The current state of and prospect for regionalisation in Europe - CPR (6) 3 Part II

Rapporteur: Claude HAEGI (Switzerland)



On 4 June 1997 the Congress adopted Resolution 58 on the situation of local democracy in member countries. Concerning the regions, a review conference on regionalisation in Europe, held in Geneva in 1993, was the event that initiated the process leading the Congress to make the unanimous recommendation that the Committee of Ministers adopt a European Charter of Regional Self-Government as a binding legal instrument (Recommendation 34 of 5 June 1997).

Today, now that the Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy is about to complete its work and submit its conclusions to the Committee of Ministers, it is important to take stock of the progress of regionalisation in all member countries and to outline prospects, accompanied by a number of recommendations.

The context and aims of this report are defined in Part I, with reference to the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government (ECRSG).

Part II briefly recapitulates what are regarded as its principal merits, together with the political choices entailed by the process of regionalisation as construed by the draft Charter.

Part III describes the tendencies observed in member states, on the basis of a classification established according to their conceptions of regionalisation.

Finally, part IV considers the position of regions and regionalisation in the applicant countries.


The European Charter of Regional Self-Government will have no legal effect until it has been accepted by the Committee of Ministers. However, it already has a political significance in view of its unanimous approval by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe on 5 June 1997, together with the repeated support of the Parliamentary Assembly for the text in November 1997 and March 1998.

Consequently, this report is of an essentially political nature. Its first recommendation is directed at the governments of member states represented in the Committee of Ministers. They are requested to accept the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government with all speed so that it finally acquires legal force.

This recommendation is based on the following considerations:

- the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government (ECRSG) is founded on precisely the same principles as the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which has become one of the major instruments of the Council of Europe, its essential principles now standing as general principles of European law;

- the draft has been supported by the two Council of Europe parliamentary bodies (CLRAE and Assembly), as well as by the Assembly of European Regions in December 1996 and 1997;

- contrary to what might be thought, the least regionalised states are considered to be the very ones most in need of such a Charter as a source of inspiration. It may be recalled in this connection that, according to document CPR/Bur (5) 12 of 21 January 1999, five of the thirteen states without a regional tier are now in the process of creating one (see CPR/Bur (5) 12, p. 3);

- lastly, the advances of regionalisation in Europe which would be aided by such a Charter will have the inevitable effect of strengthening the credibility and authority of the CLRAE's Chamber of Regions, at the very time (the year 2000) when the period of transitional arrangements for representation in the Chamber of Regions is ending1.

Besides, there is the reminder that the Congress would like to give the Committee of Ministers concerning the advantages and constraints of regionalisation (see below).

It is likewise recommended that all member states and applicant countries be guided henceforth by the draft Charter in preparing their legislation on the regions.


1. Arguments in favour

. The region is not meant to call into question the territorial unity of the State (paragraph 8 of the preamble to the Charter), but to allow more differentiated expression of the people's sovereignty at a level closer to the citizens.

. Regionalisation is a means of conflict prevention, in encouraging the expression of minorities and of minority languages or cultures within the framework of national unity (whereas undue centralisation or belated or mismanaged regionalisation is what permits the growth of separatist movements that sometimes degenerate into terrorist movements).

. The region is the decentralised entity capable of rising to the challenges of the 21st century; it extends the action taken at the grassroots by the municipalities (traditional structures of self-government which have become too small for certain tasks), according to a relationship of subsidiarity.

. Without a true regional tier (the object of the draft Charter), the local tier, when alone in practising grassroots democracy, often lacks the means to be a credible negotiator with the central government (in which case local self-government may conceal de facto centralisation).

. The region has now become an essential factor of economic advancement and development generating wealth and employment in an environmentally friendly manner2.

. Transfrontier co-operation, as advocated by the 1980 Outline Convention, needs regions holding autonomous powers on either side of the border to attain its full effects.

. Regionalisation is often proof of self-confidence on the part of states; rejection of it is often proof to the contrary.

2. Possible objections (political choice)

. It is more costly to have another tier of self-government alongside the local authorities. In this respect, it should be emphasised that the region must not form an additional bureaucratic agency; its proper function is as an additional service (subsidiary to the local authorities) provided for the citizens.

. Regions are not indispensable where the state's territory and population are small. This argument, however, applies only to very small states which in addition are blessed with cultural unity and territorial continuity (on the other hand, islands often have self-governing status): the member states concerned are Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino and arguably Luxembourg, and the applicant state Monaco. Iceland and Malta could be placed in the same category.

. Regions can jeopardise national unity. This may of course involve a political problem existing within a given state. In general, though, secessionist or independence-seeking ambitions are only present in a few clearly identified cases. Conversely, it may be argued that excessive centralisation (synonymous with homogenisation, uncongenial to certain elements of the population) is what leads to impairment of national unity by encouraging the development of extreme demands born of frustration;

. Regions can encroach on the autonomy of local authorities. True, local autonomy is often encroached on by the state through the agency of its territorial representative (governor or prefect). But the region can also act in this way, particularly where numerous responsibilities are concentrated in its remit, as with federal countries and certain special-status regions. The assertion in paragraph 7 of the Preamble to the draft Charter should therefore be emphasised by the stipulation that the region must respect (and protect) local autonomy, and by a forceful reminder that the principle of subsidiarity must inspire relations between regions and local authorities (Article 7.2 of the draft Charter).


It should firstly be pointed out that all countries are by no means in the same position as regards regionalisation. Moreover, administrative traditions, political culture and, in the case of the Central and East European countries, the legacy of the recent past, also count for a great deal. Having regard to these various aspects, four main groups of countries are identified among the Council of Europe member states:

. Federal or federally oriented states (including Italy and Spain);
. New member countries in Central and Eastern Europe undergoing transition;
. Northern Europe and the British Isles;
. The unitary Southern states influenced by the French model.

Regions with legislative powers are characteristic of the first group of countries, but in the three other groups they are found only as an exception, usually formed by a few regions with special status, to which Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland should now be added in view of the regionalisation process in the United Kingdom.

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe undergoing transition plainly constitute an altogether separate group because of the centralist hangover from the old regime that has yet to be universally overcome, especially with regard to the regional tier of government. The Russian Federation is an exception in that respect.

In the West of Europe, unitary states seem to fall distinctly into two groups in terms of political culture and traditions of government. The Southern countries have been influenced, albeit to varying degrees, by the Jacobin system born of the French Revolution which has provided them with a model (the same applies to some Central and East European countries, but the mark made on them by the long Communist interlude places them in a different position at present). By contrast, the situation has been quite otherwise in Northern Europe and the British Isles, where the Jacobin model scarcely penetrated political and administrative custom. In those countries, where monarchies have often survived by adapting, the tier of self-government is pre-eminently the municipality. The second level, only seldom termed "regional", generally comprises quite small units (of the district type) whose purpose is more to discharge certain functional responsibilities than to represent an intermediate political entity between State and the municipality.

1. Federal or federally oriented states

The member states concerned are Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium (a federal state since 1993) and Russia (1993 Constitution). Spain should be added since, though legally constituted as a unitary state, its apportionment of powers and resources in akin to a federative process, as should Italy where a plan for federalisation is currently afoot.

1.1 Autonomy and financial equalisation: a recurrent issue

One of the constants in these countries, which muster the majority of Europe's regions with legislative powers, is the prominent place held by debate over the financial autonomy of the federated entities in relation to the federal State. This is a recurrent issue in Switzerland between cantons that give more than they receive and cantons that receive more than they give.

In Germany, whose Constitution requires the public authorities to secure equal living conditions to all citizens, the same issue acquired an East/West dimension with the reunification, which has markedly accentuated regional disparities. Today, some of the more prosperous Länder (such as Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hessen) want to limit their contributions, and the matter was even referred to the Constitutional Court in 1998.

In Italy, it is common knowledge that in recent years the Northern regions have wanted to limit their contribution to the development of the Mezzogiorno, and that certain parties (the Lega Nord especially) have even made this a keypoint of their political programme.

In Spain, as neither of the two major national parties (PP and PSOE) has held an absolute majority in Parliament since 1993, the support of autonomist parties is needed to form the national government. Prominent among these are the Catalans (Jordi Pujol's "Convergencia i Unió"), who have successfully negotiated their support over the last few years by securing the agreement of José Maria Aznar that Catalonia (Spain's richest region) should henceforth receive 30% of the yield of income tax levied within its boundaries.

In Belgium, the bids are now being raised as usual in the campaign for the forthcoming elections on 13 June. The Flemings, as well as holding out for better representation in Brussels, particularly support the idea of regionalising social security (specifically family benefits) and tax revenue (which would be broken down in the same proportions as receipts, thus weakening the machinery for redistribution between richer and poorer regions). The outcome of these demands will naturally depend on the election results and on inter-party negotiations to form the new coalition government.

Finally, in Russia numerous constituent entities ("subyekty") of the Federation3 have decreed customs, taxation or price control measures in recent years, and have sometimes been attracted by schemes for monetary independence. This trend grew when the economic crisis of August 1998 was triggered4.

All federal or quasi-federal states having regions with legislative powers should therefore be reminded of preambular paragraph 9 and Article 14(4) of the draft Charter, with emphasis on these points:

. Financial autonomy is the indispensable adjunct to political autonomy.

. Federal or national solidarity is the counterpart to this financial autonomy, which would otherwise leave the way open to manifestations of self-interest eroding the federal bond.

The demand for greater financial autonomy should be fostered as long as it does not have the effect of breaking down national or federal solidarity.

1.2 Prospects for institutional change

Other more specific changes have occurred in some of these countries. In Switzerland, plans were recently disclosed for consolidating certain cantons into regions of larger economic dimensions (union between Geneva and Vaud, Central Switzerland around Lucerne, Basel region). Although the realisation of these ideas does not appear possible in the near future, they are of interest in giving an old federation like Switzerland a new outlook on the problem co-existence between historical regions (the cantons, which are states) and functional regions. In Germany, a recent event has nonetheless revealed the difficulty of changing the boundaries of federated states with which the citizens identify strongly: the

amalgamation of Berlin and Brandenburg was thus refused by the Brandenburg electors (63.4% against) at a referendum held on 5 May 19965.

In Spain, the Basque Country regional elections on 25 October 1998 resulted in an alliance of the three nationalist parties, the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV), Euskadi Alkartasuna (Basque Solidarity) and Euskal Herritarrok (the new name of Herri Batasuna), leading to the foundation of a major coalition which has governed the Basque Country since December 1998 and seeks a degree of self-determination.

In Russia, federalism has many original features: it is post-Soviet, applies to huge areas (Europe's largest region is the almost 3 million km2 Sakha Republic (Yakutia)), and comprises six categories of "components of the Federation", but that is not all. Its legal foundations, in fact, are not confined to the provisions of the Federal Constitution adopted by referendum in December 19936. In fact they incorporate not only the so-called "Federation Treaties" (Articles 11-13 of the Federal Constitution) concluded earlier (in March 1992) between the central power and the various categories of member entities (certain entities having furthermore refused to sign them), but also those concluded subsequently (and there are many) between the central power and individual entities of the Federation. Russian federalism is thus underpinned by an impressive number of statutes which in the writer's opinion can be fully comprehended only with reference to the political circumstances (but also to the economic, social or even cultural position) which they reflect. Since 1992, the balance between the Russian central power and the constituent entities of the Federation has always been very inconstant. As from 1996 there emerged a fairly distinct tendency towards self-assertion of the entities and loosening of the federal bond. This turn of events was attended by weakening of central authority and election of many governors whom it formerly appointed (and thus more or less controlled). The economic crisis of August 1998, during which some governors tried to take individual counter-measures, prompted a further step in the same direction. Today the new government led by Yevgeny Primakov is apparently trying to regain control. Accordingly, a law was promulgated in 4 January 1999 enabling the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation to be more fully informed of any plans for international agreements contemplated by the constituent entities. This law seems to aim at greater transparency and better co-ordination of international relations within the Federation. Without formally challenging the powers of the constituent entities in respect of international affairs (which it reaffirms, on the contrary)7, it nonetheless affords the possibility of restricting their powers in practice by stipulating in section 1 that international relations entered into by them require the "consent" ("soglasiye") of the Government of the Russian Federation. Only in the light of the relevant practice will it be possible to tell whether or not the use made of this provision for oversight will indicate a move towards greater centralisation. These developments bear out the interest of the report assigned to Claude Haegi by the Bureau of the Congress (21 December 1998) on federalism in Russia. Meanwhile, a mission to Moscow was carried out by the CLRAE on 12 and 13 April 1999 to review Russia's position regarding local democracy and federalism in the light of CLRAE Recommendation 30 (1997).

In Italy, the Government meeting in the Council of Ministers on 9 March 1999 adopted a draft for the federalisation of the country which will be referred to Parliament for debate. It introduces the concept of subsidiarity as between four tiers: the State, the regions, the provinces and the towns and municipalities. At present the State has a general competence and the regions a limited competence deriving from their status ("special" for five regions and "ordinary" for the rest). The draft also introduces demarcation ratione materiae of central government powers. These have hitherto embodied the following spheres in particular: fundamental rights of citizens, defence, foreign policy, law and order, protection of cultural assets, part of the revenue, and the guiding principles of state education and public health. The regions would be vested with powers for issuing subordinate legislation and regulations in areas not assigned to the State. They would also be empowered to conclude international agreements in the areas within their remit. It is envisaged to have Presidents of regions elected by direct universal suffrage. Upon election, they would choose the members ("assessori" of the regional government, answerable to the regional assembly. Justice would be partly regionalised with the establishment of regional justice councils made up of magistrates as well as local and regional elected representatives. Subsequent draft legislation is expected to convert the present Senate into a Chamber of Regions. Taxation would also be reformed to give the regions resources under their own control in keeping with their new powers. Lastly, one of the novelties of this reform is that it also concerns the provinces, municipalities and towns, safeguarding their prerogatives in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. Provinces would be represented at the higher level by a Local Government Council consisting of Presidents of provinces and Mayors of provincial capitals and other localities. Now, as headlined in La Stampa, "Parliament has final say". The draft seems to enjoy quite wide support among the parliamentarians. But the result is not a foregone conclusion because, as often happens in such cases, opposition may increase owing to political considerations and gain strength from a coalition of those believing that the reform goes too far and those who consider it too timid. The situation is significantly more complex in the five regions8 now enjoying a special status, as the reform would deprive them of most of the "privileges" that set them apart from the other regions, while preserving the extent of their self-government. The CLRAE supports Italy in the reforms currently planned and is ready to help the county's authorities in this ambitious undertaking.

2. New member countries in Central and Eastern Europe undergoing transition

In the two or three years following their return to pluralist democracy, most of these countries restored local self-government, usually according to the principles of the Charter of Local Self-Government. However, it has been hard for the regional tier to take hold but things now seem to be moving, especially in the countries closest to joining the European Union which are considering more seriously than others the creation of a political and administrative tier at regional level better fitted to manage structural funds.

The most significant step forward has been made by Poland which, under the law of July 1998 (and following much argument about the number of regions)9 created 16 Województwa (Voivodships) in place of the 49 inherited from the Communist period when the Gierek government was in power (1976). The first elections for these regions enjoying true political autonomy took place on 11 October (the former Assembly - Sejmik - used not to be directly elected, and the bulk of powers were held by the State representative, a kind of prefect with the tile "Wojewoda". The head of the regional executive (Marszalek) is now elected by the Regional Diet (Sejmik or "little Diet"). This puts Poland level with (and in some respects ahead of) Hungary, the only country undergoing transition to have re-instituted a regional structure with a certain degree of autonomy by restoring the Komitat in 1994.

The Congress should express satisfaction and encourage Poland to complete this crucial reform, particularly by more liberal endowment of the Województwa with financial resources of their own. The Congress makes the same observations concerning Hungary, asking it to enhance the financial autonomy of the Komitat and provide it with the means to achieve greater independence from the central government; this may require consolidation into larger regional entities.

In the Czech Republic, a Constitutional Act of 3 December 1997 makes provision as from 1 January 2000 for the election of regional bodies at the level of the 14 "Kraje" (divided into 76 Okresy or districts) enjoying some financial autonomy. In the interim, the reform is being co-ordinated by the Minister for the Interior. It provides that in the spring of 1999 the Government should adopt a general concept for the reform of local government. Subsequently, bills would be prepared concerning election procedures, powers and resources of the future elected bodies of the Kraje. It is recommended that the Czech Republic's competent governmental and parliamentary authorities take the necessary measures within the prescribed time, being guided by the draft ECRSG.A Congress colloquy is planned in 1999.

Reforms which are often far more modest (and in many cases uncertain as regards the timetable and the outcome) are in hand, especially in Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova.

In Slovakia, a law of 26 March 1998 created eight "upper-tier territorial units" without autonomy, being administered by State officials. The law made reference to Article 3 of the Constitution: "The territory of the Slovak Republic is integral and indivisible". There is also a plan for regionalisation dating from late 1997-early 1998 (see CPR/GT/REG (4) 14) which has been withdrawn after criticism from the Congress experts. It is to be hoped that the change of government will restart the process and that a new draft will be presented, providing for the creation of regions with their own resources and defining their powers in relation to the decentralised State bodies and to the local authorities.

In Slovenia, draft legislation on "regionalisation" was discussed by the competent working group of the Congress; see the 1997 documents (CPR/GT/REG(4)6-7). The proposed regionalisation, on the borderline between an association of local authorities and a decentralisation of central government departments, does no more than to create a mixed bag of directly elected representatives and delegates of local authorities, and should be further elaborated having regard to the ECRSG and future EU membership.

In Bulgaria, a colloquy was organised in Rousse by the CLRAE on 20 and 21 November 1998 to assist this country with the regionalisation process which it has commenced (see CPR/GT/REG(5)9). The process is being conducted under the 1991 Constitution, which has a pronounced unitary inspiration (see Articles 142 and 143). Approved in 1998, the administrative reform provides for a larger number of regions ("oblasti"), to increase from 9 to 28: their function is essentially one of planning and spatial development. The Governor ("oblastniat Upravitel"), representing the State, continues to have a very important role. This is confirmed in the preliminary draft Regional Development Act, giving the Bulgarian National Association of Municipalities cause to fear an insidious re-centralisation of the powers devolved to local authorities. The CLRAE delegation gave several opinions on this draft, under which the Regional Development Council, formed by local elected representatives, merely assists the Governor in exercising his prerogatives. These opinions were greatly appreciated by the Bulgarian National Association of Municipalities, but apparently did not suffice to secure amendment of the draft. It is therefore important to warn the Bulgarian authorities against a relapse into centralisation - via the Governor - quite possibly to the detriment of the municipalities. Nonetheless, this work can be regarded as a first step that does not preclude the creation of genuine regions. The competent authorities can therefore be encouraged to place this technical and economic reform in a perspective of longer-term political regionalisation.

In Latvia, there are reports of a planned reform to create either 5 regions or 8 regions centred on the major cities (see CG(5)5-II). There are at present 26 regions and 7 urban communities (including Riga which makes up 36% of the population). The 1997 regional elections were cancelled by the former government. One of the most blatant obstacles to regionalisation seems to be the highly unitary spirit of the Constitution dating from 1922 and reintroduced as it stood in 1993. Moreover, the present regions are almost entirely dependent for funds on the State. It is therefore recommended to restart the reform process along the lines of the ECRSG, conceiving the new regions as a tier, separate from the municipalities and having its own financial resources. At the same time, the CLRAE expresses readiness to offer its assistance in the planned constitutional amendments so as to provide a more suitable framework for regionalisation.

In Lithuania, a law of 15 December 1994 created 10 regions headed by a central government official (CG/Bur (2) 74 and CPR/CP (3) 25). Through this arrangement, the municipalities are conscious of renewed central government encroachment on their independent powers. As in Bulgaria and Latvia, one of the main obstacles to true regionalisation is the 1992 Constitution, with a unitary inspiration. It is recommended to ensure the independence of local authorities and think about reforms allowing the passage of a new regionalisation law based on the principles of the ECRSG.

In Albania, the "regional" structure is the rrethet (district); there are 37, with the capital Tirana holding a special status in addition. Elected bodies co-exist with the State representatives; districts "have no clearly defined competencies and no budget of their own" (CG/Bur(1)80, dated 27 May 1995). Developments would seem to be occurring (see CG(3)15-II) with preliminary drafts on decentralisation providing for the creation of 10-12 regions and amendment of the Law on Prefectures, concerning which a request seems to have been made for assistance from the CLRAE and the LODE programme. It is therefore desirable that the Albanian authorities press ahead, guided by the principles embodied in the draft ECRSG, and the readiness of the CLRAE to assist in this task is reiterated.

In Moldova, a law of 12 November 1998 on territorial-administrative division, supplemented by a law of 6 February 1999 on local government, divides the country into 9 Judete (counties) and 37 raione (districts) originating from the Soviet era10, plus the Gagauz area (special status conferred by the law of 23 December 1994) and the capital Chisinau. The State-delegated Prefect's powers are now more clearly demarcated in relation to the future Judet authorities, but remain considerable. However, the new legislation has raised two varieties of problems, firstly by disregarding the autonomous Gagauz powers in major areas of local government, and secondly by sparking dissidence among the Bulgarian minority in the Taraklia district (CG/GT/DEM/REG non-paper). On 24 January 1999 the district held a referendum in which 91% of electors voted for the preservation of their district, abolished by the new legislation and incorporated into the new Judet of Cahul. Although the referendum was ruled unlawful, the problem remains. The CLRAE expert considers that in their new reform the Moldovan authorities did not pay sufficient attention to the provisions of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities to which they acceded in 1997. Thus it would be desirable for them to reconsider this problem, availing themselves of the CLRAE's support, in order to take proper account of the minorities and the existence of special-status regions; encouragement should also be given for subsequent amplification of Judet responsibilities, now defined somewhat restrictively.

In Ukraine, apart from Crimea, there are no really autonomous regions. As long as two years ago (see CG(5)6-II), there was mention of a new law on the capital Kyiv and a plan to confer autonomy on the 24 regions ("oblasti"), whose executive organs and administration are still appointed by the central government. Only the new law concerning Kyiv had been issued by January 1999. It is therefore recommended that the competent national authorities consider in more detail the possibilities for setting up regional structures worthy of recognition as such at European level - having regard to their territorial dimensions, demography, economic context and political and cultural traditions. The CLRAE confirms its readiness to support these reforms and to render whatever technical assistance is required.

In Croatia, the regional tier (Zupanija) comprises an elected assembly and a head of the executive (Zupan) chosen by the assembly (see CG(5)4-II). Besides the fact that these regions' independence in relation to the central government remains weak (in terms of both powers and resources), it is observed that the choice of the Zupan must be confirmed by the President of the Republic. The Croatian authorities recently made a point of informing the Congress that the confirmation has now become automatic (CG/CP (5) PV 2 addendum - II). The fact remains that, even if it has fallen into disuse, the central authority's right to veto the choice of regional elected representatives continues to be most embarrassing from the regional self-government angle. Consequently, in connection with the reform which has been announced in the area of local self-government, the CLRAE is bound to encourage the abolition of this supervisory power over the choice both of mayors and of heads of regional executives, stressing that it will be all the more readily abolished because it is regulated by statutory provisions which are reportedly no longer applied.

In Georgia, the Constitution of 24 August 1995 is intended to cover the territory of the former Soviet Republic as it was in December 1991. Presidential decrees subsequently created two Autonomous Republics (Abkhazia and Adjaria), nine ordinary regions and the capital Tbilisi. Furthermore, an armed conflict ravaged South Ossetia, an autonomous region demanding union with North Ossetia, a member of the Russian Federation (in which it has the status of a republic). The situation in Georgia is now characterised by dissymmetry between the autonomous republics, dominated by strong breakaway tendencies to the point of separatism, and very marked centralisation in the rest of the country. A report was recently submitted to the CLRAE on the situation of local and regional democracy in Georgia, in connection with its application to join the Council of Europe (CG/Bur (5) 62 rev.). On 27 April 1999, Georgia became the 41st member state.

In Tbilisi, which can be placed among the "regions", the mayor is the representative of the President of the Republic, appointed and dismissed by the latter. In the nine "ordinary" regions, the powers are vested in the Governor who is also appointed and dismissed by the President. Thus the system is plainly centralised. In the three other regions (Adjaria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia) it is not known whether the trend is towards succession or towards federalisation. Adjaria is the area where the situation seems the most satisfactorily stabilised. Its Constitution, however, seems to take liberties with the separation of powers as the President of the Assembly (Supreme Council) is also Head of the Executive. A constitutional revision provides for his election by direct universal suffrage (see the above-mentioned report and CG/CP (5) 29, paragraph 11), which might further accentuate the personalisation of power. The situation in South Ossetia has calmed down somewhat; a joint Russian-Georgian commission is mandated to define a political status acceptable to both countries, which would secure special powers of self-determination to the region. Abkhazia has seceded to all intents and purposes since the regional parliament proclaimed the territory's independence on 22 August 1995. For several years, thoughts of federalisation have been put aside in order to find a solution for this problem. In more general terms, it is therefore necessary to consolidate the federal process in the autonomous regions and to create ordinary regions throughout the remainder of the territory.

To conclude this chapter, a recommendation can be made to the competent authorities of all Central and East European countries undergoing transition, asking that for the purposes of creating regions they take the guidelines of the ECRSG into account as a mainstay of their political and administrative reforms and of their growing ties with Western Europe generally and specifically with the European Union.

3. Northern Europe and the British Isles

These countries (United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland), by tradition, have a system in which the regional tier is a more administrative than political entity. This tier - of the "county" type - provides a basis both for devolved central government services and for the local authorities which have representatives at county level. It often falls short of what is prescribed in the draft ECRSG. However, certain developments are noteworthy.

The most significant is the introduction of regional government in the United Kingdom. Devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales and the re-establishment of a Parliament in Edinburgh and a Welsh Assembly in Cardiff were turned down in the 1979 referendum. The reform, revived by Tony Blair's Labour government, was eventually approved in 1997 by referendums on 11 September (Scotland) and 18 September (Wales). It provides for the creation of a Scottish regional parliament in Edinburgh and a Welsh regional assembly in Cardiff (see CPR/CP (5) 16). Scottish self-government is very extensive, embodying all legislation of relevance to Scotland apart from matters reserved for Westminster (foreign policy, defence, monetary policy, employment legislation and social security policy in particular). Scotland is to have as its government an Executive of parliamentary origin, headed by a First Minister. Welsh autonomy is less radical. The Welsh Assembly in Cardiff is responsible only for legislation in matters delegated by Westminster and concerning Wales. Transfers of resources will be made in keeping with the transfer of powers. Although this reform was overwhelmingly accepted in Scotland (74.3%), it barely passed in Wales (50.3%). The first regional elections took place on 6 May 1999, making it possible to install the regional institutions (Parliament and Government). At the same time, the agreements reached on 10 April 1998 for Northern Ireland and approved at referendum on 21 May made it possible to hold elections by proportional representation on 25 June 1998. The new Assembly is to have legislative powers including matters of transfrontier co-operation. England, where no regional institutions comparable to those of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been set up, remains a separate case. The traditional division into counties and metropolitan areas remains current. That makes it inappropriate to speak of "regional governance" as yet, but things seem to be changing (see CPR/GT/REG (4)2).

Accordingly, in April 1999 eight Regional Development Agencies were to be set up, controlled by Boards consisting of local elected representatives and representatives of business interests and other interests appointed by the central government. Thus it is a case of specialised regional entities superimposed on the 33 counties. In addition, it is foreseen that after a referendum has been held, Greater London will be governed as from July 2000 by a directly elected Mayor and a 25 member Assembly. After the elections on 6 May 1999 and the establishment of the new regional authorities, it would be advisable for the CLRAE to undertake a more probing appraisal of the reform's strengths and weaknesses, not forgetting the important aspect of financial autonomy.

Less spectacular reforms recently occurred in Sweden and Finland, partly in consequence of their accession to the European Union in January 1995. In Sweden, it was decided in 1996 that over a five-year trial period (1997-2002), certain central government powers (notably, regional development and preparation of a Regional Development Programme) would be transferred to three counties with special status in the southern part of the country, Kalmar, Gotland and Skåne11. It is recommended to draw on the expertise of the Council of Europe for evaluating this process, which could be of great importance for the future of regionalisation in Sweden.

Finland (where the islands of Aland-Ahvenanmaa have special status), a law on regional development of March 1994 created, at the level of the five (formerly 12) "ordinary" Provinces, Councils with responsibilities devolved from the central government in the area of economic development. These "regional" Councils are not directly elected. They are made up of local councillors and their budget is funded by the local authorities and therefore not independent of the latter. Thus they constitute functional regions resembling associations of local authorities without the political character and financial autonomy prescribed in the draft ECRSG. It appears that in Finland there is little pressure to create true regions. However, the CLRAE declares its readiness to offer its services to Finland for step by step progress towards genuine regionalisation within the meaning of the draft ECRSG. It is recalled that a specific report will be presented during the Session by Mr Leinen, giving further details of the present situation and outlook for regionalisation in this country.

Added to the group of countries discussed above are those where no major reforms are contemplated at present, although the regional tier is often rather weak and not always distinct from a mere intermunicipal district. This is true of Norway with its 19 "Fylkeskommuner" dating from 1975 (see CPR/CP (3) 22), Denmark with its 14 "Amt", Ireland with its counties and eight sub-national authorities set up to manage EU structural funds (see CPR/CP (3) 20), and the Netherlands with its 12 "Provincie"12. A specific report on this country will be presented at the next Session. As with Finland, the CLRAE encourages the Netherlands to strengthen regional structures, and is ready to provide assistance in that direction; Iceland is invited to consider the feasibility of creating such structures.

4. France, Portugal and the Mediterranean countries

These countries have to some extent modelled their unitary, centralised system on that of France as it was some decades ago.

Since 1982, France has moved ahead by making a simultaneous effort to apply devolution and regionalisation. It is time to take stock of these reforms, particularly with regard to apportionment of powers and resources between the four levels of government represented by the State, the 6 regions (4 of them overseas), the 100 départements (4 of them overseas) and the 36 500 communes. Furthermore, the last regional elections in March 1998 reopened debate over the holding of elections by proportional representation, a method little used in France. Devolution and its progress remains a topical political issue.

In Portugal, the 1976 Constitution instituted the Autonomous Regions of Madeira and the Azores and referred the question of regionalising the mainland to subsequent legislation. A constitutional reform dating from 1997 (Article 256 of the Constitution) made it mandatory to hold a referendum on the Act of 20 April 1998 on regionalisation, backed by the new Socialist government of Antonio Gutterrez. It was a question of creating eight administrative regions without legislative powers, administered by a 50 strong assembly and a government of 5 elected members (7 members for the regions of Lisbon-Tagus Valley and Oporto). An information document of April 1998 (CPR/GT/REG(4) 16) disclosed that at the time 70% of Portuguese considered themselves inadequately informed about regionalisation; this was heightened by incomprehension as to the necessity of the reform, and fear in certain groups hostile to a political type of regionalisation. On 8 November 1998 the reform was swept aside by 64% of voters (51% turnout, 18% higher than in the referendum on abortion). By contrast with the referendum on abortion, the international media said little on the subject. For this report, the Spanish press (chiefly El Pais) has been consulted, together with a memorandum by Antonio Montalvo dated 1 March 1999 (CPR/CP (5) 15). Four kinds of explanations can be inferred:

- the reform, being identified with the Socialist Party, was opposed by the main opposition parties (centre and right);

- these parties and other sectors of public opinion considered regionalisation a diversion of the real priorities (education, justice and health) and saw no need to go to the lengths of dividing the country into regions in order to achieve the goals of decentralisation and devolution;

- the division into eight regions (whereas the Portuguese have been accustomed since 1970 to the five planning regions) was poorly comprehended, and (in isolating the poorer regions) may have stemmed from the idea of preserving the benefit of the EDU structural funds for certain parts of the territory, despite the enlargement;

- fear of weakening the unitary State (the new regions being perceived as political ones like Madeira and the Azores, which was incorrect) or of introducing one more bureaucracy.

All parties undertook to restart the process of decentralisation and devolution, but this time without creating administrative regions. A new law to that effect was ready in December 1998.

While bowing to the citizens' will, the Congress must express regret over the failure of this reform which would have brought Portugal closer to the concepts upheld in the draft ECRSG. It offers the Portuguese authorities its assistance in restarting the process, on the strength of its legal, administrative and political experience.

Elsewhere, the Congress observes that in Greece over recent years here has been no development in the position that the national administrative divisions, mere mechanisms of central government, are a long way from fulfilling the conceptions of the draft ECRSG. The Congress might take a closer interest in the operation of intermediate government structures in this country and analyse their operation according to the indications given by the ECRSG.

In Turkey, the administrative divisions headed by Governors representing the State do not conform to the guidelines issued by the ECRSG, although they also have elected Councils. A reform has been planned since the spring of 1998, but parliament has yet to discuss it, with the result that the forthcoming elections on 18 April 1999 will be held under the existing system which dates back to 1987 (CG (4) 3 - II). The aim of the reform is to transfer to the regions ("special provincial administrations") some of the central government's powers and resources in respect of spatial development, planning, tourism and infrastructures. However, alongside the elected regional assemblies and executives, the Governor (representing the State) would continue to perform a dominant role. In this respect, the CLRAE recalls its Recommendation 29 and Resolution 50 (3 June 1997).

The State of Malta, despite its very small size (316 km2) and its cultural homogeneity, can envisage regionalisation because it consists of three islands (Malta, Gozo and Comino). Moves in that direction have been reported (see CPR/CP(3)23). Considering the extremely limited areas affected, it seems that the regional tier, should one take form, will assume that of an extension of the municipal level.


Among the applicant countries, only Monaco, for reasons of physical dimensions, is in no way concerned by regionalisation. A report on this country's position is being prepared in the Congress.

In Bosnia, a report on local and regional democracy is currently drawn up in connection with the country's application for membership of the Council of Europe. The major problems encountered at present by this country are the after-effects of the civil war - population displacement, war damage, economic recession - which of course have repercussions on the position of local and regional authorities. With more direct reference to the latter, the situation is highly asymmetrical. While one of the two entities making up the Republic is structured in a centralised fashion (the Republika Srpska) and has no regional tier, the other (the Croatian and Bosnian entity) is a federation of ten cantons holding very significant powers, sometimes to the detriment of both local and federal government prerogatives. Regionalisation projects, tentative at this stage, seem to be gradually emerging in the Republika Srpska, and should be encouraged.

The situation in Yugoslavia is needless to say catastrophic in all respects, and from the regional angle too. The freedoms of Vojvodina and Kosovo were suppressed in 1989. Kosovo is the scene of slaughter. At this juncture one can only recall the wording of CLRAE Recommendation 44 (1998) in which the Congress "Calls for a mutually acceptable settlement of the Kosovo issue, based on respect for the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" (paragraph 10), and also concur with the recent finding of the Parliamentary Assembly which in Recommendation 1397 (1999) took the view that "the present Yugoslav authorities do not respect any of the principles of the Council of Europe" (paragraph 14). Current political events and the mass expulsion of the Kosovar population make it impossible as things stand to put forward recommendations.

In Armenia and Azerbaijan, the structures handed down from the Soviet era remain markedly centralised, and no regional tier worthy of the name appears to exist. Reports on the state of local and regional democracy in these two countries, to be drawn up with a view to their accession, are awaited.


One of the recent factors seen as most favourable to regionalisation is the resolve of a number of states to join, or have the prospect of joining, the European Union (Structural Funds), although it does work the same way everywhere. Also observed is general awareness of the inefficiency and baneful effects of over-centralised systems.

But good intentions often lead to technical reforms generating spatial planning and regional development districts that lack the degree of autonomy stipulated by the ECRSG.

One of the main impediments seems to be that, given a unitary Constitution proclaiming the unity and indivisibility of the national territory, it is inferred often exaggeratedly that real regions cannot be created. If so, let it be recalled that there is no visible logic whereby a unitary Constitution would permit, on the one hand, the existence of a local political tier in accordance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government while on the other hand prohibiting the creation of a regional political tier. It is therefore apparent that in many countries a full course of education in regionalisation needs to be delivered, relying on paragraph 8 of the Preamble to the ECRSG to allay fear: "recognition of regional self-government entails loyalty towards the State to which the regions belong, with due regard to its sovereignty and territorial integrity". According to this conception, there is nothing to prevent the creation of regions within a unitary framework.

In some recent cases where ambitious reforms have been embarked upon, difficulty with their acceptance has been observed on occasion, especially in the event of recourse to referendum. Examples are the rejection of regionalisation in Portugal in 1998 and its arduous acceptance in Wales in 1997. The time-honoured fear of too radical a territorial division has often been accompanied by political wrangling over the expediency and substance of the reform. This has tended to cloud the citizens' view of the regionalisation project.

In federal or federally oriented states, the regions are firmly established and the demands are often financial. The question arises how far this kind of demand can be taken without unsettling financial equalisation, the expression of national solidarity between richer and poorer regions.

Also seen looming in the background is a dilemma of some magnitude - how historical, cultural and political regions stand in relation to economic, functional and spatial planning regions. The two groups are not always clearly complementary. In some countries, the present-day suitability of traditional regions for addressing economic issues and spatial planning objectives is queried, while it is not altogether certain either that functional regions, sectioned according to boundaries unnatural to the citizens, would be really fitted to perform their function effectively. It is also noted that in many countries the problem of regional division has been a frequent subject of debate. This raises the more general issue of the purpose of regions, a question which does not seem apt to find a solution except in an effort to strike an optimum balance between legitimacy and efficacy. There is no legitimacy without a minimum of efficacy, and conversely no efficacy without a minimum of legitimacy. It can de added that one of the tendencies observed in certain countries is to deal with specific cultural and geographical circumstances by granting a special self-governing status. These experiences should be assessed not only from the legal angle but also in economic, social, political and cultural terms.

Lastly, the importance of the advantages and interests at stake in regionalisation should be impressed upon member and applicant countries, with insistence that they be more mindful of the CLRAE's readiness to help them in the endeavour. The CLRAE in fact performs a specific function that no other body in Europe discharges in the same way. One final question should nevertheless be raised. Is the CLRAE always equipped for a mission that is becoming more and more demanding with the successive enlargements? A comprehensive appraisal needs to be made on this point, and should take in the development of the existing programmes (LODE, LDAs, etc.), the improvement of the CLRAE's status and financial resources, in enhanced partnership with other organisations (EU, AER, CEMR, FEDRE, CPMR, etc.). and the adoption of the European Charter of Regional Self-Government as a fundamental legal instrument.


1 Transitory provision 1 is referred to here. The preliminary draft report on statutory reinforcement and revision of the Charter of the Congress (CG/CP (5) 27) envisages gradually restricting the status of delegate in the Chamber of Regions to (directly or indirectly) elected regional representatives.

2 See for example the report by Jean-Claude van Cauwenberghe, President of the Chamber of Regions, on the role of regions in employment and economic development (CPR/CP (4) 11.)

3 That is, the federated entities. A well-known characteristic of Russian federalism is that there are six categories of federated entities or "components of the federation" (Constitution, Article 65: Republics having their own Constitution, Territories ("Kraia"), cities of federal significance, Regions, Autonomous Regions and Autonomous Districts ("Okrugy").

4 For a catalogue of measures taken (or planned) at that time by certain "components of the Russian Federation", see for example Moscovskiye Novosty for the week 13-20 September.

5 The draft was narrowly approved in Berlin (53.4% in favour). The last amalgamation of German Länder dates back to the creation of Baden-Württemberg in 1952.

6 It will be recalled that the result of the referendum was negative in 19 components of the Federation (out of 89), and notably in 9 of the 21 Republics.

7 Under the 1993 Federal Constitution, "co-ordination of the international … relations of the components of the Russian Federation" comes under "the joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and the components of the Russian Federation" (Article 72, paragraph o).

8 Sicily, Sardinia, Valle d'Aosta, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

9 In 1998 a draft envisaged 12 Voivodships but, in view of the reaction by some of them (example: Opole - where there is a large German minority - was to be incorporated into Silesia but was finally retained), this has been raised to 16. The 16 Voivodships are divided into 308 powiaty (districts).

10 The actual word derives from the Russian "rayon", but the term "Judet" (also used in Romania) harks back to the pre-war territorial division of Romania.

11 See the information document submitted in 1997 by the Federation of Swedish County Councils, CPR/CP (3) 8.

12 See the report (in preparation) by Moreno Bucci and Hans Ulrich Stöckling. The weakness of its regional structures (the budget of the Provinces represents less that 5% of the national budget) is compounded by the problem - peculiar to this country - that local Mayors and provincial Governors are appointed by the Crown and therefore not local or regional elected representatives. From this point of view, the projected liberalising reforms at local level seem not to be intended to affect the provincial level.