DOSSIER : Decentralization II

Article published on Dec. 8, 2008
Article published on Dec. 8, 2008
Spain : another country at odds with the French tradition Regionalism in this country is powerful. Each region has a strong cultural identity and political power akin to the one enjoyed by German Länder. Spain comprises 17 regions or autonomous communities each endowed with different levels of autonomy and competences.
It is somewhat taboo to talk about “federalism” on this side of the Pyrenees but Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia and Andalusia enjoy just as much autonomy as their German Länder counterparts in the fields of education and police. However, Spain stands in contrast with Germany when it comes to the identity question.

Many regional communities are bilingual and favours the teaching of regional tongues over that of Spanish. In addition to regions, Spain has 50 provinces similar to the French “départements”, they have competences different from the autonomous communities. They also have the leading role when it comes to local politics. The last level of devolution in Spain is the commune, three quarters of them are organised in “microcomunidades” that is to say in associations of townships.

To sum, there are almost as many administrative levels in Spain as in France. However, Spain is characterized by three main differences:

regionalism is strong politically and in terms of identity, it has the leading role in local politics and is at the heart of the Spanish political systemprovinces work as an intermediate level between communes and regions, minimizing competition and enhancing efficiencythere is no “country-type” level between townships associations and counties

It is interesting to reflect on the perception that the Spanish have of France concerning local politics. The works of Pr. Juan-Luis Suarez de Viejo from the University of Seville show that Spanish intellectuals consider generally that the French system does not respect regional identity and is very technocratic. Pr Suarez highlights the fact that regions like Brittany or territories speaking Occitan cannot flourish with the help of an enriching practice of bilingualism.

Just as the Germans, the Spanish think however that France remains a very centralized country that seeks to make its territory more uniform. However, this observation can be put in perspective by the fact that the Spanish admit that this attempt to make the country more uniform is linked to the principles of the Enlightenment and the beginnings of the secular and egalitarian Republic. The Spanish tradition is marked by contrasting historical heritages because the only attempt to bring about uniformity of identity in the country dates back to Franco.

In contrast, France under Vichy tried to bring back to life the provinces of the Old Regime (i.e. before the French Revolution)  and celebrate local identity. Above these differences that still influence the minds, the question comes up as to whether this partition is adapted or not to cultural and socio-economical evolutions of today.