Rebuilding regions in times of crises: the future of Europe and the ‘voice’ of citizens

(…..) Most observers have been looking at regionalization as a politically neutral phenomena in international affairs. Research in this field has been restricted to ‘quantity’ of regionalism, rather than ‘quality’. Whether it is to explain the long gradual evolution of authority from nation states to supranational institutions (neo-functionalism) or it is to demonstrate the continuous bargaining process involving national governments (intergovernmentalism), mainstream approaches to regional cooperation and integration have refrained from looking at the quality of regionalization. Will there be more or fewer regions in the world? Will regional institutions replace the nation state? Will regional governance become predominant in years to come? Granted, these are very important questions and deserve to be examined in depth, especially in academic circles. Yet, the current crises force us to assess the state of regionalism in the world not only in terms of its predominance and diffusion, but also, and more importantly, in terms of how it contributes, if any, towards the well-being of our societies. Most ‘models’ and ‘practices’ of regionalism have tended to exclude diversity of voices and roles in society. They have often served specific interests of ruling elites (as in Latin America and Africa), the ambitions of hegemonic actors (Europe and Asia) or agendas of industrial and financial powers. Through their apparently neutral technocratic character, most attempts at regional cooperation and integration have aimed to obscure the fact that there are winners and losers in regionalism processes. This top-down model is being increasingly challenged. Overlapping crises and the redistribution of power at the global level call into question capacity of regions to deliver on promises, thus unveiling the unavoidable political character of any model of regionalism. In response to the growing cost of regionalism, citizens want to have more say over future regional trajectories, exercise their democratic powers. As a consequence, regionalism is evolving from a ‘closed’ process, designed, packaged by a small circle of political, economic elites, to an ‘open’ process, in which democratic participation and accountability are playing an ever more important role. Borrowing from jargon of Internet users, one may say that regions are transitioning from a 1.0 dominated by technocrats to a 2.0 stage characterised by horizontal networks, alternative models, citizens’ contestations. The EU, undoubtedly the most advanced and successful example of regionalism, is now experiencing the direst consequences of such a transition. Amid rising unemployment, social malaise, growing discontent for the lack of accountability of national and regional politics, millions of citizens have been protesting against the Union and its political-economic agenda. Quite contrary to what the eurosceptics would have us believe, citizens do not call for less Europe: they want a different Europe. They would like regional integration to be more connecting cultures and individuals and less about supporting capital. They would like regional institutions to focus on helping unemployed rather than bailing out bankrupt banks. They would like to see more solidarity across classes and generations, rather than less. They would like cooperation to be about building a different future instead of reshuffling old ideas. Future of regionalism may very well entail a growing ‘politicisation’ of regions, whereby citizens and civil society demand voice and power in influencing not just general principles, values, also long-term political trajectories of their regions.



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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