational scale.

There is no shortage of analyses and studies on the high level of interdependence now reached in practically all sectors of development, or of evidence confirming the need to create institutions more appropriate to the level of scientific and technological growth achieved by humanity.

On the other hand, we still lack political-institutional reference models that can be used to govern the growing interdependence at both continental and global levels.

* * *

One study, among others, to have clearly highlighted and analysed the growth of global interdependence, is by Parag Khanna,[4] who showed that “connectivity is the most revolutionary force of the twenty-first century.” In his analysis, Khanna illustrates, through data and examples, the reality faced by different political leaders during their time in government.[5] In so doing, he provides evidence substantiating what the historic urban planner Lewis Mumford had already intuited decades ago in his studies on the city, namely, that whereas single cities were once worlds unto themselves, over time the world itself is destined to evolve into a single global city.[6]

However, as journalist Carlo Bastasin has explained, the challenge we face concerns, precisely, the difficulty institutions and individuals are having in adapting to the rapid transformation of economic structures and processes of interaction in the era of new technologies, global trade and the shift from industry to services. With respect to this transformation, societies are reacting in two different ways. In regions that, for geographical and historical reasons, are well integrated into global production chains (Catalonia, Veneto, Lombardy, Greater London, Holland, Bavaria and so on), it has resulted in greater mobility and growing autonomy, and this has made these regions impatient with the inertia and inadequacy of states and individuals that want to remain sheltered from the realities of competition, or wish to benefit from the status quo. On the other hand, on the edges of this global change (in the central states of the USA, large areas of Russia, the North of England, Greece, Southern Italy and Spain, Eastern Germany), there has emerged a fear of backwardness and, in some cases, a sense of impotence. In these regions, the industrial transformation has been exacerbated by a reduction in investment in, and support for, nationalised industries (compared with the levels recorded in the 1950s-1970s) and a decline of the basins of labour-intensive raw materials. At the same time, in almost all these regions, individual mobility, in both a cultural and a geographical sense, has become an increasingly pressing need. All this has had the effect of fostering feelings of rootlessness, victimisation and longing for a perceived bygone golden age.[7]

In this context there have emerged, worldwide, two conflicting phenomena at the various levels of government: fragmentation versus integration of commercial, economic and industrial policies. And the smaller European states are, at once, victims of and leading players in the tussle between them.[8]

* * *

The growth of connectivity and of direct interaction between large cities has created the illusion that we can do without state institutions, which are deemed limited on account of their purely national dimensions and capacity for action, and also ill-prepared to promote and govern growth, development and progress at supranational level, given the still embryonic of forms of government existing at this level.

Nearly three decades ago, Jane Jacobs likened urban planning and development to a pseudoscience,[9] saying that it still consisted of bloodletting rather than effective therapies. Now, as then, we have clear diagnoses, but as yet only rough prognoses, and still no effective method of treating the problem. This state of affairs plays into the hands of populist and demagogic forces, as it enables them to exploit popular discontent with the existing powers and institutions. By targeting and leveraging the malaise of specific sections of the population — those that consider themselves victims, not protagonists, of globalisation and the technological revolution, and fear that massive immigration will leave them economically and socially marginalised —, they are able to promote the rise of personalities and political formations that merely adopt an anti-system stance, but have no real capacity to tackle and solve the problems we face.

Thus, the phenomena of fragmentation and integration of political and economic policymaking have become increasingly intertwined. But none of the fiscal or monetary stimuli introduced over time by different governments can resolve the conflict between them, and this fact has resulted in the creation of a vicious cycle in which, at all levels, the disintegration of political cadres feeds social crises, and vice versa. Meanwhile, the era of global connectivity is advancing, to the point that more infrastructures are expected to be built worldwide in the next forty years than in the last four thousand, and people are moving into cities at a rate of around 150,000 per day.[10] At the same time, the world order founded on relations of force and power between states is finding itself increasingly influenced and undermined by private actors seeking to act outside the framework of democratic institutions and rules.[11] Meanwhile, the new principles shaping the governance and evolution of the world order seem to be based, more and more, not on power relations between states, but on the direct connectivity that exists between urban centres, and on the new multinational giants’ control of the supply chain of the raw materials needed to feed the new mode of production. In this setting, the world region in which the conflict between fragmentation and integration processes is most clearly visible is Europe, i.e. the heart of global production and commercial processes, the focus of nationalist and sovereignist siren calls, and the site of the world’s most advanced supranational power building process. China, on the other hand, is the continent in which other contradictions inherent in the new global mode of production are becoming increasingly acute, with the risk of generating new tensions and conflicts.[12]

* * *

Environmental issues, i.e. the impact of human activities on ecological balances and the livability of our environment, are now key considerations in all countries’ economic policy management processes. Precisely because urbanisation is now a global phenomenon, any economic activity, meaning any production and consumption of goods, rapidly translates into a potential threat to the environment. We saw this with the CFC refrigerants used for preserving food. Initially considered harmless and indispensable resources, it was subsequently discovered that they posed a threat to the atmospheric balance and contributed to the deterioration of the ozone layer. Another example is the widespread use of plastic materials for packaging, marketing and preserving food and consumer goods, with the disposal of these materials now widely acknowledged to be a serious environmental problem. Evidently, the solution does not lie in regional and/or national level regulation of the production, marketing and use of these and other materials that have been and will be invented; rather, the management of these environmental emergencies depends on the promotion and application of binding, continent-wide and global agreements and rules on the consumption of products.[13] As indicated above, in an increasingly interconnected, interdependent, densely populated and urbanised world, every good produced and consumed is bound to have, over time, a global environmental impact. Hence the crucial need to establish a new institutional order that connects and coordinates all levels of government.Over time, Europe has seen the development and establishment of various models of urban and territorial planning, linked to ever more complex and structured institutions. As a result, the continent’s institutional urban landscape now includes expressions of the centralised, exclusivist model (e.g. London, Paris, Vienna and Berlin), of the highly environmentally oriented polycentric model (found in the Netherlands and in the Rhine region of Germany for example), and of the market growth-oriented model, characterised by a number of hierarchical stratifications (as seen in Bavaria and Lombardy). The centralised model became established in the wake of historical and political situations that favoured the consolidation of national institutional systems. The polycentric model, typical of the Netherlands, is still based on a few large centres, such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague, linked to each other by efficient transport networks; this model minimises labour mobility but allows great mobility of goods, and the maintenance of sizeable green areas between the different urban centres. Conversely, the market-oriented model favours the centralisation and concentration of economic and production activities in a small number of cities. It is exemplified by Northern Italy’s industrial triangle of Turin, Milan and Genoa.[14] Europe is the world region in which the questions of quality of life and how to govern the growing interdependence between large urban areas have assumed particular relevance, highlighting the need for detailed, democratic planning at supranational level. This planning clearly cannot be carried out within the framework of the existing nation-states, but requires a federal-type institutional structure consistent with the expression and exercise of the general will at multiple levels of government. Despite what some still seem to be suggesting, this structure cannot be one that replicates old models, such as those based on the coexistence of a multitude of nation states, or on interaction between cities or regions; the model to follow is that of a multilevel federal state created on a continental and, eventually, global scale.[15] In fact, such a state envisages not just two levels of government, but multiple levels, whose territorial limits must coincide with the natural spheres of influence of central goods and services (of different orders of complexity and specialisation), and of the “institutions” that supply them.[16]

* * *

To understand more about the causes of territorial imbalances, it is useful to recall several elements of the theory published by Walter Christaller, and the method he used to shed light on the spatial arrangement of settlements. His starting point was the observation that every economic and production process has a spatial dimension that derives from the distribution of the centrality of the goods and services offered.[17]

After an initial study that focused on a region of Germany, Christaller attempted to apply his theory at European level, but the results of this research were poor due to the lack of data available. His aim, in conducting these studies, was to provide a practical demonstration that a city’s main purpose, or even fundamental characteristic, is to be at the centre of a territory. Hence his use of the term central places (Zentralen Orte). However, in order to determine the importance of a place in terms of its centrality, we need a method able to translate this quality of centrality into quantitative data.[18] This method, to be credible, and as objective as possible, must be based on the measurement of data and information flows between cities. Whereas the economic success of trade in central goods can be considered to be reflected in the income index of those who offer and use these goods, the success of entities providing services such as education and security cannot be evaluated in the same way. Christaller’s solution, to get round this problem, was to use what has become known as his telephone index: this method entailed counting the number of telephone connections, which, he explained, coincided rather exactly with the importance of a place.[19] In this way, Christaller, using rigorous formulas that analysed the number of inhabitants in relation to the number of telephones connected, obtained a map of southern Germany that differed considerably from that based simply on the number of inhabitants. Marked differences emerged in the places that, on the basis of their centrality, could be deemed important.[20] Christaller was well aware of the limits of his analysis, admitting that neither the use of telephones as a surrogate for importance, nor the calculation of centrality could be said to be precise methods in a mathematical sense; however, he argued, the values he obtained showed the central importance of a place far more accurately than the number of inhabitants, or of individuals working in trade, transport and key professions, can do.[21] In any case, through this study, Christaller managed to show that the centrality of a place corresponds to its importance surplus, and also its importance relative to the surrounding area. The importance surplus of a central place in a given region counterbalances an equivalent importance deficit of the more peripheral places. According to Christaller, historically three principles have been used to correct this importance surplus: the marketing principle (Marktprinzip) or supply principle (Versonungprinzip); the transportation principle (Verkehrsprinzip); and the administrative principle (Verwaltungsprinzip) or separation principle (Absonderungsprinzip). With regard to this third principle, Christaller was acutely aware of the huge impact that administrative and political boundary changes can have on the fate of urban centres. He had lived through the upheaval triggered by the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the aftermath of the First World War, particularly in the border areas of Germany and in Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava, three cities that, until 1918, had been well integrated, both administratively-economically and in transport terms.[22] This topic was subsequently taken up and examined in depth from a federalist perspective by Francesco Rossolillo.[23]

* * *

Increasingly, large cities are connected directly with each other economically, commercially and through flows of data, information and people, and this is a powerful driving force for the production and consumption of goods, services and energy on a global scale.[24] To consider only the economic aspect, in 2017 the world’s ten largest cities together generated a “GDP higher than Japan’s, as well as France, Germany and Italy combined”,[25] and some studies suggest that within the next 20 years, cities will be producing 80 per cent of the world’s wealth. Meanwhile, on the pollution control front, it is worth remembering that, by definition, substances that are harmless to the environment and humanity in small quantities can become harmful and dangerous when they spread on a global scale.[26] All this, in addition to generating a widespread awareness of the great benefits and advantages to be derived from good governance of the phenomenon of interdependence, is also fueling, at all levels, a widespread sense of disorientation in citizens, as well as a crisis of political representation. This is giving rise to the dangerous illusion, skillfully fed and exploited by some, that it has become possible to establish a sort of global direct democracy through the use of new social media channels.[27] For this reason, it has become crucial to show, starting with the political-institutional consolidation of an initial group of eurozone countries, which have already renounced monetary sovereignty, that it is possible to establish a new, supranational model of state — one based on multiple independent and coordinated levels of government within a federal framework.

Franco Spoltore

[1] In this regard, see Chancellor Merkel’s intervention on February 16, 2019, at the Munich Security Conference, where she alluded to Humboldt's remark that everything is interdependent ”Alles ist Wechselwirkung” Similarly, former US president Obama recently pointed out that “the world is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s becoming more connected every day. Building walls won’t change that…”,

A speech on given on 18 March 2019 by the current mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, is also interesting in this regard:

[2] Stefano Riela and Alessandro Gili, The Future of Infrastructure: Which Options for Public Private Cooperation?ISPI Dossier, 17 June 2019,

[3] According to a Eurostat report, in 2012, around 40 per cent of the population of the 28 EU member states was already living in medium-sized or large cities.

[4] Parag Khanna, Connectography, Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, New York, Random House, 2016.

[5] Former US president Barak Obama, for example, made the following observation: “Let me be as clear as I can be: In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not keeping it real or telling it like it is. It’s not challenging political correctness (…) that’s just not knowing what you’re talking about. (…) The world is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s becoming more connected every day. Building walls won’t change that.”,

[6] Lewis Mumford, The City in History, New York, Harcourt Brace and World, 1961.

[7] Carlo Bastasin, E’ l’antagonismo centro periferia a nutrire i populismi, Il Sole 24ore, 13 October 2017.

[8] Milena Gabanelli and Fabio Savelli, Le città connesse saranno sabotabili: chi non protegge i nostri dati e perché, Corriere della sera, 16 June 2019,

[9] Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, New York, Random House USA Inc., 1993.

[10] Parag Khanna, Connectography, op. cit..

[11] This is shown, for example, by the proposal to introduce a new virtual global currency, the Libra, controlled by Facebook.

[12] In 2015, China was already importing 34 per cent of all the electronic components produced in the world, and was the largest exporter of information technology, Connectography, op. cit.

[13] As explained by Lewis Mumford, at the dawn of the industrial era, wood, and not metal, was still the material most widely used to produce handicrafts and industrial goods, including boilers and dishes/plates, in which only the part exposed to the flame was coated and protected with metal. See Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, New York, Harcourt Brace Company, 1934, p. 120.

[14] Gianfranco Testa, in a series of unpublished lectures given at the University of Pavia in the 1970s and 1980s, analysed these models and their development in some depth. The cartographic material, also unpublished, prepared by Testa for these lectures can be found in his essay La difesa della natura a livello di problema urbano, in Convegno nazionale sulla difesa della natura. Aspetti economici, urbanistici, giuridici, Pavia, 1970.

[15] With his book Technocracy in America: Rise of the Info-State, 2017, Parag Khanna, who has also carried out an in-depth analysis of the growth of interdependence on a global scale, seems to indulge in the idea that city states might be restored in the modern era. In the preface to this book, he claims that “Direct technocracy is the superior model for 21st century governance. It combines Switzerland’s collective presidency executive and multi-party parliament with Singapore’s data-driven and utilitarian-minded civil service...”. In this way Khanna makes same mistake previously made by an illustrious scholar of urban phenomena, Jane Jacobs, who, after effectively highlighting the importance of the evolution of urban structures in promoting an effective and positive social life and economic and production development, in her book Cities and the Wealth of Nations (New York, Vintage, 1985), hypothesised the creation, based on a multiplication of currencies” of a system of sovereign cities tha would compete freely with each other. In this regard, see my note Jane Jacobs’ Home Remedies, The Federalist, 29 n. 1 (1987),

[16] This point is drawn from the analysis of the structure of territories conducted by Walter Christaller in Central Places in Southern Germany (translator: Carlisle W. Baskin), Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall.

[17] Walter Christaller, op. cit.: Christaller’s study dates back to the early 1930s. It was not until the end of that decade that his work began to be appreciated in the USA, and much later in Europe too.

[18] Walter Christaller, op. cit.

[19] Walter Christaller, op. cit.

[20] Walter Christaller, op. cit.

[21] Walter Christaller, op. cit.

[22] An in-depth study on the influence of state borders on the distribution of central places was done in 1939 by another German geographer, August Lösch, in The Economics of Location, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1954 (translated by William H. Woglom). The following passage is particularly relevant: “Larger market areas are always transformed along political frontiers, and all areas are changed where the borders represent merely man-made obstacles to trade. We can classify these changes into: first, destruction of locations or their removal away from a boundary, which in the absence of disturbing influences together create the border wasteland; and second, removal of locations across the border”.

[23] “All this creates an opportunity to adapt the constitutional arrangement of the federation to the structure that the distribution of central places, and the relative territories, spontaneously tends to assume in the absence of disturbing factors. This means that the territories of those levels of self-government that are located on the edges of the territories of immediately higher levels must not be delimited in a way that leaves them entirely contained within one of these, but in such a way as to ensure that they intersect with two or more of them. In this way, these territories will cease to be peripheral and instead assume hinge status: in other words, they will assume an active and evolutionary role as junctions and exchange areas between two or more territorial areas of a higher order. Let us imagine the regions of Sicily and Calabria set in a European or world federal framework; in this context, the territories of Messina and Reggio should ideally constitute a single district, whose function is immediately obvious in view of the opportunity this would give them to manage in a coherent way the problems associated with the existence of the Strait of Messina. Similar reflections would apply to a hypothetical macro-region including all the coastal areas of the Rhine, and so on.” Francesco Rossolillo, Città, territorio e istituzioni, Naples, Guida editori, 1983,

[24] According to a study conducted by Cisco (Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Trends, 2017–2022 White Paper,, Internet data traffic between urban centres is expected to triple in the next three years.

[25] Tobia Zevi, Global Cities as a Challenge for the 21st Century, Milan, Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI), 2018,

[26] This is what we saw in the case of CFC refrigerants, which were considered harmless until it became clear that their large-scale release into the atmosphere was depleting the ozone layer.

[27] This situation has also been explicitly denounced by, among others, Ulrich Beck in his book Power in the Global Age: A New Global Political Economy, Rome and Bari, Laterza, 2010. Beck points out that Europe in its current form is a hybrid between market and bureaucracy. It is not a political entity. Furthermore, it lacks visionary force, both as regards the form that the world of European states should take, and as regards Europe’s position in relation to the other regions of the world.




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