Regionalisation and Federalism

Ethnic groups, and culturally separate nations desiring autonomy, can form a foundation for separatist pressures.  Regionalisation can be a useful safety valve, which might increase the acceptability and responsiveness of governance for distinct cultural groups.  Regions can be granted autonomy in some decisions, whilst other functions of governance remain under central control.

The degree of autonomy offered can vary considerably.  In a federal model, like that of the USA, separate States have their own legislatures and governors.  The question of balance between the individual States and the federal government was carefully considered when the US Constitution was approved, as described in a series of letters by the founding fathers: The Federalist Papers. The Constitution was designed to distribute power, in the name of freedom and localisation, but it has shifted somewhat over time.  It wasn’t primarily driven by different cultural identities, but the comparative stability of that structure can suggest that it could also be used to divide a country along ethnic lines.

There are some aspects of governance which are particularly relevant to preserving cultural identity: for example, autonomy in the teaching of languages and history.  Regionalisation has worked well in practice where there is a clear association between a cultural group and a particular geographic region.

Michael Keating described the history of Spain’s “Minority Nations”, and the way in which their governance is evolving within the framework of Spain and Europe, in his paper: The Minority Nations of Spain and European Integration.  A new framework for autonomy?  The Catalonian autonomy is an example of regionalisation to re-establish an older identity which pre-dated the unification of Spain. At the time of writing, separatist pressures remain unresolved as the separatist’s leader went into exile – being described by the Economist as The man who wasn’t there.

Historic boundaries can cross into other countries.  For example the Basque region overlaps both France and Spain, and there are Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.   Unification of the Basques or the Kurds across international borders would be very difficult to achieve in practice; granting them more autonomy within one country would put pressure on the neighbouring countries to do the same.



This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6632a.htm