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The concept of paradiplomacy refers to the international relations conducted by subnational, regional, local or non-central governments on their own, with a view to promoting their own interests. This feature appears to be an aspect of the overall process of globalisation, under which a number of non-state actors plays an increasingly influential role in the international arena. Regions, federal states, provinces and cities seek their way to promote trade, investments, cooperation and partnership in a long list of subjects and account for a significant part of today’s cross-borders contacts. This trend raises new interesting questions concerning Public International Law and opens a debate on the future of the state system that has provided the grounds for the international political order in the last centuries.
Although the term "paradiplomacy" would be casually employed in the 1980s, it was introduced into the academic debate by the Canadian scholar Panayotis Soldatos. The American author Ivo Duchacek further developed the concept and became one of its main theoreticians. Other current denominations for paradiplomacy and related concepts are: “multilayered diplomacy”, “substate diplomacy” and “intermestic affairs” . This latter concept expresses a growing trend to the internationalization of domestic issues, which takes local and regional concerns to the centre stage of international affairs.
Paradiplomacy may be performed both in support of and in complementarity to the central state conducted diplomacy, or come in conflict or compete with it. Duchacek points out a distinction between: a) cross-border regional microdiplomacy, b) transregional microdiplomacy and c) global paradiplomacy, to describe: a) contacts between non-central units situated across borders in different states, b) contacts between non-central units without a common border but situated in neighboring states and c) contacts between units belonging to states without common borders. A comprising view of the phenomenon should also consider contacts in a wide range of multilateral associations of local authorities.
Non-central governments may formally develop official international relations by: a) sending delegations in official visits; b) signing agreements, memoranda of understanding and other instruments; c) participating in international "local" fora; d) establishing permanent representative offices or delegations abroad.
Local governments seek international cooperation for economic, cultural or political reasons. In the economic field, it is known that most central governments cannot properly assist local communities in all their needs. They may lack expertise and cadres to fully understand local realities and to deal with their complexities. Local governments tend to think that central authorities do not show sufficient interest in helping them and find themselves perfectly able to pursue their own interest.
In the cultural field, some regions may seek to promote themselves internationally as an autonomous cultural entity. This is the case of the Spanish province of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Some regions may seek to cooperate with their diasporas worldwide and try to gain the support of their nationals abroad in attaining their diplomatic goals.
As to the political aspects, local governments may join efforts internationally to pressure their central governments into a desired course of action. This strategy is exemplified in the case of eight memoranda of understanding signed, in the years 1980, between three American states and three Canadian provinces to control and combat acid rain, as the Reagan Administration and the American Congress could not reach a consensus on the matter. The cross-borders paradiplomatic efforts eventually led Washington to amend the Clean Air Act in 1990 and to sign with Canada, in 1991, the US/Canada Air Quality Agreement in which both countries agree on a timetable to reduce acid emissions.
A particular kind of local political activism is called "protodiplomacy", through which a local government may seek international support for their emancipation or independence plans. This is typically the case of the Canadian province of Québec in the sixties, under the Parti Québécois.
Non-central governments may be allowed to negotiate and sign agreements with foreign non-central authorities or even with the government of a foreign state. Conditions can vary largely from a limited capacity to negotiate with the assistance of their central authorities to a most complete autonomy based on sovereign constitutional prerogatives. This can not be the object of the international law. Only the internal law of the states is to determine which internal powers are entitled to do so and to which extent. In some states, the outward relations of their non-central governments is a constitutional matter directly related to the issue of legal competence.
Federalism and Paradiplomacy
Federative countries ordinarily set apart in their constitutions, when it comes to the internal division of powers, matters that are exclusive of the central authority. “National defense”, “currency” and “external relations” are typically the case. However, as cross-border contacts become an imperative for sub-national communities, diplomacy is increasingly becoming a decentralized prerogative. Some states do formally recognize the stakes their political and administrative units have in foreign affairs and have, accordingly, set the required legal basis at a constitutional level. Legal provisions on this matter are present in the Constitution of the following federations:
Since 1994, an amendment to the Constitución de la Republica allows the provinces of Argentina (articles 124 and 125) to celebrate treaties and covenants with “foreign nations” to the effect of the administration of justice, economic interest or common utility works. Those treaties are “partial” (non-political) and must not contravene national law, affect the Nation’s public credit nor go against the external policies of the Argentine nation. It must also be approved by the National Congress.
The Constitution of Austria restricts the states' capacity to establish formal external ties to cross-border issues. Article 16 of the reformed text  (28. June 2002) allows the Länder to conclude treaties with neighboring states or with its constituent states in matters of their constitutional competence. The governor of the Land must inform the federal government from whom he must obtain authorization before engaging in international negotiations. If the federal government fails to respond within eight weeks, the request will be deemed to have been approved. The approval, whether express or tacit, obliges the Federal President to the agreed text, which must be countersigned by a federal authority. However, upon request of the federal government, the Länder must denounce the treaty. If the Land does not dully complies with its obligation, the federal government overtakes the responsibility. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of Article 16 regulate further the competencies of the Länder and of the Federal State in the implementation of treaties.
A Belgium 1993 constitutional revision granted Regions and Communities the right to develop international co-operation, including the celebration of treaties, in matters of their exclusive competence (article 167 (3)). Cultural and educational matters are, according to article 127 (3), those fields of their exclusive competence. This faculty includes the drafting of treaties, which are ratified by the French and the Flemish Community Councils by decree (article 128 (1.1)). Article 130 (4) provides the same right to the German-speaking Community, and adds "personal issues" to its fields of competence. Since the Communities have acquired exclusive right to develop their international relations on those exclusive matters, the King cannot sign, ratify or denounce treaties on their behalf. Only the treaties concluded before 18 May 1993 may be denounced by the King. The rigidity of Belgium sphere of competences raised legal difficulties to the approval of international treaties dealing with both federal and community's issues. These treaties are known as traités mixtes, and is the object of a co-operation agreement between the federal state, the Communities and the Regions (8 Mars 1994), which provides for a complex mechanism of shared responsibilities.
Canadian provinces are among the most active sub-national units on the international stage. The total amount spent on diplomacy by the ten Canadian provinces is equal to that of the fifty American states, despite the fact Canada's population is one ninth the size and the economy is only one fourteenth as large. Canadian provinces are largely motivated by economic concerns stemming from the high degree of economic diversity between regions of the country and because of Canada's integration into world markets, especially the US market via NAFTA. Nine of the ten provinces trade more with the United States than with the rest of Canada. Relations with major trading partners, most especially the United States, are the most important. At the same time Quebec nationalism has motivated the French-speaking province of Quebec to pursue closer ties with France and the other members of La francophonie. Furthermore, Canada's constitution is generally interpreted in a decentralist way, giving the provinces a great deal of responsibilities.
The Basic Law of Germany states in its article 32(3) that "Insofar as the Laender have power to legislate, they may, with the consent of the Federal Government, conclude treaties with foreign states". The federal government must consult with the Laender, "in sufficient time", before concluding an international treaty that affects the special interest of the Land. Article 59(2) requires the consent or participation of the Bundesrat (the German senate), as one of the "bodies competent in any specific case", on the approval of Treaties "which regulate the political relations of the Federation or relate to matters of Federal legislation". The German Bundesrat has been specially keen to assuring the Laender's participation on the European decision-making process.
Russia, the world's most extensive state shows a tradition of conveying the weight of its territorial units to foster external policy objectives. The Soviet Union is the only country ever to have two of its Republics (Ukrainian SSR and Byelorussian SSR) recognized as member states in the United Nations, which lasted from 1945 to 1991. That situation was not to be reflected in constitutional law until the 1977 Soviet Constitution stipulated that "A Union Republic has the right to enter into relations with other states, conclude treaties with them, exchange diplomatic and consular representatives, and take part in the work of international organizations" (article 80). The new text went as far as to formally declare that "Each Union Republic shall retain the right freely to secede from the USSR" (Article 72). The 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation does not explicitly confer its non-central authorities the same rights, but one can see from article 72 that "coordination of the international and external economic relations of the subjects of the Russian Federation" (n) belongs to the joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and the subjects of the Russian Federation, and that, according to paragraph 2, this provision "shall equally apply to the republics, territories, regions, federal cities, the autonomous region and autonomous areas".
Article 54 of the Swiss Constitution states that foreign relations are a federal matter. However, the cantons shall be considered, having they a say in the preparation of decisions of foreign policy concerning their competencies or their essential interests, whenever they are affected, and participate in international negotiations as appropriate, as stated in Article 55. The cantons may also conclude treaties with foreign countries within the domain relevant to their competencies, provided they are not contrary to the law and interests of the Federation nor to the right of other cantons. They may deal directly with subordinated foreign authorities, but treaties concluded with foreign nations can only be signed by the central authorities (Article 56). Article 147 reinforces the cantons' role in Swiss foreign affairs by stating that "the cantons (...) are heard in the course of the preparation of important decrees and other projects of substantial impact, and on important international treaties". Provisions concerning mandatory and optional referenda concerning the entry of Switzerland into organizations for collective security, into supranational communities or the implementation of some international treaties (Articles 140, 141 and 141a) may also imply cantonal participation if such referendum is proposed by eight cantons.
Having established that the power to make treaties and conduct external affairs belong to the President and the Congress, the first federal constitution sets an array of prohibitions to the States in Section 10 of Article I. The States shall not enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation etc. However, the third paragraph of the same Section 10 opens the possibility for the States to engage in international affairs by stating that no State shall, without the Consent of Congress, (...) enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay. A double negation ("no State shall, without the Consent of Congress") implies that they are actually allowed to "compact with a foreign Power", as long as the Congress would sanction those acts. This control was meant to assure that international commitments contracted by the States were not against the Federal Law. In more recent times, the huge volume of international business conducted by State authorities - acting in present days 50 States - cannot come under congressional control in practical terms. Even though an unlawful act on this domain may be overruled by the Congress, experience has shown that international paradiplomatic affairs reflect a legitimate interest of local communities and that the States authorities would hardly overstep their legal competencies.[opinion]
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