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Regionalism in Politics: Definition, Characteristics & Types

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, learn about regionalism, a political ideology that prioritizes local over national. Examine the main characteristics of regionalism in politics and explore the different types that have emerged around the world.

What is Regionalism?

A country's territory is usually defined by political decisions and geographic conventions. However, the cultural identity and political vision of the regions within it might be significantly different and sometimes, regional identity might be stronger than the national.

In politics, regionalism is an ideology that highlights the local identity, the need for independent regional planning and administrative freedom. It promotes the manifestation of cultural singularities and prioritizes the interest of the region over the interest of the nation as a whole.

In other words, the regionalist politics of a region are centered on that specific territory; they aim to direct the national agenda towards the local interests and look for greater autonomy for that region.

Consequences

Regionalism can have positive and negative consequences. It might promote local development, protect the local cultural manifestations and bring favorable conditions to certain regions that might have been historically relegated by the national administration.

On the other hand, it can weaken the national identity and arise passionate divisions between members of the same society. It might also prevent local politicians from recognizing the importance of certain national issues or those in other regions.

Spain has several areas with a strong regionalist vision, often demanding more autonomy from the national government and, at times, even promoting the establishment of independent states. These regions are Galicia, the Basque Country and Catalonia.

Catalonia has seen many demonstrations and strikes claiming more autonomy and even independence
Demonstration in Catalonia

In international relations, the term regionalism is sometimes used to refer to several countries that establish common policies and agreements looking to benefit the region that they form together, like the European Union or the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

Main Characteristics of Regionalism

Local Identity

One of the main characteristics of regionalism is its strong local identity and a loyalty to the region. Regionalist politicians and many residents feel pride in the local culture and its people.

Politicians try to exploit that identity to gain supporters for their proposals. The regionalist agendas often claim that the regional interest should always come before the national interest.

The political discourse of regionalists usually emphasizes local development and well-being, at times without considering other regions. Supporters commonly argue that their region suffers unfair or discriminatory treatments from the national government and that, by focusing on local issues, the region will do better, economically and socially. According to them, if all regions do the same, the nation will benefit as a whole.

Autonomy

The search of greater autonomy is usually a priority of regionalism. It can be economic, in the form of more power to administer economic resources and modify fiscal policies, and it can also be political, with stronger local institutions and the ability to pass laws and enforce local policies.

A regional political party, however, is not automatically a form of regionalism. One group that only exists in a certain region might promote local agendas without looking for greater regional autonomy.

Some regionalist governments have tried to prevent people from other regions (although still nationals of the same country) from benefiting from local programs. The scope of some of their policies includes only local residents and tends to restrict access to other individuals.

Types of Regionalism

In a country, regionalism can emerge at different levels. Some forms of regionalism might group several regions, others will occur in one specific state or might even be localized in a small area within one region.

Supra-State Regionalism

We find supra-state regionalism when two or more states or regions of a country share a common vision and work together to promote regional autonomy and local agendas.

For example, the seven coastal states of Colombia. These regions have different geographic, economic and social characteristics and even a different ethnic composition than the center of the country, where the capital and major industrial cities are located. As a result, coastal politicians often claim that the region is relegated by the central government and try to promote greater fiscal and economic autonomy.

In Italy, most industries are located in the northern and wealthier provinces and several local politicians feel that the south and the Roman government misuse their fiscal resources.

Inter-State Regionalism

In inter-state regionalism, one region with a different identity and ideas claims more autonomy from the national government. You can also find cases when several areas have regionalist views that might start clashing with each other.

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