Redistributive regionalism : Narratives on regionalisation in the Nordic periphery

Sammanfattning: During the last decades a stronger role for the regions has developed in many West European countries. To a significant degree this regionalisation trend has coincided with European integration. The key change in the role of the regional level has been with regard to its status as an agent of regional development. In most West European countries there has been a shift from an approach to regional policy that has focused on redistributive measures from the centre in which the regions play a relatively weak role to a perspective that is sometimes labelled “new regionalism” in which the focus is on the region taking responsibility for its own development. In this new regionalist perspective, which is both descriptive and normative, the region is considered as the appropriate arena for both economic activities and decision-making. In the political systems of the Nordic countries the regional level has traditionally been in a relatively weak position and regional policy has emphasized centralisation and redistributive measures. Not unexpectedly, the pan-European trend toward a stronger role for the region has also found its way to the Nordic countries. The aim of this study is to describe and analyze if and to what extent key actors in three peripheral regions, situated in countries with a strong tradition of redistribution from the centre and a weak role for the regional level, have embraced the new regionalist perspective. The three regions are Troms in Norway, Pohjois-Pohjanmaa in Finland and Västerbotten in Sweden. All are peripherally located with small populations and economies that rely heavily on natural resources. The analysis is based on interviews with regional and local politicians, civil servants, and business representatives. The empirical material is presented in the form of narratives formulated by the regional actors who express their views on regional policy and the role of the region. The results of the study show that regional actors in the three peripheries express similar narratives. To a certain degree actors have embraced the new regionalist perspective in the sense that they see the regional level as an important coordinator for development initiatives and measures. However, the actors’ claims for a stronger regional level must be understood in the context of the unitary state. In this context, the actors’ perspective combines the new regionalist and the centralist redistributive approach, one that can be labelled ‘redistributive regionalism’. The state remains the key actor and is expected to guarantee equal conditions in all parts of the country. The emphasis on strengthening the administrative region is more pronounced in Troms and Västerbotten than in Pohjois-Pohjanmaa, where instead there is a stronger focus on the functional region. Actors in the three regions do not see any contradiction between a strong state and increased regional influence on development issues. In sum, the study finds that the new regionalist perspective has been embraced to a certain extent but that it has been adapted to national characteristics, as well as to the specific conditions in the three regions.