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Regionalisation and Decentralisation in a Comparative Perspective: Eastern Europe and Poland

By Dr François Bafoil, Head of Research, CNRS CERI, Sciences Po

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The paper establishes the importance of the EU’s regionalisation and decentralisation policies in the transformation of post-communist Eastern European states and success of the EU cohesion policy. The author proposes that the path dependencies of different Eastern European states and presence of minorities are two vital factors affecting the regionalisation process. He outlines how the post-communist challenges were substantial but differentiated in the Eastern states (for instance, the Baltic states, due to the massive presence of Russians, opted for “bureaucratic” regionalisation with little decentralisation and financial devolution, whereas for the Czech Republic decentralisation was impeded by the ruling party). Using Poland as exemplar of the success of Europeanisation, he demonstrates how in spite of Poland’s cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity, it had progressed in debating a mature consensus in its regionalisation process. Although EU reforms shortly prior to accession in 2004 changed dynamics, the process itself allowed Poland to develop a new political axis, balance of powers, learn how to build a regional programme and to manage structural funds. The paper proposes that far from being imposed by one EU model, the new states negotiated their own trajectory and gained access to EU funds in regionalisation with the result of strengthened sovereignty. The paper demonstrates how the crux of this result was supported by the EU principle of subsidiarity and enforcement of rule of law. It concludes with questions on the choice that European policy makers of the future will need to make: between “renationalising” regionalism at the risk of European solidarity, or, reinforcing multi-level governance such as through more power sharing in R&D, migration, child and women protection and climate change.


The March 2010 paper, reproduced here with the permission of the author, was published under the aegis of the Polish Ministry of Regional Development.