Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Varieties of Regionalism: Comparison of Europe and Southeast Asia

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Varieties of Regionalism: Comparison of Europe and Southeast Asia

Article excerpt


The comparative approach has not been widely used in regional studies so far. From the perspective of comparative regionalism, the formality of the European Union (EU) and the informality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) represent two models of regional integration. The institutionalization and enlargement of ASEAN and the EU have distinctive regional characteristics. In Southeast Asia, regionalism is often a reaction to external challenges and threats, while European regional integration is more innate in nature. The distinctive dynamics are formulated in each region's power structure, institutional environment and cultural background. With a firm cultural identity, strong co-leadership, constructive US input and a formal institutionalization approach, 'proactive regionalism' in Europe has adequate endogenous force to move forwards. In contrast, the lack of a coherent ideology for regional integration, the power competition within the region, the destructive intervention of the US and a lower level of institutionalization means that greater exogenous pressure is necessary for Southeast Asia to develop its regional project, which could be termed 'reactive regionalism'.

Keywords: ASEAN, EU, proactive regionalism, reactive regionalism

1. Introduction: Comparative Regionalism

All types of regional organizations may face similar challenges in their life cycle; however, each organization demonstrates a unique path that is suitable for the actual situation in its region when overcoming its problems. Therefore, researchers have a good reason to compare regions. However, can regional organizations be compared in a systemic way? What is the basis for comparison? Before detailing the developmental processes of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU), a theoretical exploration of the approach to comparative regionalism is required.

If regionalism can be compared, its diversity is bound to be recognized. At different times, and even at the same time but in different parts of the world, people's understanding of regionalism is often different. Historically, the concept of regionalism has often been connected with regional hegemony or the sphere of influence; however, alliances among third-world countries overthrew this bias when regional organizations in Latin America and the Arabian world successfully convinced the United Nations to admit coexistence between universalism and regionalism. (Potter, 1943; Fawcett, 2004)

Theoretical studies in the field have discussed varieties of regionalism, given that the so-called 'European integration theories' generated from European practice, such as intergovernmentalism, federalism, functionalism and neo-functionalism, which do not fit well among non-Western regions. The master of integration theory, Ernst Hass, once commented that there is no universal 'integration law'. (Hass, 1961, p. 378) Since the late 1980s, with new regional projects appearing in non-EU regions around the world, the basis for varieties of regionalism has been provided. (Hurrell, 1995; Breslin & Higgott, 2000) In addition, the constructivist turn in theories of international relations has provided a new explanation of the informal process of other regional mechanisms vis-a-vis the EU, thus expanding our horizon. (Acharya, 2012)

Opponents to comparative regionalism often consider the EU too special to be compared. The root cause of this error is that the ontological question of comparative regionalism has not been made clear. (De Lombaerde, Söderbaum, Van Langenhove, & Baert, 2010; Söderbaum, 2009) As region can be seen as a discursive tool that can be treated as a layer of governance, an organization, an institution or even a geo-political space, the scope for the subjects of regional studies can be very broad. According to Van Langenhove (2012), regional studies can be divided into three categories (but not mutual exclusive): 1) studying a regional process-namely, the historical development of a region; 2) studying a regional project by focusing on the visions of regional intellectuals, political elites and the mass movement for regional integration; and 3) studying a regional product that includes the signed treaty, mechanism and practice achieved, etc. …

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