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DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.2005.533_6.x
Publication Date01 Jan 2005
AuthorSefa M. Franken
REVIEWS
John Ho pkin s,Devolution in Context: Regional, Federal and Devolved
Government in the European Union,London: Cavendish Publishing, 2002,
xxv þ361 pp, pb d39.00.
John Hopkins has written an ambitious book, seeking to put devolution in the
UK into a broader context of regional and federal developments elsewhere in the
European Union. This makes it the ¢rst comprehensive comparative survey of
this area to focus on legal and institutional issues and the ¢rst legal treatment of
devolution to put it into a broader European context.While political science, in
particular, has developed an extensive literature about regions in Europe, Hop-
kins is the ¢rst lawyer to turn his gaze over such a broad range of territory, and
to do so through a monograph rather than an edited col lection. He draws on
work in several disciplines (geography, history and economics as well as law and
political science). Thiswould be a most valuable work if it were well executed.
The structure of thebook is straightforward. Part1 looks at regions, their rela-
tionship with the nation-state and the emergence of regional institutions (‘the
regional revolution’). Part 2 charts the institutional framework of sub-national
government in the three federal systems (Belgium, Germany and Austria),
four regionalised systems (Italy, Portugal, Spain and Finland) and a number of
centralised states with administrative regions (France, Sweden, Denmark and the
Netherlands), as well as the UK. Part 3 opens with a comparative analysis of these
systems in more detail in relation to a number of key issues ^ engagement in EU
and international a¡airs, ¢nance, the protection of regional competences, involve-
ment in nationalpolicy-making and dispute resolution ^ and then draws broader
conclusions about the impl ications of regional government its development. The
treatme ntfocuses on institutions and theirformal relationships, drawingon work
in political science to ¢ll out the picture.Unsurprisingly, Hopkins concludes that
developments in the UK may echo those ofother European systems,but i n a way
that limits regional autonomy by keeping much power in the central state. In this,
Hopkins is somewhat at odds with the latest research (much of which, it must be
said, has appeared since the text of the bookwas ¢nalised).This suggests that the
UKGovernment’s dominanceis due to political factors rather than its formal con-
stitutional powers, which have remained almost entirely unused.
Sadly the book does not live up to initial expectations. As a survey of relevant
literature, Hopkins’s selections are unsatisfactory. His reading has been wide, but
not deep. In many cases works of the ¢rst importance in the areas he surveys are
neglected. This applies particularly to the broad and synthetic Part 1, which
reviews the literature on nationalism and the relationship of nationalism to the
nation-state, and argues that changing ways of constructing identity and the
impactof globalisationmake the nation-state obsolescent if not obsolete. But such
key works as Benedict Anderson’s Imagining Communities or Eric Hobsbawm’s
Nations and Nationalism since 1780 are neither discussed nor included in the list of
rThe Modern LawReview Limited 2005
Published by BlackwellPublishing, 9600 Garsington Road,Oxford OX4 2DQ,UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
(2005) 68(1) MLR 156^174
references. In other cases, Hopkins picks the important authors, but not their key
works (such as two papers by Ron Watts instead of Comparing Federal Systems, a
paperbyTanja B˛rzel instead of States an d Regions in the European Union, oron Ger-
many a paper by Charlie Je¡ery but not his edited collection Recasting G erman
Federalism). He manages to mis-cite a seminal work by KCWheare,calling it Fed-
eralis m rather than Fed eral Government,andoverlookslargepartsoftheliteratureon
comparative federal ism. The list of references rather resembles a grab-bag ofwhat
Hopkins happened to come across rather than a systematic bibliography. This
shortcoming is especially noticeable in Part 1, which cannot live up to the ambi-
tions Hopkins h as for it, but recurs to a lesser degree throughout the book.
There arealso problemswith what is potentially the most useful material in the
book, the accounts of regional or sub-national government in the various states.
Sometimes it takes a long time for Hopkins to identify an essential feature of a
system, without which the rest makes l ittle sense (such as the fact that the compe -
tences of the various orders of government in the Belgian system are each exclu-
sive as an explanation of the need for the various Belgian governments to
co-operate). Studentswho do not readwith absolute concentration may miss such
key points and so fail to grasp how such systems work. In some cases, Hopkins
makes sweeping and tendentious generalisations with neither analysis nor refer-
ence to support them. In others, questionable generalisations are qual i¢ed a few
pages later, leaving the reader i n doubt about the clarity of Hopkins’s thinking. In
a small number of cases, there are errors of fact (examples include the nature of
delegations to the executive within the National Assembly for Wales, p 175,
describing the baseline for allocating funding to the UK devolved administra-
tions under the Barnett formula as deriving from 1979 needs-based criteria,when
those criteriawere in fact ignored and a historic baseline used, p 227, and omission
of reference to the 1999 Federal Constitutional Court case about ¢nancial equal-
isation in discussions about Germany, p 92 and chapter 9). Some of these may be
attributable to the fact that Hopkins has relied heavily on material available in
English (though there are also some references in French), not commentaries
from the countries he is comparing. Some may be due to the fact that the book
is based on a PhD thesis which has been incompletely updated for publication.
Others may be attributable to the lackof proper editorial work by the publishers.
Whatever the cause, they seriously undermine the book’s credibility on other
points, and its usefulness to readers.
This is aggravated by the way the author attempts to build his factual material
into a broader theoretical framework. The key concept for Hopkins is ‘regional
autonomy’,a nd the discussion throughout the book of what helps or impedes th is
is well done if not entirely systematic. However, Hopkins also ascribes a norma-
tivevalue to regionalautonomy^ itbeing good, and anypower (especiallythat of
the centralstate) that interferes with it bad ^ that is unexamined and unexplained.
The result is that the book has a polemical character that undermines its under-
lying subject-matter, as one of the characteristics of European regionalism is that
it represents a confusing picture of forms of government that di¡use power in a
variety of ways and accommodate themselves to a variety of legal and political
principles. Regionalism can be seen as being not simply about delivering far-
reaching autonomy to‘stateless nations like Scotland or Catalonia but also about
Reviews
157rThe Modern LawReview Limited 2005

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