Academic journal article Trames

Mirroring the EU? Functional Capacity of Integration in Asia

Academic journal article Trames

Mirroring the EU? Functional Capacity of Integration in Asia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The on-going wave of the European integration has never been caused by a pleasant breeze of prosperous life in a quiet neighborhood. On the contrary, it was the devastating 'tsunami' of World War II that brought up a novel and controversial idea of a more cohesive Europe. In 1950, a European visionary, the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, proposed a plan that has changed modern European (and global) geo-political landscape. Inspired by Jean Monnet's pragmatic idealism and backed by Konrad Adenauer's idealistic pragmatism (Vernygora and Chaban 2008a:153), the 1950 Schuman Declaration heralded a new phase in and interpretation of the ever present European regionalism. It laid the legal foundation to a conceptually new framework of intergovernmental cooperation--the one that suggests a mutual compromise in sovereignty, an unheard development for European nation-states in the past. That particular vision later became a solid base for what is now known as the European Union (EU).

Counting 27 Member States in 2011, the EU is bound by its members' firm commitment to the principles of peace, rule of law, liberal democracy, human rights protection and free market. This commitment is vital in creating a supranational establishment that currently represents the world's largest and most prosperous political union. Yet, in no way it overshadows the fact that the Member States are extremely diverse in geo-political, social and cultural terms.

Predictably, other global regions, which also feature diverse members, are considering the EU's experiment in regionalization. The EU's united economic power propels it to the status of an 'economic giant' and 'financial powerhouse' able to dictate rules of the game around the world. Paradoxically, even a series of the latest Euro debt crises highlighted the EU's international reputation as a reliable economic partner--when one member stumbles, the others are helping. The economic rationales are among the leading factors when other global regions contemplate the EU's regionalization story as a lesson, a reference, a model or an example (either from positive and/or negative perspective). As such, the EU is sometimes conceptualized as a "laboratory" in regards of "external diffusion of ideas via socialization and persuasion" (Borzel and Risse 2009:8), as well as via mimicry and modeling (Borzel and Risse). While in the case of persuasion and socialization, the EU is an active agent in the diffusion of its ideas, in the latter case the EU is assessed and followed by external counterparts without the EU's active involvement. With or without the EU's involvement, there is a scholarly vision that its programmes and policies could provide a "useful and adaptable model" for other regions in the world in many political and socio-economic areas including "education, science, transport and energy networks, [and] cross-border cooperation" (Jora 2007:77).

One of such regions is Asia--a dynamic economic 'hub' with growing global ambitions. Despite (or maybe because) of Asia's increasing self-assertiveness and diversifying geo-political orientations, the EU's experiences and practices are getting "used as references in almost all meetings [in Asia] discussing regional economic cooperation" (Zhu 2007:79). This is due to the fact that the process of European integration is credited in Asia for bringing about a "stable European society and an ideal regional order" (Wang 2007:93). Does this recognition herald the onset of the process when Asia seriously considers Europe's experiences in regional community building? If yes, what Asia?

Indeed, 'Asia' is not a 'natural' region. It is a synthetic geo-political concept comprising of a variety of political regimes, religions, languages, ethnicities, traditions and histories. One way to conceptualize the world's largest continent is to assign existing Asian states into a number of geo-political groupings: Northeast, Southeast, East, South, Central, and Western Asia (Middle East in other categorizations). …

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