Twin Conferences explore the future of Wales, the United Kingdom and Europe
10th September 2013
Event report: Europeanising Devolution, Pierhead Building, Cardiff, 24th May 2013 & Welsh Devolution in Perspective, British Academy, London, 31st May 2013
These two one day Conferences, organised as part of the Leverhulme Trust funded International Network ‘Territorial Governance in Western Europe: between Convergence and Capacity’ (IN-2012-109) and co-organised by the British Academy and the Learned Society of Wales, explored devolution in Wales in a comparative and multi-level context. The first Conference started from the assumption that Europe matters for Wales, in terms of policy delivery, best practice, para-diplomacy and inter-cultural exchange. The Welsh experience was then considered within the context of cognate regions elsewhere in Europe - encompassing Belgian, French, German and Spanish regions. The second Conference reorientated the debate and focused primarily on Wales’ position within the changing constitutional context of UK, in particular examining the constitutional and legal future of Wales. This report provides an overview of the first conference and a brief outline of the second conference.
The first one day Conference, held on the 24th May 2013, marked the first major event organised as part of the Leverhulme Trust funded International Network ‘Territorial Governance in Western Europe: between Convergence and Capacity’. The Conference brought together academic partners and practitioners from across Europe to consider the challenges and opportunities facing regions in Europe within the contemporary setting. The Conference was made up of three sessions: an initial session introduced the Network and the wider European context; the second session featured papers focused on the experiences of regions across Europe; and the final session brought together practitioners from across these regions and the European Commission.
Territorial Governance in Western Europe: Political Economy and the Welsh Case Study
Delegates and participants were welcomed to the Conference by Professor M Wynn Thomas OBE (Swansea University), Vice-President of the Learned Society of Wales. The first session, chaired by Professor Stijn Smismans (Cardiff University) featured three papers from members of the European Governance, Identities and Public Policies (EGIPP) research unit within the Cardiff School of European Languages, Translation and Politics (EUROP). Professor Alistair Cole began the session by identifying three dimensions: the relationship between Wales and other regions with the European Union; Wales’ partnerships with other regions within Europe; and the comparative analysis of devolution across Europe. He raised the central question which underpins the Leverhulme International Network – ‘is there a new wave of pressures pushing towards a greater convergence across Europe in terms of sub-national governance…or are domestic political and institutional structures of devolution robust enough to ignore, filter or deal with these pressures in their own ways?’
The second paper, by Professor Kenneth Dyson, focused on the political economy dimension of sub-national governance and in particular sub-national fiscal capacity. Professor Dyson introduced the concept of ‘stand-alone fiscal capacity’ based on a variety of factors including stable and predictable tax revenue, a high rate of investment and a strong and vibrant knowledge-based. The level of capacity could be assessed by considering a wide range of instruments: access to a wide tax base, freedom in setting tax rates, co-determination in setting national tax rates, choice in use of grants, fiscal strength via fiscal transfers and borrowing capacity. Professor Dyson noted that ‘there is very little sub-national fiscal capacity in Wales…compared to Flanders, the German Länder or even the French département.’ However, he argued that there was an inherent tension between increasing ‘stand-alone fiscal capacity’ across Europe and the historic ambitions of continent-wide equity and prosperity. In particular, the concerns regarding the dangers of ‘moral hazard’ - ‘simply throwing good money after bad and encouraging improvident behaviour by bailing out cities and regions that get into difficulties.’
The final paper in the first session, by Dr Ian Stafford, provided an overview of the emerging findings from the Welsh case study carried out as part of the Leverhulme International Network. Dr. Stafford began by introducing Welsh devolution within the context of Liesbet Hooghe, Gary Marks and Arjan Schakel’s (2010) Regional Authority Index. In comparison to forms of sub-national governance in Belgium, Germany and Spain, Welsh devolution was fairly limited, in particular in terms of fiscal autonomy and control. Stafford introduced the research design being operationalised in the case study and identified a variety of emerging themes across the two selected policy areas: secondary education and public finance. He argued that an early analysis of the data suggested the ‘key role of endogenous factors and UK-orientated debates, with the key reference points being what is going on in England and Scotland’ and that in terms of transnational factors the pressures of Europeanisation appeared to be limited.
Sub-National Governance across Europe: Germany, Spain, Belgium and France
The second session, chaired by Professor Roger Scully (Cardiff University), featured three papers from academic partners from across the Leverhulme International Network and focused on the contrasting experiences of sub-national governance and Europe in Germany, Spain, Belgium and France. The first paper, by Professor Arthur Benz (Darmstadt University), provided an overview of the cooperative federal system in Germany within the context of Europeanisation. He noted key features of the German system including the primarily administrative and legislative functions of the Länder and Federal Government, horizontal coordination across Länder and the importance of the principle of co-decision-making. Professor Benz argued that the institutions of cooperative federalism had made the Länder relatively strong at the European level but there was an increasing ‘tendency of the strong Lander to bypass the institutions of cooperative federalism and cooperation…and to go directly to the European Commission to purse their interests.’ This tendency had created an imbalance of power within the system and the Federal Government and European Commission were able to pursue a ‘divide and rule’ approach in engaging with the Länder governments.
The second paper, by Professor Jean-Baptiste Harguindéguy (Universidad Pablo d’Olivade, Seville), considered the changing nature of the relationship between the Spanish autonomous communities and the European Union. He noted that for much of the period since Spain joined the EU in 1986 it had been overwhelmingly pro-European and the EU represented a ‘symbol of democracy’ and facilitated the emergence of autonomous communities. However, the 2008 sovereign debt crisis had disrupted this dynamic, notably through the introduction of budget cuts by the Partido Popular central government and 2012 bailouts of Spanish Banks and the regions themselves. Professor Harguindéguy observed that this process had meant that regional politicians were increasingly ‘asking themselves if decentralisation is compatible with the resolution of the crisis.’ Further, the responses of the autonomous communities could be divided into three groups: regions governed by the Partido Popular, such as Madrid, who proponed the return of competences in areas such as justice, education and health, in order to save money; regions adopting a strategy of ‘wait and see’; and a third group made-up of a single region, Catalonia, which supported increased autonomy. Professor Harguindéguy concluded by considering Catalonia’s response to the crisis and identified four possible scenarios for the future of Spain: secession, recentralisation, federalisation and the status quo.
The third paper, by Professor Christian de Visscher (Université catholique de Louvain), examined the dynamics of convergence and divergence within the Belgian Federal system and the potential role of Europeanisation within these processes. He observed that the complex Belgian federal system was the product of a combination of two competing approaches: ‘the Flemish nationalists defended the idea of a federal structure of at least two components – Flemish and Walloon – based on the existence of two distinct cultures or even nations.’ In contrast the Walloon movement advocated the ‘idea of delegating economic matters to three regions – Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels – who could then master their own economic development.’ Thus complex origins of the Belgian system had spawned a range of unusual features including the absence of a legal hierarchy in terms of federal, regional and community authorities and the fragmentation of the party system along linguistic or cultural lines. Professor de Visscher explored the dynamics of policy convergence and divergence in reference to a range of examples: education, GMO, mobiles phones, fiscal policy and finally public administration reform. He noted that the degree of policy divergence varied across these policy areas and that there were a wide range of factors driving this process including adaptation by political parties and the wider constitutional setting. Professor de Visscher concluded by observing that Europeanisation played a key role in the transfer of policy options and instruments but importantly these tools were redefined and adapted by the regions within Belgian.
The final paper in the second session, by Professor Romain Pasquier (Institute of Political Studies, Rennes), explored the impact of Europeanisation on multi-level governance within France. He observed that the combined effect of France’s Jacobin heritage and 30 years of decentralisation had been the creation of an ‘institutional mosaic’ or ‘mille-feuille territorial.’ This complex system encompassed 26 regions, 101 départements, 2599 intercommunal public corporations and 36,700 communes but there was no clear hierarchy between these levels of governance. Professor Pasquier examined the extent to which the European Union has impacted on multi-level governance in France by considering three dimensions of change : policy, politics and polity. European pressures were characterised as shaping policy styles and instruments in three core ways: firstly, measures related to public finances following the economic crisis had the effect of limiting local and regional financial capacity; secondly, the need to comply with restrictive European directives on public services; and finally the influence of European regional policies which had ‘transformed the policy design of what is regional development policy’ in France. In terms of the impact of the European Union on the political dimension, Professor Pasquier argued that Europe could be characterised as a ‘new structure of opportunities’. For example, regions had engaged in a variety of paradiplomacy strategies via representative offices and networking in Brussels, but the degree of real political influence was questionable. Finally Professor Pasquier argued that the European Union had limited impact on the changing nature of the French polity and recent constitutional and institutional reforms. He concluded by stating that the relationship between Europeanisation and territorial capacity-building in France is ‘highly ambivalent’ and that there were significant territorial variations across the Republic.
The conference concluded with a roundtable discussion, chaired by Hywel Ceri Jones (Chair of the Wales Governance Centre’s External Advisory Board). The rountable featured contributions from a wide range of practitioners from Wales and beyond: Desmond Clifford (Principal Private Secretary to the First Minister of Wales), David Hughes (Head of the Office of the European Commission in Cardiff) Albert Royo (General Secretary of DIPLOCAT, the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia), Geert de Proost (Representative of the Flemish Government in London) and Mona Bras (Union Démocratique Bretonne (UDB) member of the Brittany Regional Council). The session engaged in a wide ranging discussion of the participants experiences of the relationship between devolution and the European Union within their respective states.
Welsh Devolution in Perspective
The second one day Conference, held on 31st May 2013, took place at the British Academy, Carlton House Terrace, London. The Conference brought together academics and experts from across the UK to consider Welsh devolution from a multitude of perspectives, looking at the historical and social ties between Wales, the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe. The Conference was made up of three sessions. The first, chaired by Professor Alistair Cole (Cardiff), featured three papers setting Welsh Devolution within the broader perspective. Professor Kenneth O. Morgan (King’s College London) began the session by reflecting on contrasting Welsh perspectives of Europe across history and in particular the different visions of Europe offered by David Williams, Tom Ellis, Saunders Lewis and Rhodri Morgan. Professor Morgan characterised these four perspectives as rationality, nationhood, nationalism and social democracy respectively and that the latter had marked a shift towards a positive engagement between devolution and European integration. The second paper, by Professor Richard Wyn Jones (Cardiff), considered Wales’ position within the context of wider constitutional debates within the UK and in particular the context of the future referendums on Scottish independence and membership of the European Union. Professor Wyn Jones argued that there was a consensus within Wales regarding an appetite for the further devolution of powers, even amongst Welsh Conservatives, but that a key factor in shaping the future was the combined euroscepticism and devoanxiety in England. The final paper, by Professor Michael Keating (Aberdeen), further explored these themes and considered devolution within the context of the European Union. Professor Keating argued that the nationalism dimension had initially been missing from European integration and it was only in the 1980s and 1990s that the connection between the European project and regional dimension had emerged. Although there was little breathing space for non-nation state actors within the structures of Europe, Professor Keating noted that a position of ‘post-sovereignty’ had begun to emerge characterised by sovereignty being shared and divided between multiple levels of governance.
The Future of Welsh Devolution
The second session, chaired by Professor Iain McLean (Oxford), examined the future shape of devolution in Wales. Firstly, Paul Silk, former Clerk to the National Assembly for Wales and chair of the Commission on Devolution in Wales, reflected on the constitutional future of Wales. He stated that a core aim of the Commission was to provide an ‘intellectually coherent settlement’ and to clearly define the boundaries of devolved powers. In contrast the constitutional development of devolution since 1998 had owed more to a ‘drip-by-drip’ approach and that it could be questioned if devolution had evolved more by accident or design. The second paper, by Emeritus Professor Thomas Glyn Watkin (Cardiff & Bangor), focused on Wales’ legal identity and in particular the prospects for a Welsh legal jurisdiction. Professor Watkin noted the importance of the Welsh language and law within national identity in Wales and that politics had only caught up in the last two decades. He argued that the role of the Welsh language in the legal system meant that the notion of a single England and Wales law was a ‘legal fiction’. However, moves towards defining a distinct Welsh legal jurisdiction would face hostility from opponents with fears that British identity was being eroded from above (Europe) and below (Scotland and Wales). Finally, Gerald Holtham, who chaired the Independent Commission on Funding & Finance for Wales, explored the future of funding within Wales. He argued that Wales was unusual within the European context because although the Welsh Government had significant responsibilities for using and allocating resources, it had little power for raising these resources via taxation and borrowing. He noted that debates regarding the transfer of taxation and borrowing powers to Wales were made problematic due to the UK Government’s hesitance to open up reform of the Barnett Formula and the advantages of the status quo for Scotland.
What next for Welsh Devolution?
A Roundtable The final session, chaired by Dr Ian Stafford (Cardiff), featured a roundtable discussion centred on the question ‘what next for Welsh devolution?’ The panel included Wayne David, Labour MP for Caerphilly and Shadow Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, Dr Eurfyl ap Gwilym, longstanding adviser to Plaid Cymru and John Osmond, former director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs. The session engaged in a wide ranging discussion regarding the success of devolution since 1999, the potential future shape of Welsh devolution, the key challenges in the continued development of devolution and the perceived priorities of the participants. Although there was relative consensus across the panel regarding the need to build upon the success of the early years of devolution, there were stark contrasts in the extent to which national identity and efforts towards ‘nation-building’ were seen as an important element in the future of devolution. The panel discussion was followed by a well informed and lively question and answer session with the audience.