Regionalization? Why multiply government structures and decision-making powers if we have historically, since the time of the charters, local authorities?

From time to time, regionalization is mentioned – and I am one of those who wonder about the advantages of adopting it. So I'm going to come up with some ideas to eventually create a constructive debate.

Historically, we have no tradition of decentralizing central powers to the regions, perhaps because, apart from the Algarve, which has more pronounced Mediterranean characteristics and which was an “annexed” Kingdom until the institution of the Republic, true political-economic regions were never defined in Portugal . And because there are also no ethnic and linguistic differences important enough to carry institutional weight.

We do have biophysical regions – and, in a relatively small territory like ours, the natural differences from one to the other are profound, a true eco-geographical mosaic, but they have never asserted themselves as identities of autonomous governance. There was always talk of condal powers on this side of the Douro and beyond, between Douro and Mondego, etc., but royal power ended up centralizing governance.

Royal power, since the dawn of nationality, based decentralization on municipalities, also a way for the King to distance himself from the nobility – and, not being a historian, I believe I can say that feudalism was of little significance among us, being given to the people, through the charters, successively renewed municipal powers that freed him from submission to the nobility.

Masters like José Mattoso speak of the medieval nobility as a rural nobility that the Crown encouraged and relied on – rich men, infans and knights – precisely because Power was interested in diminishing the strength of the condal nobility, often restless and compromising royal authority and may give rise to regional powers.

Other historians, such as João Paulo Oliveira e Costa today, also defend the municipalist character that prevailed in Portugal throughout the centuries of History.

Only the Atlantic islands, due to their location far from the mainland, always had more regional powers, through governors appointed by the central power. And with caciquism always on the prowl...

There have always been two large regions in Portugal, one to the north and the other to the south of the Tagus river, the latter actually functioning as a natural border – and these could have resulted in differentiated regional powers, given that, in the North , even before nationality, there was a strong Swiss influence with parochial division and Muslim predominance in the south, where only the dioceses that Islam basically accepted resisted.

Of course, local or autarchic power can also give rise to caciquismo and there is no lack of examples in our country, but it is always more volatile and subject to reversal because people know each other closely and know how to impose the brakes – or the central power intervenes to restore more serious cases.

In the end, for me as a municipalist, I understand that administrative decentralization should fall on associations of municipalities, without prejudice to some sectors, such as the Environment and agro-forestry (because Nature has no borders) which must be protected by a policy national though participated locally, not regionally.

I am not shocked by CCDRs for large flat regions as long as they are democratically chosen by citizens and respond directly to inter-municipal needs. That's why I ask myself: regionalization? Why multiply government structures and decision-making powers if we have historically, since the time of the charters, local authorities?


Author Fernando Santos Pessoa is a landscape architect and forestry engineer. He was a founder of the National Park Service… and he writes with the spelling he learned in school




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