Globalization and the New Players

, by Giampiero Bordino

Globalization and the New Players

The creation of new spaces – in the sociological sense, i.e. “places of relational and social practices” – of a subnational and, in some cases, even transnational dimension, is one of the most significant new features of the globalization era. Such new spaces often take the form of veritable institutional subjects (e.g. the regions as political units endowed with juridical subjectivity, as in the case of European regions, which are territorial articulations of national States). In other cases they are instead economic and social areas of a functional type, which are protagonists in competition or cooperation processes at the world level, as in the cases, to give a few examples studied by Kenichi Ohmae of Japan since the 1990s, of Hong Kong and Southern China; the Silicon Valley/Bay Area; Northern Italy; the so-called Singapore Growth Triangle, and so on.

In globalization, State-like and national spaces are ever more articulated, even in intertwined (i.e. transnational) forms, in a leopard-skin configuration. Competition or cooperation do not take place between State-like or national areas only, but also, and most often, between areas that are part of them or transversal to them. The economic growth and the competitive force of a nation’s economy are actually quite different in different parts of their territory, with ever greater asymmetries. Neither the whole of China, nor the whole of India are growing at record-breaking rates; only a few particular territorial areas do (Shanghai, Bangalore, Mumbai). Likewise, development rates in the USA or in Europe are quite different from area to area, from region to region.

It is to be noted that asymmetries between spaces can also be found in the institutional sphere: different areas have in some cases, as we said, an institutional subjectivity too, and the degree and force of that subjectivity vary significantly from case to case. French regions or regions of the new countries joining the European Union, for example, certainly do not have the same autonomy level as German Länder or Italian regions.

The scenario in front of us is then a globalization resembling more and more an “archipelago”:

The scenario in front of us is then a globalization resembling more and more an “archipelago”: asymmetric, articulated, differentiated, complex. Globalization unites, brings territories and societies into contact, but does not make them more uniform; instead, it furthers their ongoing, asymmetric differentiation process. That process produces ever more numerous and noticeable cases of competition and, simultaneously, cooperation between territories and societies. Relations are created between subnational regional areas, and veritable transnational cooperation networks are developed too, where the protagonists are functional actors (companies, civil society representatives, associations, and also bodies of institutional prominence, branches of institutions) located in those territorial areas.

There is to observe that in the scenario briefly sketched above the so-called foreign (or international) policy is less and less an exclusive competence (it used to be one of the traditional pillars of sovereignty) of the national States. The new actors are increasingly “making foreign policy”, i.e. they operate both “inside” and “outside” of their borders, they establish relations, build up transnational networks and projects. Although they certainly have no hard power (the use of force, military power: in that field the States have to face the competition of transnational terrorism and organized crime), they certainly have in their hands a very significant share of soft power (ability to have an economic and cultural influence, etc.). States, their governments, their diplomatic apparatuses are then somehow “forced” to negotiate with the new actors about roles, competences, operational spaces; in fact, they cooperate and, simultaneously, compete with them much more than one would expect from formal norms and regulations.

It is to be noted that such a behavior has a structural cause (it is not transient, nor tied to specific choices), but is in the very nature of globalization. Together with the growing trans-national mobility of goods, capitals, people and “signs”, the “outside” comes more and more often “inside” (think of the migration streams) and, on the other hand, the “inside” (people, enterprises, etc.) projects itself more and more often “outside”, goes beyond its borders, makes itself, so to speak, “nomad”. No actor, then, can make any longer “domestic policy” (take care of his/her domestic space, including the “outside” that has penetrated inside) without simultaneously making “foreign policy” either (take care of the “inside” that has gone outside, manage inter-dependences).

The fact is that no one of the great “public goods” – security, the environment, health care, knowledge, development, etc., that is to say, the necessary conditions for us to be able to really enjoy our “private goods” – can now be produced and assured “at home” only, within our borders. Regional actors seem to be, at least in some cases and to a certain extent, more advanced than States in becoming aware of that. Owing to their proximity to the individuals in the economy and in civil society, they live every day the interdependence between the inside and the outside, therefore they are de facto driven to take care of that. This determines a thrust to call for and acquire new competences, to stress their role, to reinforce their international and global commitment.

The European case

In the specific case of Europe, in the framework of the European Union the weight and the role of regional institutions (including the States which are members of federations, like the German Länder) stand out for at least three aspects.

The first is the political and economic one, which becomes evident if we just look at the figures of public expenditure. In the 25-member Europe (2005 data), territorial communities (commons, intermediate bodies, regions: more than 89,000 sub-national institutional entities) handle a public expenditure amounting to almost 16% of Europe’s GDP (1,726 billion euros), and, in particular, they handle two thirds of the overall public investments. They are therefore the first public investor in the Union.

The second aspect is related to the regions’ international relations. The growing activity of European regions in the world is an evident fact: international missions, creation of “desks” and “antennae” in other countries and continents, promotion of transnational networks, cooperation-to-development initiatives, etc. There is by now a sort of “parallel diplomacy” or “para-diplomacy” by the regions, which goes side by side with and intersects that by national governments.

The third aspect, finally, no longer international but now domestic, given the success of European integration, regards the role the regions play in the Union’s constituent process. The European regions cooperate and create networks between themselves; they actively participate in the management of community policies, and are lobbying for the Union’s institutions. In other words, they concretely participate in the constituent process, well beyond, as we said, what may appear from national and community regulations. They operate in a transverse fashion relative to the national States, thus decisively contributing to the integration process of societies, economies and cultures in Europe.

To sum it up, and come to a conclusion: the world today is populated by a growing number of regional, subnational and transnational actors, who actively contribute to the globalization process and to the ongoing developments in global governance. They are on the one hand institutional actors, being regional bodies endowed with public powers; on the other, they are functionalist actors, being economic and social areas of a regional dimension, endowed with an identity and a role of their own (a role that aspires, as happens in some cases, or could aspire to materialize in the institutional sphere too) in the framework of a global competition/cooperation between societies and territories.

the world today is populated by a growing number of regional, subnational and transnational actors

These actors constitute a part of increasing importance of the “postnational constellation” that characterizes the globalized world. They are actors, as recent experience shows (think of the secession threats in the Flanders and the ensuing possibility of a confederal regression in Belgium, or of the Basque Country problem in the Spain of autonomies), marked by contradictory thrusts between integration and disintegration, between coexistence and breaking up. But in any case they do exist, weigh and will weigh ever more, have and will have a decisive role in the processes for building a global governance (and in the future a global government).

How to incorporate then in the theoretical reflection and in the political praxis this emerging reality, this new complexity which seems bound to mark ever more the prospect of the 21st century? The world, if we do not want to succumb to conflicts and want instead to put ourselves in a position to produce the “global public goods” we need, shall become the object of a new “foedus” (pact), a global pact that is to be a legitimized and effective one. This is one of the great challenges that the federalist thought of the 21st century is faced with, to which tradition alone cannot provide answers (they were different times, different contexts, different challenges).

It is necessary to consider in new terms the variety and complexity of the actors who shall be partners in the pact; the conditions and the guidelines of a possible pact leading to fewer asymmetries and more cohesion; the strategies, the opportunities and the risks of those guidelines. It is a “reflection yard” that has to consider both the federal institutional model for the world and the strategy for concretely accomplishing it.

This article was originally published in the June 2008 edition of The Federalist Debate www.federalist-debate.org, Papers for Federalists in Europe and the World.

Image: globes; source: www.flickr.com

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