African Integration and Inter-Regionalism: The Regional Economic Communities and Their Relationship with the European Union

By Kitipov, Julian | Strategic Review for Southern Africa, May 2012 | Go to article overview

African Integration and Inter-Regionalism: The Regional Economic Communities and Their Relationship with the European Union


Kitipov, Julian, Strategic Review for Southern Africa


ABSTRACT

Since the end of the Cold War, the notion of regionalism in Africa has undergone, and is still undergoing, a process of transformation that includes reassessing its role, capabilities and design. However, the slow pace of continent-wide integration resulted in the creation of a new framework to address Africa's challenges. As the building blocks of regional integration, the Regional Economic Communities will need to contribute significantly to deepening regionalism. The geographical proximity with Europe has also played an important role in the integration of Africa. It has influenced (by virtue of imitation and also through specific inter-regional policies, mainly concerning development) institution-building, trade and other issues of common interest and concern. This article explores the drivers of regional integration as a form of multilateralism in Africa amid the strengths and weaknesses of African Regional Economic Communities.

1. INTRODUCTION

Since the end of the Cold War, the notion of regionalism in Africa has been undergoing a process of transformation that includes reassessing the role, capabilities and design of regionalism in this part of the world. However, the slow pace of continent-wide integration has resulted in the creation of a new framework for addressing Africa's challenges. This new framework is encapsulated in the Abuja Treaty, which makes provision for an African Economic Community (AEC) by 2030 and lays out six stages that must be followed to achieve this goal. As the building blocks of the AEC, African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) will need to contribute significantly to deepening regional integration. The original five RECs are different in shape and capability, but they all have one thing in common: they regard regions as politico-economic and, increasingly, as societal communities.

Africa's geographical proximity with Europe has also played an important role in the integration of Africa as a continent. African leaders sought to imitate the experience of the European Union (EU), because these leaders were interested in promoting greater stability and cooperation at a regional level, through specific interregional policies, mainly concerning development, institution-building, trade and other issues of common interest and concern.

This article explores the drivers of regional integration as a form of multilateralism in Africa in the context of the strengths and weaknesses of African RECs. The article is structured in two parts. The first part provides an overview of the conceptual and historical evolution of regional integration in Europe and Africa. The second looks more specifically at RECs as important pillars in the process of regionalisation in Africa and as key actors in the multilateral interaction between Africa and Europe. In its conclusion, the article attempts to answer the following question: is there a tendency on the part of the African Union (AU) and the EU to move from a bilateral AU-EU relationship towards an inter-regional and multilateral Africa-Europe partnership?

2. REGIONALISM, REGIONALISATION AND COOPERATION

Since the end of the Cold War, the debate on regional integration has become central to the study of contemporary regionalism, especially of its conceptualisation and forms. At present, the notion of 'new' regionalism includes the restructuring of borders, areas and territories, and it has also stressed the importance of societal phenomena and bottom-up dynamics, thereby broadening the development of peace and conflict studies and emerging as a vital element of integration studies. According to Deutsch (in Hentz 2003: 12), "integration is more of an assembling than of a growth from one stage to another". Therefore, the success of the new security cooperation depends on the way in which states formulate, integrate and coordinate their common policies.

After 1989, widespread acceptance that the dominant role of states in the regionalisation process was hampering integration in Europe led to a re-conceptualisation of regional formation. …

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