Contrary to popular belief European integration is strengthening the role of nation states. Faced with this situation, what can "stateless" nations or regions do? The answer lies in a frantic activity known as paradiplomacy , a kind of foreign policy that seeks to secure international recognition for a region rather than a country.
Against the backdrop of an ever-growing globalisation examples of dynamic paradiplomacies abound. Catalonia, in Spain, Scotland in the United Kingdom or in Germany the Land of Brandenburg, which in recent years strengthened relations with neighbouring Poland. Paradiplomacy is as diverse as the regions employing it. No two regions are the same and each develops their diplomatic activity within the institutional frameworks specific to their country.
Different readings of the nation state
Evidence shows paradiplomacy in EU multinational states developed in part because of strong nationalist sentiments. This sense of nationhood is apparent in Catalonia or the Basque country. But also in Belgium, often labelled as a "artificial state," because of its distinct Flemish and Francophone communities.
Nationalism, key to any paradeplomatic endeavour, is built around three distinct factors. The first centres on the need to establish a strong political identity. One obvious way to do that is by developing international agencies representing a region and its specificities to foreign audiences. A region with strong nationalist aspirations also has to articulate an agenda centred on the defence of its culture and ideology. Finally nationalism relies on a political mobilisation that emphasises the territory's uniqueness.
A fashionable phenomenon
Paradiplomacy is not new. But the past decade has witnessed a flurry of activity with a growing number of regions opening representative offices abroad. This network helps them get a foothold in international organisations as well as participate in major international conferences. And now, more than ever, this diplomatic activity is paying off. One example is the Lome IV Convention between Europe and Asian, Caribbean and Pacific countries. The agreement recently introduced the concept of decentralised co-operation. This device allows resources earmarked by the European Commission for co-operation and development work to bypass central governments and to be directly distributed by regions and other organisations.
Although in the face of growing centralisation, paradiplomacy is the regions' best instrument one cannot lose sight that along with cultural prerogatives, fuelling this activity, are strong economic incentives. Europe has 250 regions, each fighting for a share of the Community's 213 billion Euro budget, of which a third is allocated to regions.
Regions accumulated much of their power in the 80s, at a time, when countries like Spain, shifted some decision-making powers to autonomous regions. This growing regional power was also actively backed by then Commission president Jacques Delors. Illustrating the growing power of Europe's region resulted-after added pressure from German Länders-in the creation of a Committee of Regions.
The Treaty of Maastricht has also allowed representatives of regional or sub-state bodies to, as members of national delegation, participate in negotiations inside the Council of the Union. Including regional delegates in a national negotiation team is now standard practice in Belgium, which integrates representatives of its Wallon and Flemish communities. Also active are delegates of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments. German and Austrian Länder and Portugal's autonomous regions also take part in sessions of the Council of Ministers.
But these powers are not evenly shared. In Spain, Jose Maria Aznar's conservative government prevented regions from participating in important EU negotiations. Although autonomous regions could, on a rotation basis, participate in different consultative committees set up by the Commission, the absence of regions from relevant government bodies could impact their ability to clinch fund to develop their economies.
Regions and States Competing for Power
In this cat and mouse game nation states try to consolidate their legitimacy against threats from "stateless nations," while regions strengthen their power by relying on paradeplomatic network to secure financial support from the European Union.
Faced with the leading role of "stateless" regions, it's important not to lose sight of their ultimate aim: to resolve historic, ethnic or cultural conflicts. You cannot move to a process of regional uniformity from one day to the next. The regions do not all have the same starting points and they do not require identical solutions. For paradiplomacy to stop being a heady cocktail, adjustments and transformations must be based on a thorough analysis of the institutions and difficulties specific to each country.