Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

In Defence of Local Identity Cultural Factors and Actors' Strategy during Regionalization in Romania

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

In Defence of Local Identity Cultural Factors and Actors' Strategy during Regionalization in Romania

Article excerpt

As one can frequently notice, regionalization is never free of political strategies. When asked to complete such a complex process, politicians and parties generally take into account electoral issues and look for political advantages. Changing the regional structure means also bringing changes in the political distribution and in the electoral competition at local and regional level. But parties and governments also face another type of challenges when it comes to put in place complex regionalization processes. This is the resistance of local structures. The resistance can be driven by political and economic reasons, of course, but also by another factor, namely the defence of local identity. As regionalization involves defining a new administrative layer and sharing competences, it requires a territorial dimension which is always subject to contestation.

The aim of the article is to focus on the territorial dimension of regionalization and to emphasize the importance of competing political geographies. How to draw the regional units and how to regroup existing smaller units into bigger units is never free of contestation from local structures and actors. This contestation is an essential factor in the bottom-up processes of decentralization, but it very often works as an inhibitory factor when contesting top-down decisions. This is visible in Romania, which inherited a long lasting tradition of administrative centralization, and largely imitated the centralization efforts of the French republic and thus has been confronted with the cultural homogenization of the national territory, following its independence in 18771. In the same time, Romania is a EU member state, subject to political influence of the EU regional policies and other European regionalization models. Even one cannot clearly identify a EU conditionality pushing towards regionalization, recent Romanian tendencies for stronger regionalization are in connexion with governmental interests for boosting spending the EU cohesion funds. Therefore, the more general East European context of regionalization and its complex pattem of diffusion is taken into account.

The article intends to weight the comparative importance of the competing geographies for the advance of the current regionalization process in Romania, which is somehow different from the French case, since the regionalization seems to be seriously hampered by the indecision of successive governments, who did not take the electoral risk to favour a given map against other competing maps and postponed regionalization for almost two decades2. From this perspective, regionalization is mainly understood here as a political geographical process of reshaping inner borders, as an effort to redesign regional units. A separate discussion has to be introduced on the substance of regionalization, with a special emphasis on changing competences for the newly created regional units. In Romania, the incipient debate focused rather on the geographical aspect, turning the more complicated and abstract aspect of decentralization as a second step and a secondary issue. The political deadlock regarding reshaping the regional units led to postponing regionalization and gave no real chance to a serious debate regarding future competences for subnational units. The reasons for postponing effective regionalization in Romania are multi-fold3. Governments found themselves in an uncomfortable situation every time they tried to push forward the regionalization process, facing administrative, European, electoral and ethnic types of conditionality. In the most recent phase of regionalization, after the 2012 general elections which provided the government with a strong parliamentary majority, the government faced a problem never seriously taken into account during the early stages of regionalization, which is the defence of local identity by local actors who disputed the drawing of the new regional maps. The electoral costs deriving from the contestation, alongside other coalition problems occurring in 2013, made the government to postpone regionalization once again. …

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