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Article

In 1991, the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) was launched with the aim of fostering regional integration among its four original members—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. MERCOSUR evolved from open regionalism to postliberal regionalism in the course of the first 15 years of the 21st century. The organization has faced several challenges since its inception: internal struggles that result from significant asymmetries between members as well as underlying deficits in the regionalism process and external difficulties in managing MERCOSUR’s relations within the hemisphere and beyond (such as relations with the European Union and China).

Article

Frank Schimmelfennig

Regional integration theory seeks to explain the establishment and development of regional international organizations. Key questions are why and under which conditions states decide to transfer political authority to regional organizations; how regional organizations expand their tasks, competencies, and members; and what impact they have on states and societies in their regions. Whereas regional integration theory started with a broad comparative regional and organizational scope in the 1950s and 1960s, it has since focused on European integration and the European Union. The main (families of) theories explaining the development of European integration—rather than decision making and policy making in the EU—are intergovernmentalism, neofunctionalism, and postfunctionalism. The key debates in regional integration theory have taken place between variants of intergovernmentalist and neofunctionalist integration theory. Intergovernmentalism assumes national governments to be the key actors in regional integration. Governments use regional integration to maximize their national security and economic interests in the context of regional interdependence. Integration outcomes result from intergovernmental bargaining and reflect the regional preference and power constellations. Governments delegate authority to regional organizations to secure their bargaining outcomes but remain in control of regional organizations and the integration process. By contrast, neofunctionalism disputes that governments are able to control the integration process. Transnational corporations and interest groups as well as supranational actors are empowered by the integration process and shape it in their own interest. In addition, integration creates a variety of “spillovers” and path-dependencies that push integration beyond the intergovernmental bargain. More recently, postfunctionalism has enriched and challenged the theoretical debate on regional integration. In contrast to neofunctionalism, postfunctionalism assumes a backlash mechanism of integration. As regional integration progresses and undermines national sovereignty and community, it creates economic and cultural losers who are mobilized by integration-skeptic parties. Identity-based and populist mass politicization constrains regional integration and may even cause disintegration. Regional integration theories have closely followed and adapted themselves to the development of European integration. They cover the establishment and progress of supranational policies and institutions but also the recent crisis of the EU. An exemplary review of their explanations of major development in European integration shows that they are more complementary than competing.

Article

Integration attempts in Latin America have historically been linked to the European experience. Transatlantic influence has gone from policy learning through institutional mimicry to direct funding. Modern Latin American regionalism dates back to 1960, when the Central American Common Market and the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA) were founded. Both associations were a response to the creation of the European Economic Community in 1957 and the fear that “Fortress Europe” would cut extra-regional markets off, so alternatives should be developed. The Latin American blocs aspired to overcome the small size of the national markets by fostering economies of scale. Shortly thereafter, European-born, U.S.-based political scientist Ernst Haas—jointly with Philippe Schmitter—put to the test the neofunctionalist theory he had developed for Europe to analyze Central American integration, correctly diagnosing the latter’s limitations and forecasting its setbacks. LAFTA also faltered and failed and, in 1980, the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI by its Spanish acronym) replaced it. A decade later, ALADI would become MERCOSUR’s umbrella organization. After the third wave of democratization, which in Latin America started in 1978, new attempts at regional integration took hold, and MERCOSUR was initially considered as the most successful. Successive leaders of the European Union (EU) nurtured big hopes and devoted a great deal of attention to EU–MERCOSUR relations, first assisting with integration technology, material resources, and intellectual guidance and, since 1995, conducting several rounds of negotiations to strike a trade deal. The path that had led to MERCOSUR resembled that of the EU, as it started in 1985 with functional and sectoral integration (wheat and oil prominently, in place of coal and steel) around the Argentina–Brazil axis. A few years later, in 1991, the binational association was opened up to Paraguay and Uruguay and transformed itself into a typical Balassa-like organization, prioritizing broader market integration over focused sectoral integration—just like the Treaty of Rome had done in Europe. Intra-regional trade tripled during the first seven years, but it later stagnated and never bounced back. As a result, the member states decided to up the rhetorical ante and broaden the areas encompassed by the organization rather than fostering economic interdependence or deepening the level of regional authority. An optional tribunal and a powerless parliament were established in 2002 and 2005 respectively. The outcome was grim: more institutions on paper did not enhance performance in practice. Having exhausted the internal agenda, the external agenda remained the only one where positive developments were still expected. In 2019, after twenty years of bumping negotiations, a political agreement on a comprehensive trade deal was reached with the European Union, MERCOSUR’s role model and largest trade partner. If this agreement is signed and ratified, it will become the largest interregional arrangement ever.

Article

Arne Niemann

Developed in the 1950s and 1960s, neofunctionalism underwent several ups and downs, often closely related to the stops and starts of the European integration process. During this time, neofunctionalism has repeatedly become subject to revision, a development that has continued in the new millennium. The theory has been widely criticized, and some of the criticisms have aptly revealed considerable shortcomings, but neofunctionalism retains a central place in conceptualizing European integration. This is due to (a) neofunctionalism possessing a unique toolkit for analyzing important issues of European integration, mainly concerning the dynamics of the integration process; (b) the theory inspiring subsequent (micro-level) theorizing, and later approaches having frequently drawn on neofunctionalist tenets and concepts; (c) neofunctionalism having proven to be capable of reformation. Instead of pinning the theory solely down to certain time-sensitive formulations dating from up to six decades ago, neofunctionalism should be understood as an evolving theory, whose research agenda is by no means exhausted.

Article

Walter O. Oyugi and Jimmy Ochieng

The East African region historically has comprised Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The politics of these countries have been shaped by the colonial heritage bequeathed at independence and its impact continues to reverberate on politics and administration of the region five decades after independence. While the three countries inherited similar systems of governance that sought to decentralize power, they all reverted to the centralized governance systems that predated independence, to not serve the leaders’ own power interests but to also secure effective control of the localities. According to the said system, all governance institutions at the subterritorial level operated in line with centrally determined guidelines. This centralization of power has impacted on the evolution, character, and nature of the state in the region as well as on the governance of the individual states. Even with constitutional and legislative changes to check on the excess powers of the executive—which in all three cases means the president and his key allies— it continues to seek means of controlling the processes of democratization and decentralization in a manner that defeats the logic of introducing checks and balances. While Tanzania and Kenya have experimented with democratization since the 1990s and Uganda since the 2000s, consolidation remains a challenge due to the reluctance of those in charge of central government to let go of power and its attendant benefits. In addition, the various experiences with decentralization have suffered from the desire of the center to use them not as platforms for participatory governance but rather as tools for control and domination. At the regional level, the issues of national interest and mistrust have continued to constrain endeavors toward deeper integration.

Article

Federations have existed in a modern form since the constitution of the United States entered into force in 1789. Riker defines a federation as follows (1975, p. 101) “a political organization in which the activities of government are divided between regional governments and a central government in such a way that each kind of government has some activity on which it makes final decision.” The process of getting to the federation, the integration process, is best described as federalism. There is some agreement on the core of what a federation is, and some disagreement over whether to apply the term “federation” strictly to states and state-like actors or in a broader sense. Federations are concrete ways to organize government, but in many writings, they are also given positive attributes, such as enhanced democracy and efficiency, too. There are two ways to think about federalism: as a politico-ideological theory of action and as an academic theory of regional integration. The first theory is propagated by writers such as Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, Jean Monnet, and Altiero Spinelli. This theory is of political rather than academic interest. Academic theories of regional integration are divided into two groups, following the common practice in international relations theory: liberal theories (by far the largest group) and realist theories. Federalism theory as a theory of regional integration was abandoned too early because, inter alia, it had been linked to the development of the European Community, which was in crisis from the mid-1970s till the mid-1980s. This was a mistake. Federalism theory provides the scholar with at least two tools. First, under the title “federation,” it introduces a large number of theories, methods, and empirical studies on how to analyze the European Union and other regional integration projects. Second, as a federalism theory, especially in the realist or the Riker-McKayian version, it provides a theory of how countries may unite peacefully. This approach must be developed in terms of (a) the concept of threat, which must be broadened to include economic, social, and cultural elements, and (b) the role of a basic common culture, which primarily facilitates the founding of the federation and constitutes the foundation securing the maintenance of the new federation. A brief analysis of the development of today’s European Union, following the realist approach, demonstrates that, broadly speaking, a correspondence exists between threat and the integration process: In times of threat, the process of integration and federalization advances; in periods of peace and no crisis, the integration process stagnates.

Article

Since 1957, the European Union (EU) has been a constant and reliable partner of Latin America, on the one hand, and the Caribbean, on the other. It still offers a unique model of idealist interregionalism based on the promotion of its own integration model, combined with limited economic interests, soft power and, more recently, shared global visions such as sustainable development, Compared with the two bigger external actors, the United States and China, the EU is a normative actor that complements and sometimes counterbalances (in the cases of Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico) relations with the dominant power. Although, in relative terms, trade exchanges have declined since the 1990s, Latin America and the EU share a solid network of multilevel and contractual relations integrated by political dialogue, development cooperation, and investment flows. The EU signed free trade agreements plus (dialogue and cooperation) with Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, the Caribbean, and Central America. In June 2019 finalized a twenty year process of free trade negotiations between the EU and MERCOSUR. Once in force and approved by EU institutions and the four South American states, the EU-MERCOSUR association agreement will reactivate trade exchange grounded on economic, political, social and cultural cooperation between state and non-state actors. Nonetheless, it remains unclear if the 32 states involved in the mixed agreement (European Commission’s exclusive trade competences plus EU member states) will approve the deal in a foreseeable future.

Article

Sociological institutionalism is part of the larger group of new institutionalisms that share the basic understanding that institutions matter in social processes. Opposing a more descriptive, “old” institutionalism and a rational-choice version of institutionalism, which defends the idea that actors have the option to choose independently from a large number of attitudes, sociological institutionalists introduced the notion of logic of appropriateness, influenced by a specific strand of the sociology of organizations. This understanding, however, led to limits in the explicatory force of the approach: institutional change, as well as continued conflict and differentiated power relations among actors, could not be explained well. More recent approaches that took sociological institutionalist assumptions very seriously offered a series of possible solutions to those difficulties. While elements of rationality and power exist implicitly in different conceptualizations of sociological institutionalism, these authors explicitly brought together both actors’ rational behavior and their embeddedness in broad institutional frameworks through concentrating on the power relations that exist among agents.

Article

The African Union (AU), an international organization comprising all 54 independent states in Africa and Western Sahara, was established in May 2001 to, among other things, promote regional integration, interstate solidarity, peace, good governance and to enhance the African voice in the global system. Pan-African organization is like the proverbial forest that has bad trees dotted around its many good trees. The AU has been very successful in addressing the needs of the African political class but it is yet to make a significant difference in the lives of many ordinary Africans. The importance of the pan-African organization to African political elite is such that they would have created it today if it did not already exist. The AU has socialized African leaders to accept liberal values as the foundation of international cooperation in Africa; enhanced the agency of African political class on the world stage; and established progressive and innovative rules and norms for the African continent. It has also created many useful decision-making structures that have contributed to the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts in Africa. The AU has, however, been less successful in connecting its activities and programs to many ordinary Africans; providing common public goods and services valued by commoners in Africa; giving voice to the majority of young people in Africa; promoting intra-Africa trade, good governance, and financial independence of the African continent as well as struggled to address the expressed material needs and quotidian concerns of ordinary Africans.

Article

Tanja A. Börzel and Soo Yeon Kim

Economic regionalism has been dominated by preferential trade agreements (PTAs). Not only have their numbers surged since the end of the Cold War, we also see different varieties of PTAs emerging. First, long-standing PTAs have evolved into deeper forms of economic regionalism, such as custom unions, common markets, or currency unions. Second, PTAs increasingly involve “behind-the-border” trade liberalization, such as the coordination of domestic trade–related regulatory standards. Third, many of the PTAs that were established over the past 25 years no longer only involve countries of the “Global North” but are formed by developing and developed countries (“North-South” PTAs) and between developing countries (“South-South” PTAs). Finally, a most recent development in economic regionalism concerns the building of so called “mega-PTAs,” such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), combining several PTAs. In order to explain the formation, proliferation, and evolution of these varieties of PTA, existing international political economy (IPE) approaches have to give more credit to political factors, such as the locking-in of domestic reforms or the preservation of regional stability. Moreover, IPE scholarship should engage more systematically with diffusion research, particularly to account for the spate of deeper regionalism. Finally, “rising powers” and “emerging markets” constitute an exciting new research area for IPE. These new players differ with regard to the importance they attribute to regionalism and the ways in which they have sought to use and shape it. Identifying and explaining variations in the link between rising powers and regionalism is a key challenge for future research

Article

Jaime Antonio Preciado Coronado

If Latin American and Caribbean integration arose from the interests of nation-state institutions, linked to an international context where commerce and the global market was the mainframe of the economic development theory, some state and academic actors sought to expand the autonomy of nation-states in negotiating trade agreements and treaties under the paradigm of an autonomous governance of regionalism and economic integration. The autonomous integration initiatives arose between the 1960s and 1980s, before neoliberalism emerged as the sole model of development. However, since the 1990s, neoliberal policies have left little room for autonomous integration. A new period of autonomous integration emerged between the late 1990s and 2015, supported by progressive Latin American governments, along with a novel projection of social autonomy, complementary to autonomous integration, held by new social movements that oppose, resist, and create alternatives to neoliberal integration. Inspired by the critical theory, the research linkages between the state and social autonomy question the neoliberal integration process, its perverted effects on exclusion and social inequality, and the conflicts related to the regional integration of democratic governance. The debates on autonomous regional integration cover three fields: economic interdependence, the realist perspective in international politics, and the theses of the field of International Political Economy. Arguments question their critique of the colonial outcomes of the modern world system, even more so than had been posited by dependency theory. Finally, there is the question of the emergence of an original Latin American and Caribbean theory of autonomous integration initiatives.

Article

Simona Piattoni and Laura Polverari

Cohesion policy is one of the longest-standing features of the European construction; its roots have been traced as far back as the Treaty of Rome. Over time, it has become one of the most politically salient and sizable policies of the European Union, absorbing approximately one-third of the EU budget. Given its principles and “shared management” approach, it mobilizes many different actors at multiple territorial scales, and by promoting “territorial cooperation” it has encouraged public authorities to work together, thus overcoming national borders. Furthermore, cohesion policy is commonly considered the most significant expression of solidarity between member states and the most tangible way in which EU citizens “experience” the European Union. While retaining its overarching mission of supporting lagging regions and encouraging the harmonious development of the Union, cohesion policy has steadily evolved and adapted in response to new internal and external challenges, such as those generated by subsequent rounds of enlargement, globalization, and shifting political preferences regarding what the EU should be about. Just as the policy has evolved over time in terms of its shape and priorities, so have the theoretical understandings of economic development that underpin its logic, the nature of intergovernmental relations, and the geographical and administrative space(s) within which the EU polity operates. For example, whereas overcoming the physical barriers to economic development were the initial targets in the 1960s and 1970s, and redesigning manufacturing clusters were those of the 1980s and 1990s, fostering advanced knowledge and technological progress became the focus of cohesion policy in the new century. At the same time, cohesion policy also inspired or even became a testing ground for new theories, such as multilevel governance, Europeanization, or smart specialization. Given its redistributive nature, debates have proliferated around its impact, added value, and administrative cost, as well as the institutional characteristics that it requires to function. These deliberations have, in turn, informed the policy in its periodic transformations. Political factors have also played a key role in shaping the evolution of the policy. Each reform has been closely linked to the debates on the European budget, where the net positions of member states have tended to dominate the agenda. An outcome of this process has been the progressive alignment with wider strategic goals beyond cohesion and convergence and the strengthening of linkages with the European Semester. However, some argue that policymakers have failed to properly consider the perverse effects of austerity on regional disparities. These unresolved tensions are particularly significant in a context denoted by a rise of populist and nativist movements, increasing social discontent, and strengthening Euroskepticism. As highlighted by research on its communication, cohesion policy may well be the answer for winning back the hearts and minds of European citizens. Whether and how this may be achieved will likely be the focus of research in the years ahead.