Regionalism in England: A silent revolution?

Article published on March 29, 2004
community published
Article published on March 29, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

How European Union countries shed their own centralized power in favor of regions could pave the way for a more integrated Europe .

This fall residents in northern England are voting in a referendum that-if passed-could create three new regional assemblies. The legislative bodies would shed four centuries of centralized rule in favor of regional power. Similar assemblies already exist in: London, Scotland, Wales as well as a suspended one in Northern Ireland.

The three potential assemblies would be located in England's North West and North East regions and the York & Humber region. Until the Labor Party rose to power the United Kingdom was one of the few EU member states that remained untouched by devolution. What do these changes mean? Does it herald a new direction for British politics? Is federalism now a part of the mainstream political agenda? Do Regions herald the eventual break-up of the UK?

Change wont be immediate. Those who yearn for a sustained period of power transfer from London to newly invigorated regions will have to be patient.

Different factors have reawakened desires for decentralization. In his paper "Alternative Routes to Power" John Osmond highlighted how the European Union and trends like globalization have helped propel regionalization into the mainstream. Other instigators include the recent creation of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies.

Osmond also blames self-confidence to explain, why at a time when the rest of continental Europe passed more power to its regions, the UK shied away from regionalization. The island, he says, has a tendency to look back to its glorious imperial past rather than forward to what it perceived to be an uncertain globalized future. Until late in the last Century the country had no real reason to question its place in the world. But in a post-colonial era this is a luxury it can no longer afford.

UK attitudes toward Europe

Potentially the outcome of the referendums could change the nature and direction of political debate across the European Union.

Until recently the UK stood alone, an island of centralism, in a sea of regionalization. Yet, a victory in the upcoming referendum would create more regional bodies. The transformation towards a decentralized model could make the idea of a federal Europe more appealing to the UK electorate. The thought being that if it works at home why not try it at the European level. This, and a possible entry into the Eurozone, would make it less likely for the United Kingdom to be the traditional "awkward partner" when radical institutional reforms of the EU are considered.

Although Polls have consistently shown an appetite for regionalism, especially in the three regions now being balloted, the electorate remains apathetic and ignorant of the complex issues involved. In this information void NO campaigners are eroding the general public goodwill that is in support of devolution. A NO vote would not only stop the English devolution process dead but also stall the UK's European integration.