A significant, if minority, current in contemporary international relations scholarship places regions at the center of analysis. In practice, the shift to the regional level of analysis serves several purposes within international relations scholarship. Within the sociology of the discipline, regionalism provides a theoretical justification for work that in earlier periods would have been associated with traditional area studies. Within the broader international relations literature, a regional focus allows for a more nuanced analysis of war and peace outside of the core great power conflicts at the center of traditional analysis. In particular, regional approaches remind us that conflict at the regional level is driven more frequently by local than by global concerns while providing a framework for studying important conflicts that are not simply a manifestation of great power rivalries. Finally, this approach is essential for answering questions that can be couched only at the regional level of analysis. At a narrow level, regional approaches are particularly useful for specifying the dangers of conflict spillover and the actors who are most vulnerable to such spillover. At the broadest level, regional conflict systems become the unit of analysis for work examining why some regions are more peaceful than others and how violent regions may transition to peace. A good understanding of these questions has implications both for policymakers seeking to advance national interests and for peacemakers seeking a solution to violence.
Emanuele Massetti and Arjan H. Schakel
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.
Thomas J. Volgy, Kelly Marie Gordell, Paul Bezerra, and Jon Patrick Rhamey, Jr.
Despite decades of scholarly attention to conflict and cooperation processes in international politics, rigorous, comparative, large-N analyses of these questions at the region level are difficult to find in the literature. Although this relative absence may stem in part from the difficulties related to the theoretical conceptualization or methodological operationalization of regions, it certainly is not for lack of interesting variation in terms of conflict and cooperation processes across regions. Between this variation and recent contributions toward a dynamic identification of regions, comparative analysis of conflict and cooperation outcomes at the region level are primed for exploration and increasingly salient as recent political elections in the United States (Trump election) and the United Kingdom (Brexit) have demonstrated a willingness on the part of policymakers to scale back efforts toward global interdependence. Turning attention to a region level unit of analysis, however, does not require abandoning decades of scholarship at the state or dyad levels. Indeed, much of this work may be viewed as informing or complementary to comparative regional analyses. In particular, regional propensity for cooperation or conflict is likely to be conditioned by a number of prominent explanations of these phenomena at state and dyad levels, which may usefully be conceived in their regional aggregates as so-called regional fault lines or baseline conditions. These include the presence of major and/or regional powers, interstate rivalries, unresolved territorial claims, civil wars, regime similarity, trade relationships, and common membership in intergovernmental organizations. Of these baseline conditions, the impact of major and regional powers on regional patterns of cooperation and conflict is notable for both its theoretical and practical implications. Power transition theory, hegemonic stability theory, hierarchical theory, and long cycle theory all suggest major—and to a lesser extent regional—powers will seek to establish order within areas under their influence; alternatively, the overwhelming capabilities these states bring to a region arguably act as a deterrent inhibiting conflict. Empirical analysis reveals—irrespective of the causal mechanism at hand—regions characterized by the presence of a major or regional power experience less conflict. Moving forward, future research should work to test the two plausible causal mechanisms for this finding—order building versus deterrence—to determine the true nature of hierarchy’s pacifying influence.
In the European Union (EU), there are two consultative committees, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions (CoR). Both, the EESC and the CoR are involved in EU decision-making but lack formal competencies to influence European secondary law directly. Instead of having votes or veto rights concerning EU directives or regulations, the two consultative committees provide recommendations to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. In addition to providing advice to the two EU legislative chambers, the two consultative committees can also approach the European Commission and give input into the drafting of EU policies at the very early stage.
Jon Patrick Rhamey, Jr. and Thomas J. Volgy
Comparative regionalism constitutes a new frontier of international relations analysis that provides a more focused theoretical lens for understanding the localized phenomena dominant in international politics. However, as is often the case with a relatively new area of academic inquiry, the subfield currently suffers from a number of challenges in conceptual agreement and operationalization conventions that have slowed progress. Having perhaps finally caught up with area specialists and researchers in the field of comparative politics in recognizing the relative importance of regional spaces, the question remains as to how to most effectively understand the extent regions—as either levels of analysis or units unto themselves—are substantively integral in generating the outcomes studied by international relations scholars. Following almost four decades of theorizing, future steps lie in clearer conceptual definitions followed by generating novel empirical findings that may complement, or contradict, existing international relations theories. While some early attempts at engaging comparative regionalism exist prior to the Cold War’s conclusion, most theorizing begins at the point at which the region as a concept is able to emerge from the shadow of international relations research’s emphasis on the bipolar order of the American–Soviet rivalry. These early explorations, however, were frequently limited to either qualitative discussion of emerging trading behaviors and political institutions or, alternatively, the exploration of “non-Western” types of political engagement that challenged the traditional Anglo-European understanding of both international relations and the conduct of political science. Building on the backdrop of this conceptual theorizing, empirical work highlighting regional distinctions began to emerge as well. This renewed emphasis on comparing regional spaces is often undertaken from a small-N comparative methodological approach to identify similarities and differences between regions, with a very specific interest in developing an understanding for the causal variation behind how regional spaces’ trajectories develop and diverge. Finally, one of the greatest theoretical challenges of comparative regionalism is the applicability of theories designed to understand the interactions of the entire international system (with primary focus on the major powers) to more localized spaces and conflicts. This is not to claim that politics necessarily follows different rules within different regions, but instead that because regional-local contexts are sufficiently unique, the combination of causal variables present may lead to very different outcomes for many phenomena of interest that scholars seek to understand. As regional importance has risen over the past 20 years, a clear set of criteria upon which theoretical development and empirical analysis can proceed is required in order to delineate the effects of regions on states and international politics.
Arjan H. Schakel and Emanuele Massetti
European integration and regionalization have been parallel processes over the past five decades, leading to a multilevel governance system where decision-making powers are allocated across European, national, and regional governments. The upshot of both processes is that regional governments have gained representation within European Union (EU) institutions and they have gained the ability to affect EU policy through domestic institutions. Regional governments are involved in the EU policymaking process at the EU level through two institutions: via their representatives in the Committee of the Regions and via the participation of their ministers in the Council of Ministers. Similarly, regional governments are institutionally involved with EU affairs within the member states through three institutional channels: formulation and implementation of EU Cohesion Policy, intergovernmental meetings between national and regional governments to coordinate EU affairs, and subsidiarity monitoring of EU legislation by regional parliaments. The analysis shows that the EU’s multilevel governance system is highly asymmetric. Regional involvement in EU affairs through EU and domestic institutions is mainly restricted to powerful regions which can be predominantly found in the populous, federal, and regionalized member states from Western Europe. In addition, the analysis reveals that regional impact on EU policy is far more apparent within the member states than at the EU level. Furthermore, regional governments prefer to impact EU affairs through or in collaboration with their member state governments rather than bypassing them.
Italy is a founding member state of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and, subsequently, the European Economic Community (EEC). At the time, membership meant anchoring the newborn Italian democracy, regaining international respectability after the Fascist period renewed vest internationally , and securing much-needed economic support to boost development. While in the 1950s the left side of the political spectrum vehemently opposed ECSC/EEC membership, starting with the late 1980s, European integration became the most important pillar of Italian foreign policy, an issue of shared consensus among different partiesa. The golden period for Italy – that is the phase when Italy was at the peak of its influence in the Communities - was the decade ranging from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s,. At the time, Italian politicians such as Giulio Andreotti played fundamental roles in key moments of EEC/EU history: enlargement to the south, the single market, the Treaty of the European Union, and especially the creation of the euro are all key events in the history of the European Union which is safe to say would have never happened without the skillful contribution of Italy’s key government actors of the time. As European integration started again to be a contentious issue in domestic politics, so declined Italy’s influence. In more recent years: despite Italy’s formal status as a “big” member of the EU, Rome became less relevant than Madrid in EU decision making procedures. The parochial attitude of Italian elites, the incapacity of long-term programming, and relative government instability are all factors that have contributed to reducing the role of Italy in the EU.
Ana Carolina Mauad
Paradiplomacy refers to the international politics of subnational governments, such as cities and states. Latin American subnational actors have been actively performing paradiplomacy actions since the 1990s, fostering a research agenda that is closely connected with the policy practice. In a context of democratization and regional integration, paradiplomacy tends to grow and expose challenges regarding legal and institutional settings within federalist countries while dialoguing with global dynamics.
Belgium is one of the six founding members of European integration, but it is often seen as a special one. In both policy and research, the country is widely known as the “heart of Europe.” It even sells itself to the outside world in this way. This metaphor has a double meaning, a literal and a figurative one. First, Belgium’s capital, Brussels, qualifies as the unofficial capital of the European Union. This meaning is strongly supported by facts, with the city hosting the most numerous and the most important institutions. The second meaning requires more detailed consideration. Indeed, and second, Belgium is perceived to be the most European of all European countries, even prepared to exchange sovereignty for supranationalism at any time and any price. A closer look at data, decisions, and developments shows, however, that while support for European integration is widespread, it is not omnipresent either in time or in place. Particularly in Flanders, the northern part of the country, support has been less obvious than elsewhere. Indeed, to understand Belgium and/in the European Union, one also has to understand the functioning of Belgium as a federal state composed of communities and regions, thus as a system of multilevel governance. While it is not the only federation among European Union member states, it uniquely combines a wide variety of federal characteristics. Most importantly here, the gradual process of federalization that Belgium has experienced has given the federated entities a strong voice in European Union decision-making. Member states still need to speak with one voice, however, resulting in a complex system of coordination and representation. The possibilities and realities of this system have attracted quite a lot of scholarly interest. The same goes for the rather fundamental question of whether the European Union and federated entities should be seen as unintended partners in the hollowing out of the federal state or whether the opposite holds true and the European Union is coming to Belgium’s rescue. The jury is still out on this, though the answer seems to be growing more and more complex as time passes.