The political and legal prerequisites for autonomies in Europe

A comparative study by Bjarne Lindström

Papers / 10.10.23
The political and legal prerequisites for autonomies in Europe

This study identifies two main types of territorially decentralized state structures:

(i) federations (e.g. Germany, USA, etc.) and (ii) the territorial “special cases” where a limited part of a state territory has some form of political autonomy, i.e., regional autonomies (such as the Faroe Islands, Åland Islands, South Tyrol and others).

The latter territorial solution becomes relevant when, within the same state, in addition to a relatively homogeneous majority population, there is one (or more) historically and territorially well-established minority with deviating language, ethnicity and/or culture.
The focus of this report is on the territorial autonomies and, more specifically, the kind of autonomous regions that exist in Europe. The report presents and analyses six examples of self-governed (home-ruled) regions chosen to cover the sort of legal and political arrangements that usually characterise this type of territorial autonomy.

The territories examined in more detail are the Faroe Islands, the Basque Country, the Isle of Man, South Tyrol, Gibraltar and Flanders.

The review highlights these autonomies’ wide scope of room for manoeuvre in the light of similarities and differences in their legal and political status. Differences in their geo-political position, international presence, background history and language are also included in the analysis. In all six case studies, however, the main emphasis is on how the legal arrangements and the political partnership with the metropolitan states have affected the regions’ de facto autonomy and room for manoeuvre.


This paper is a joint initiative of Olof M. Jansson Foundation & Coppieters Foundation.

If you are interested in non-hegemonic languages and multilingualism in Europe you can check these two publications.

. . .

This paper is financially supported by the European Parliament. The European Parliament is not liable for its content or the opinions of the authors.

. . .

Thank you for following our activities over the past few years. We hope our updates have been useful to you. We would like to keep informing you about upcoming events, new publications, summer schools, and job vacancies. Subscribe to our newsletter to hear from us in your inbox.