Friday, July 25, 2014

Federalism and Trans-boundary Regions

For Europe the 19th and the early 20th century was a period of defining national identities. Nationalism was particularly virulent on the Balkan, called Europe's gunpowder barrel, leading on June 28, 1914, to the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne in Sarajewo. This spark not only ignited the Balkan but the explosion led to Europe's Urkatastrophe (seminal catastrophe).

It seems that after the Second World War Europe had eventually learned the lesson. Alcide De Gasperi, Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schumann were the architects of a European Community based on a common cultural and economic heritage. A good symbol is the Karlspreis, a medal named after Europe's founder, Charlemagne, and awarded in Aachen to persons for their efforts on behalf of European unification. Over the years the European Union incorporated more and more countries that are represented in a European Parliament. Today the old borders still exist but border checks are performed only at the so-called external frontiers with the European Union.

With European unification progressing people nevertheless want to live their identity. They love their village, their town, their region, their local dialect. Take the case of Bavaria as a grown historical region* being a state of the Federal Republic of Germany. Hamburg is a city with a rich history and proud to be a state in Germany too. Baden-Württemberg on the contrary initially had some difficulty to find its identity.
*This is true if one only considers the time after the Westphalian Peace Treaty that resettled the territorial map of Europe. Catholic Old Bavaria acquired the two Protestant Palatinas, the upper part also called Franconia. There is a movement that would like to create a new federal state of the same name.

Germany is lucky to have a naturally grown federal structure that is reflected by state boundaries. Other European countries have historical regions too like Scotland and Wales in the UK, Alsace and Brittany in France, Catalonia and the Basque region in Spain but these countries have strong centralized governments. In the European Union there is a tendency to build regions that sometimes cross old national borders as in the case of the Basque people.

Following the Hundred Years' War the French kings deprived the local dukes of their power and centralized the governmental activities in Paris. The city is still the pivot of all activities in France. The other day Red Baron probed the train connection from Karlsruhe to Lille in case he had missed the bus at Karlsruhe station. The classical solution offered by the Deutsche Bahn Navigator was to take the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV Est) from Karlsruhe to Paris and then the TGV Nord from Paris to Lille. When I forced the application to show the more direct connection Karlsruhe - Luxemburg - Lille I only saved on money but not on travel time.

France had started to decentralize its administration as early as 1955 creating 22 regions on the mainland but only in 1982 regional parliaments were created having limited competence.

The "classical" 22 regions in France (©Plavius, Wikipedia)
However, it turned out that with these 22 regions the administrative expense was still to high. So lately the National Assembly passed a law reducing the number of regions from 22 to only 14. That the culturally homogeneous Alsace was put together with Lorraine already found great resistance among the Alsatians but in the latest proposal the new region should incorporate the Champagne too. Will the beer and wine drinking Alsace welcome Champagne?

In the meantime the European Union patronizes trans-boundary cooperation based on historical structures. A most typical example is the Trinational Metropolitan Region on the Upper Rhine.

The people living on both sides of the river have never regarded the Rhine as a boundary but as a waterway used conjointly. For centuries, speaking the same Alemannic dialect, they had been related by a common economic and cultural heritage until, starting in the 17th century, governments thought otherwise.

Matthaeus Merian's map of the upper Rhine region dated 1658
Map of the Trinational Metropolitan Region on the Upper Rhine
turned by ninety degrees for easy comparison with the historical map above.
May the French eventually create their regional structure. At present European ambitions are faster.

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