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The European Union and Beyond

Subnational Actors and EU Multilevel Governance: Between the Demise of 'Europe of the Regions' and the Emergence of Active Subsidiarity

Comparative Politics
European Politics
European Union
Local Government
Decision Making
Serafin Pazos-Vidal
Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)
Serafin Pazos-Vidal
Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)

While it is topical to say that regional studies is in a moment of change it is certainly so at present time. Building upon a recent PhD (2017) and a the book on the praxis of Multilevel Governance: Subsidiarity and EU Multilevel Governance, Actors, Networks and Agendas (Routledge, 2019), the author examines, in the first instance, how the subnational levels interact with the national and European levels from mainly, but not exclusively, an actor-centred perspective (Scharpf 1997, 2000). Utility maximization agendas ( Niskanen 1974) also apply to subnational authorities when dealing with the EU (Marks and Sharpf 1996; Mazzolenia 2006; Zerbinati 2012). This often coalesces into policy communities (Adshead 1996), advocacy networks (Sabatier 1993) or epistemic communities (Haas 1992). These eventually become formal multilevel partnerships (Marks and Hooghe 2003).
However, we have moved on from “the great regional awakening” and the arrival of the mesogovernments (Keating 2013). While not uniform due to the contingency of the regional question (Loughlin and Peeters 2007, Heinelt 2018) the 2008 crisis has tested the very idea of regions and regionalism. There are a number of factors at play:
Firstly, there has been a longstanding confusion between region as an “subject” and region as an “object” (Le Galès 1988), and there has been a tendency, at EU and national level to amalgamate the former with the latter. This negatively affected policymaking.
Secondly, a crucial distinction, particularly at EU level, is between privileged and non-privileged actors. The heyday of the Europe of the Regions as a postnational vision of the EU (Anwen, 2008) has barely survived the turn of the century (Tatham 2014).
Thirdly, the EU institutional framework makes all but inevitable that non-privileged actors form coalitions and networks in order to have sufficient critical mass as to be able to influence the decisions of the EU institutions -Donas and Beyers 2013), Beyers and Donas (2014) Tatham and Thau (2014)-.
Fourthly, while the impact of subnational authorities in the EU policy framework has been limited resulted, this overlooks the power of agency. Some non-privileged actors, are able to effectively exploit the windows of opportunity that are available to them. A good example is the Committee of the Regions (CoR) or the European subnational networks (Piattoni and Schonlau 2015; Kern and Bulkeley 2009), thought their behavior can result in principal agent problems (Loughlin and Peters 2011) is geared towards increasingly their legitimacy vis-à-vis the EU institutions than to aggregate their members’ interests.
Lastly, subnational governments fade the paradox: on the one hand their existence being challenged by post-financial crisis centralization (Pazos-Vidal 2016; 2019), while socio-economic change results in subnational government being unable to address place-based geographies of discontent (Rodriguez-Pose 2018) while technological standardization reduces the need of decentralisation. On the other, new international agendas -the EU urban Agenda, the Active Subsidiarity Proposal (European Commission 2018), the new European Semester and the UN Agenda 2030- show an increased awareness of the need for multilevel policy adjustment as crucial to ensure that EU and international agendas are delivered.
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