With the objective of “learning from each other”, the following videos and the entire E-Learning Course discuss how center-periphery conflicts and minority-related issues may be successfully addressed with elements from the toolbox of federalism, regionalism, and decentralization. Of course, elements of such a toolbox must always be contextualized. They must be assessed against each single socio-political context, and they must be viewed through the lens of the specific legal traditions of a State and its subnational units too. This is why simple “copy and paste”-operations or “constitutional transplants” usually do not work and there is no “best practice” in the literal sense, but only a range of examples for “good practice”.
Our experience at the Eurac Research Institute for Comparative Federalism has taught us that transformation of territorial government – from a unitary to a decentralized, regional, or federal system – is part of a wider change and offers many opportunities to address minority interests. Of course, there is a constant need to reflect on the question to what extent certain elements of autonomy arrangements and minority protection working in one place can also work in another place. Mostly they can be of inspiration only.
Decentralization and autonomy arrangements must ultimately be negotiated by the affected parties and stakeholders themselves. Today’s interdependencies in multi-level governance does not allow for clear-cut solutions when it comes to the questions of how competences shall be shared between levels of government and of how intergovernmental relations (of coordination and of supervision) should look like in detail. In the end, the question on whether decentralization and autonomy arrangements work, is inescapably intertwined with the question of trust between the different parties and stakeholders in a political system. For creating viable solutions to accommodate diversities with asymmetric solutions, politics and politicians must be accountable on different levels of government. The role of political parties and the different dynamics of national parties or autonomous regional structures and regional parties has also to be considered in this context.
The following videos, subtitled in English, Russian and Romanian, as well as the entire E-Learning Course in English language only (see links below), showcase how South Tyrol succeeds in balancing the interests of various parties on the one hand, and how South Tyrol relates to the national level in case of conflicts on the other hand.
In short, South Tyrol’s power-sharing system shows how asymmetry in constitutional design contributes to successfully settle a minority-related conflict and exemplifies how a territory effectively builds its subnational governance by sharing powers both horizontally (between language groups in South Tyrol, and as an autonomous province within the special region Trentino-South Tyrol) and vertically (between South Tyrol as the northernmost part of Italy and central authorities in Rome). The numerical strength of German-, Italian- and Ladin speakers is the foundation on which South Tyrol’s autonomy rests upon. In line with consociational theory, South Tyrol’s power-sharing system enshrined in the Second Autonomy Statute (1972) provides a set of rules that combine elements of cultural and territorial self-government and allow to preserve the socio-linguistic identities while fostering intergroup dialogue and cooperation in politics, public administration, and in the judiciary.
The most important achievement of South Tyrol’s experience is the slow but permanent trust-building process based on detailed legal arrangements and political will. Its system of intergovernmental relations made and still makes it possible to transform conflict into negotiation in institutions that represent the interests of all, and through transparent procedures. Although each system has to find its own balances as well as means to adapt these over time to changing circumstances and contexts, our hope is that the lessons from South Tyrol can be of inspiration for all people interested in the Gagauzia Dialogue project.