Book chapter (electronic)

Regionalist Parties and the European Union (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Regionalist parties are political actors that emphasize distinct ethno-territorial identities and interests vis-à-vis those of the entire state, advocating some forms of territorially based self-government in a view to protect, give voice to, and enhance those identities and interests. The tense relationships that these political actors often have with the central institutions leads them, in the European Union (EU) context, to identify the EU as a potential ally in their struggle against the state. Indeed, the EU system of multilevel governance, in which regional governments have obtained a considerable role, is also the result of a combined effect of regionalist parties' pressure on member states from below and the process of European integration creating a favorable political framework from above. This putative alliance was celebrated, during the 1980s and 1990s, with the Maastricht Treaty representing a pivotal moment for the launch of the vision of a "Europe of the Regions." However, the EU constitutional reforms of the 2000s (from the Treaty of Nice to the Treaty of Lisbon) fell rather short vis-à-vis regionalist claims, revealing the "illusionary character" of the "Europe of the Regions" idea. Since then, attempts to achieve "Independence in Europe" (through "internal enlargement") have intensified in regions governed by strong and radical regionalist parties, such as in Catalonia and Scotland. These secessionist attempts have added further strain to an already under-stress EU political system. Indeed, far from acting as an ally of regionalist forces, the EU appears to have straddled between the role of a neutral observer and a supporter of member states' territorial integrity.