Content

Carmen Gebhard, The EU Committee of the Regions in:

Carmen Gebhard

Unravelling the Baltic Sea Conundrum, page 94 - 97

Regionalism and European Integration Revisited

1. Edition 2008, ISBN print: 978-3-8329-4084-3, ISBN online: 978-3-8452-1239-5 https://doi.org/10.5771/9783845212395

Series: Nomos Universitätsschriften - Politik, vol. 164

Bibliographic information
94 of dependence and ideological confinement.313 From the early 1990s onwards, the “return to Europe” was an omnipresent topic in all three Baltic States. The EU and NATO symbolised a sense of belonging to Europe, or the West. Thus, the declaration to be European or Western implied a clear political programme of striving to join these institutions.314‘ The rhetoric in the Baltic public was also dominated by the issue of being and feeling “abnormal”, and accordingly, by the wish to achieve the state of political “normality”. The whole era of Soviet rule was perceived as a state of abnormity and “false history”. Normality in turn was not a clearly defined set of circumstances, but it was a notion as vague as being part of the “West” again. Thus, the integration into Western institutions was deemed the sole possibility for the Baltic States to re-gain the state of normality.315 The accession of the Baltic States could generally not be seen separate from the bilateral relations of both the EU and the Baltic States with Russia. What Carl Bildt called the Litmus test for Russia’s new direction after the breakdown of the Soviet empire, meaning its policies towards the Baltic States after their independence, was indeed a crucial factor in the EU relationship with Russia.316 As for the Baltic States, formal membership in both NATO and EU equally opened new channels across which they could encounter their big neighbour. Membership of the EU and NATO gave the Baltic decision makers a firm ground, confidence and structural power they never had before to deal with Russia.317 II. The EU Committee of the Regions The legal establishment of the EU Committee of the Regions (CoR) in the course of the treaty of Maastricht was based on very different and partly diverging positions among the regional representations of the EU Member States.318 The German Länder as well as the Belgian and Austrian federal provinces were among the first sub-national actors that expressed reservations about the way in which the distribution of the then European Community’s regional support was increasingly held to the responsibility of member state governments, i.e. the national level. In a parallel development, the progress of the overall European integration process, most importantly the Single European Act (SEA) 313 See KEMPE Iris: Russia, the EU and the Baltic States. Filling in a strategic white spot on the European map. In: BUHBE Matthes/KEMPE Iris (eds): Russia, the EU and the Baltic States. Enhancing the Potential for Cooperation. Moscow 2005, pp. 3-4, here p. 4. 314 LEHTI Marko: Eastern or Western, New or False? Classifying the Balts in the Post-Cold War Era. In: TASSINARI Fabrizio/JOENNIEMI Pertti/JAKOBSEN Uffe (eds): Wider Europe. Nordic and Baltic Lessons to Post-Enlargement Europe. Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS). Copenhagen 2006, pp. 69-88, here p. 71. 315 See EGLITIS Daina Stukuls: Imagining the Nation. History, Modernity, and Revolution in Latvia. Pennsylvania 2004, p. 8. 316 See BILDT Carl: The Baltic Litmus Test. Revealing Russia? In: Foreign Affairs, September/October 1994, pp. 72-85. 317 PAULAUSKAS K?stutis: The Baltics. From Nation States to Member States. European Institute for Security Studies (EU-ISS), Occasional Papers, No. 62. Paris 2006, p. 39. See also chapter “The Baltic States and Baltic Unity – Imposition or Expedient?”, p. 67-. Fore more about the role of Sweden and Finland in the context of the Baltic enlargement, see chapter “Sweden, Finland and the BSR”, p. 128-. 318 See also chapter “What kind of ‘Europe of the Regions’?”, p. 206-. 95 in 1987, the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, progressively eroded the individual autonomy of the member states, and thus, brought regional factors to the forefront.319 These developments have made the ‘regional dimension’ more central to European policies in general and have strengthened the participation and representation of regions and local authorities in European policy-making. EU regional policy now finds itself within the broader and more systematic ‘Structural Action Policy’, designed to bring about social and economic cohesion in the Union, which also includes social policy and part of agricultural policy. Regional policy now has the second largest budget of all EU policies, behind only the Common Agricultural Policy.320 However, the overall development of the European project forms only one side of the coin. In recent years, European states have shown a clear tendency towards internal decentralisation. What Sharpe called the “rise of meso government,” meaning the growing salience of regions within Member States, coincided with, was influenced by and in trun influenced the general course of European integration.321 Most significantly, the establishment of the CoR was anticipated by a set of inter-regional activities that had been launched since the late 1950s, linking regions and local entities all across Europe. Among the most important examples in this respect is the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, the Council of Municipal and Regional Authorities of Europe, the Assembly of the European Regions (AER) and the Association of Cross-Border Regions. The AER indeed played an active role in the debate preceding the establishment of the CoR, enthusiastically lobbying for a formalised incorporation of regional entities into the institutional framework of the EU.322 As for the EU internal debate, pressure for some sort of regional representation at the Council of Ministers could mainly be felt in those member states where the federal principle was already firmly established. Most notably for the French regions that had been newly empowered in the course of the 1980s, the idea of a direct conduit to the European institutions has been very attractive. Other more centralised states such as Greece or Ireland, on the other hand, recognized the potential of EU regional funding and, consequently, started to consider measures of decentralisation in order to qualify for regional programmes. The United Kingdom wished at all costs to avoid the empowerment of a regional or a sub-national level of governance that could have been seen as a step towards a federal Europe. By endorsing the creation of an exclusively consultative body devoid of legislative powers, the UK could claim to be cooperating with European partners without endangering its own Member State role.323 319 See WAGSTAFF Peter: The Committee of the Regions of the European Union. In: Id. (ed.): Regionalism in the European Union. Wiltshire 1999, pp. 188-193, here p. 189. 320 LOUGHLIN John: Representing Regions in Europe. The Committee of the Regions. In: JEFFERY Charlie (ed.): The Regional Dimension of the European Union. Towards a Third Level in Europe. London/Portland 1997, pp. 147-165, here 148. 321 See SHARPE Laurence James (ed.): The Rise of Meso Government in Europe. London 1993. 322 See LOUGHLIN John: Representing Regions in Europe. The Committee of the Regions. In: JEFFERY Charlie (ed.): The Regional Dimension of the European Union. Towards a Third Level in Europe. London/Portland 1997, pp. 147-165, here 150. 323 Ibd., here 148. 96 Generally, there was support for the formal establishment of a regional representation, in varying degrees and for a variety of reasons. The respective provision in the Maastricht Treaty claimed for “an advisory committee of representatives of regional and local authorities, hence to be called the Committee of the Regions.”324 This was largely perceived as a considerable breakthrough with regard to the position of regions and other regional entities in the EU even though legally, the CoR did not range at the same level as the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the European Parliament. The operationalisation of the legal provision faced a set of problems primarily linked to the variety of regions and regional entities acting and interacting within and across the EU Member States. An early debate resulted from the fact that the Member State governments were given freedom to choose about how to fill their allocated seats. CoR members should be elected representatives within their own regions; however, there were no rigid restrictions applied as to the structural constituency of a “region” or “regional entity”. Such strict measures would have disqualified more than half of the respective entities at regional and local level. The institution emerging from this selection process was, somewhat understandably, a “highly heterogeneous body.”325 The CoR members nominated by each member state were subject to an immense variation in both territorial and structural terms. In some cases, such as with Luxembourg, there was no regional tier but only a local level of representation. In other Member States, in turn there was either both a local and a regional representation, or an additional intermediate level of organisation, such as in France. Given this complexity it was to be expected that the decisions about working practice of the new institutional body, and its presidency were to become a rather sensitive issue.326 A number of policy areas has been selected for obligatory consultancy by the decisionmaking bodies of the EU, namely education, culture, public health, trans-European networks for transport, telecommunications and energy as well as economic and social cohesion. However, not only the range of subjects is limited; the opinions offered by the Committee are also not legally binding. None of the other European institutions has to take the CoR recommendations into account. Given this multiple weakness of the Committee, it is not surprising that, in recent years, it has tried to increase its influence and the effectivity of its consultative output. In the course of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) preceding the Treaty of Amsterdam, various regional and local players tried to defend and reinforce the status of the Committee within the institutional setting of the EU. The Treaty of Amsterdam produced only modest gains for the CoR. The range of subjects on which it must be consulted has been enlarged to include aspects of employment, social policy, health, the environment, vocational training and transport. It has also been granted the status of ‘expert’ on matters concerning cross-border cooperation. In addition, it has gained a greater measure of administrative freedom to the extent that is now permitted to develop its own internal regulations.327 324 See Art. 198a TEU. 325 See COLLINS Stephan/JEFFERY Charlie: Whither the Committee of the Regions? British and German Perspectives. London 1997, p. 6. 326 See WAGSTAFF Peter: The Committee of the Regions of the European Union. In: Id. (ed.): Regionalism in the European Union. Wiltshire 1999, pp. 188-193, here p. 191. 327 Ibd., here p. 193. 97 Even though the institutional development of the CoR has not been a clear success story, its added value for the European representation of various different regional entities remains. Nevertheless, the CoR can claim to have contributed to European integration. Independent of what subsequently happens to the Opinions it issues, the CoR provides an open and public forum for discussion among a variety of different types of government. Such regular debate and deliberations can have long-term benefits in terms of achieving better understanding among these different organisations, developing common perspectives on policies and searching for solutions to problems. It also acts as a catalyst for regional and local politicians to network with each other. It has allowed representatives from different national domains who – without the CoR – might not have the chance, or even see the need, to discuss EU policies with one another.328 This positive assessment notwithstanding, it must be emphasised that these apparent assets do not comply with the original objectives underlying the formal establishment of the Committee. III. The EU Performance in Regional Development: E.S.D.P. and INTERREG The development of a European perspective on spatial planning started in the beginning of the 1980s. The Directorate-General for Regional Policy and Cohesion, today also known as “DG Regio” held a prominent role in this development. However, in 1984, it was in the framework of the Council of Europe that first steps towards a “real European planning” were taken. The so-called Torremolinos Charter (European Regional Spatial Planning Charter) was launched in 1994, based on the objective of balancing the socioeconomic development of the regions within Europe, improving the quality of life, introducing responsible management strategies for natural resources and the protection of the environment, as well as rational land use. The SEA (1987) and the moves towards the Single Market (1992) have gradually increased European concerns with specific patterns of regional development.329 In 1991, the European Commission launched the ‘Europe 2000’ Communication about “Views on the Development of the Territory of the Community”, analysing the multiple pressures on Europe’s territory arising from socio-economic developments as well as from national, regional and Community interventions. In 1994, it was followed by ‘Europe 2000 Plus’ Communication on the “Co-operation for the Spatial Development of Europe” updating and extending the analysis in ‘Europe 2000’, and making the case for co-operation in the field of spatial planning across Europe. In 1991, the Committee on Spatial Development, bringing together the member state spatial planning ministers, was established in order to develop the European Spatial Development Perspective (E.S.D.P.), which was eventually launched in 1999. Even though in the first years, the E.S.D.P. remained somewhat inexact and vague, it marked an important step in the overall course of development. 328 CHRISTIANSEN Thomas/LINTNER Pamela: Has the CoR been a success? An independent view. In: WELCH Graham (ed.): The Committee of the Regions. The voice of local government in Europe. Local Government International Bureau. International Report Number 12. London 2006, pp. 17-21, here p. 18. 329 See JENSEN Ole B./RICHARDSON Tim: Nested Visions. New Rationalities of Space in European Spatial Planning. In: Regional Studies, No. 8/2001, pp. 703-717, here p. 705.

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Zusammenfassung

Seit 1989 ist es im Ostseeraum zu einer explosionsartigen Entstehung einer Vielzahl von regionalen Initiativen und Zusammenschlüssen gekommen. Der Ostseeraum weist bis heute eine europaweit einzigartig hohe Konzentration an kooperativen regionalen Strukturen auf. Diese bilden gemeinsam ein enges Netzwerk von Vereinigungen, die unter dem Überbegriff der "Ostseezusammenarbeit’ interagieren.

Diese Studie analysiert die Hintergründe dieses regionalen Phänomens oder so genannten „Ostsee-Rätsels“ auf Basis eines Vergleichs zwischen den Regionalpolitiken zweier staatlicher Schlüsselakteure, Schweden und Finnland, wobei der europäische Integrationsprozess als übergeordneter Bezugsrahmen für die Untersuchung dient.