At the broadest level, there are three layers of paradiplomacy:

  1. The first layer corresponds to economic issues. In this context, sub-state governments aim at developing an international presence for the purpose of attracting foreign investment, luring international companies to the region, and targeting new markets for exports. This layer does not have an explicit political dimension, nor is it concerned with cultural issues. It is primarily a function of global economic competition.
  2. The second layer involves cooperation (cultural, educational, technical, technological and others). Here, paradiplomacy is more extensive and more multidimensional insofar as it is not simply focused in economic gain.
  3. The third layer involves political considerations. Paradiplomacies with this layer tend to feature prominently the international expression of an identity distinct from the one projected by the central state. Here, sub-state governments seek to develop a set of international relations that will affirm the cultural distinctiveness, political autonomy and the national character of the community they represent.


Paradiplomacy may be seen as an opportunity to develop EU’s international relations for several reasons.

Firstly, it may bring additional rationalization to the decision-making process,  thus  influencing  the  state  and  international  policies.  Rationalization  of  national  foreign  policies  reflects the  principle  of  subsidiarity,  which means that the central government should delegate to the subnational level all tasks that can be  effectively performed  at  that  lower level.  Indeed,  multilevel  international  relations  are  much  better  thought  out  and  conceptualized  because  they  tend  to  be  controlled  on  several  levels,  thoroughly  studied,  and  credited,  while  considering  the  requests  and  demands  of  citizens,  thus  fulfilling  the  need  for  subsidiarity  of  European  policy.

Secondly, paradiplomacy may create an alternative political communication channel with foreign partners, reaching out to non-state actors in third countries. With the spread of paradiplomacy and the  growing awareness  of  the  opportunities  available  to  cities  and  regions, it is clear that in recent years representatives of European cities have acted as ‘antennas’, sensitive to social needs, including outside the EU.

Thirdly,  paradiplomacy  may  encourage  the  implementation  of  some  EU  policy  goals. As  part of its foreign policy, the EU may use cities and regions to implement its foreign policy strategies. Subnational actors can even be better equipped in this regard than nation states or the EU, as they are closer to citizens and sense their problems, struggles and needs.

Issues  such  as  the  organisation  of  urban  transport,  waste  management  or  tourism promotion are common for all cities and regions globally and enable the exchange of  experiences,  even  despite  the  problems  in  relations  at  the  highest  political  level.  Promoting  and  maintaining  relations  at  the  sub-state  level  may  be  a  perfect  solution  in  times of difficult political relations.

The EU could use cities  and  regions  as  ‘transmission  belts’  to  promote  its  values,  which  would  also  mean  applying foreign policy tools in cooperation with local and regional authorities.

Despite the many changes and opportunities that paradiplomacy may bring to the EU , the community is  not  well  prepared  for  the  challenge  posed  by  the  growing  role  of  regions  and  cities.  Today, there is neither adequate understanding of this topic in the structures of the EU nor recognition of  the  international  connections  of  cities  and  regions,  making  it  difficult  for these to be used instrumentally to solve EU foreign policy problems. The  failure to  use  paradiplomacy  as  a  multi-dimensional tool  in  the  implementation  of  foreign policy by the EU is due to several factors:

  1. There is a lack of officials who are familiar with the subject of paradiplomacy and/or with time available  to devote  to  stimulating cooperation  between  European  and  non-European regions.
  2. There is no information exchange system on foreign cooperation of individual cities and  regions  and  no  formal  possibilities  of  coordinating  activities  with  regions; moreover, there is a lack of formal or informal political mechanisms for the EU to use paradiplomacy.

International cooperation between local governments/cities/regions  still  depends,  primarily,  on  the  policies  pursued  by  individual  nation-states.  Hence,  regional  relations  are  left  to  the  competence  of  state authorities and political systems of individual EU member states responsible for (potentially) animating them. The possibilities of paradiplomacy only to a small extent may be considered a mistake and a research opportunity.  Today, relations between regions and cities influence the shaping of states  and  the EU’s foreign policy  through formal and informal channels,  via lobbying, formal influence and direct actions undertaken with or without the agreement of the governments of EU member states or EU institutions.  The potential utility of sub-state actors is therefore rarely used because it is often unrealised. In order to change the present situation, it would be necessary to mobilise available resources and, at least, monitor the activities of regions and cities. Although  nation-states  and  international  organizations  are  crucial  actors  on  the  global  stage,   cities  and  regions  are  starting  to  play  an  increasingly  important  role.  There  is  evidently  some  tension  between  the  idea  of  globalisation versus  regionalisation, which emphasizes the growing importance of paradiplomacy. This being so, sub-state relations could be the hidden capacity of the EU  for its international actions, if steps were taken to foster and utilise them.


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