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We are living in the era of supranational integration and regionalism: EU and beyond

Today we are living in the era of a supranationalized and regionalized world with, for example, the European internal market, the North American Free Trade Area, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation or Southern Common Market. With the help of regionalism and supranationalism, the members of these organizations come together to act as a unified voice. They compete with the rest of the world with their partners for common profits. Today regionalism and supranationalism are a part of a fundamental structural transformation and change in the global political economy. Especially, after the WWII, the states in the world started to seek to establish regional structures to promote coordination and cooperation in order to attend shared goals and encounter common threats. However, to better this paper, we need to understand the two concepts “supranational integration” and “regionalism”.

Supranational integration is a process of multi-national integration where negotiated power is delegated to an authority by governments of member states”. (1)Regionalism is the expression of a common sense of identity and purpose combined with the creation and implementation of institutions that express a particular identity and shape collective action within a geographical region”. (2) Regionalism doesn’t just happen. It takes place with support of political factors (power dynamics, identity and ideology, internal and external threats, domestic politics, and leadership) and economic factors. (3) As many scholars indicated, regionalism isn’t a new phenomenon, but (especially) after the end of the WWII, it became one of the prominent concepts in international relations. For instance, there were economic, regional blocks before the WWII. If we speak broadly, regional movements were realized under different forms throughout the history, such as unions (i.e. Zollverein, customs unions among German principalities in 1800s), confederations (i.e. German Confederation of 1815-1866), pacts (i.e. Warsaw Pact founded in 1955), and leagues (i.e. Arab League founded in 1919). Many of them were established for defensive purposes and not all of them were based on voluntary assent. (4) On the other hand, regionalism was seen as an important strategy for achieving regional security, peace, development and welfare, especially in Europe and third world.

In this paper, we have 10 examples written in italics to explain today’s world which is based on supranationalism and regionalism.

“The United Nations (UN) system, formed after the WWII, promoted the establishment of regional agencies in order to settle regional disputes down. ” (5) Its Charter stressed the role of regional institutions and accepted them as the first resort in dealing with disputes among their members. Its foundation is based on keeping peace in the world because we saw that the wars in the history were because of the lack of an organization whose power is accepted by every state, so the UN system solved (!) this problem.

In the framework of the old regionalism (6), the main goal was to prevent frequent and bloody wars between neighbors and to secure lasting peace. In this period, at one level East-West division created an exemplary of a regional system. The Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) sought to deliver peace and security to their members. NATO is the most highly organized regional security organization in the world. It began as a Cold War military alliance, designed, in the words of its first secretary-general, Lord Ismay, “to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down”. It has long been far more than just a treaty of alliance, and since the Cold War’s end has undergone a major transformation. (7) Still, debate persists about its mission in the post-Cold War world.

At another level, Fawcett argues that the European Community project became a powerful model, which was based on the idea of economic community, but assured security and spread of democracy as well. (8) The European Union (EU) is a unique entity that has become deeply institutionalized and involves far more commitment than any regional organization. Whereas the initial steps involved only 6 Western European states, today 28 states are full members. The EU’s development embodies a process of integration, where steps taken in one area have spilled over into others over time. (9) It encompasses aspects of both supranationalism and inter-govermentalism. Its development has involved both the widening of membership and the deepening of ties among the members, integrating economies and societies more closely and expanding the authority of community institutions over members. Today, much of the policymaking in Europe is made in Brussels through the institutions of the community. The EU affects the daily lives of its about 500 million citizens, who can now move freely between most of the members and carry EU passports. Furthermore, today the EU tries to be member of the UN as a unified voice. It also negotiates with the USA to create a free trade area. This shows the characteristics of the European Union as a global player and also its proactive relationship with other regional organizations.

Arab League (AL) and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): being one of the most conflict-prone regions of the world, the Middle East is a region which renders difficult to achieve goals. These Arab Unity projects ascended as the Western imperialism declined in the region. (10) The region has long been the centre of crisis, conflicts and wars. So as a result, it’s important to analyze the role of these organizations for keeping the in a peaceful environment. There exist a number of regional and sub-regional organizations in the Middle East, but AL and GCC are the most prominent ones of the region in the international scene.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) presented in 1994 by the USA, Canada and Mexico represented an important neoliberal initiative. Tariff elimination played an important role to shape this economic integration. However, it also provided political opportunities for cross-border solidarity, especially under the provisions of its labor side accord. In a number of ways, NAFTA illustrates a unique integration process in an emerging region. More than just an economic process, it has accelerated the flow of people, cultures, food, music, and sports across the borders. The trade brought 3 significant powers together that are agreed to reinforce health, safety, and industrial standards to the highest existing standards among them. Today, it is one of the most powerful and wide-reaching treaties in the world, governing the entire spectrum of trade and commerce in the North America.

African Union was established as a regional power in 1999. The most important reason to create this supranational organization was to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity. The objectives of AU are to reach greater unity, to speed political and socio-economic integration, to promote peace, security and stability on this continent. In the continent, they try to unify all African powers like the EU does in Europe. Also, they are acting according to their economic relations that are relevant with trade and economic cooperation.

Another example for regional integration is the Shanghai Cooperation (SCO). It is a Eurasian political, economic and military organization whose members are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The main subjects of establishing such a regional organization were to strengthening mutual confidence and good-neighborly relations among the member countries, promoting their effective cooperation in various fields, making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region and to move towards the establishment of a new and rational political and economic international order. We believe that the SCO is the continuation of Warsaw Pact because Russia tries to keep its ideological friends in a body.

MERCOSUR is an economic and political agreement that founded among Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela and Uruguay in 1991 to promote free trade. It is another regional integration example. It seeks the free transit of produced goods, services, and factors among the member states. It tries to promote free trade and the fluid movement of goods, people, and currency. It’s mainly relevant with free transit of production goods, services and factors between the member states, the elimination of customs rights and lifting of nontariff restrictions on the transit of goods or any other measures with similar effects. On this region the members and founders of this integration are working on solidarity, cooperation and coordination.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a political and economic organization in the Southeast Asia. It was formed by 10 countries in 1967. The idea for such an institution based on the norm of cooperative security came out of exchanges among Asian and Western security. It has been successful in establishing a prototype regional indentify and reducing military conflict in South Asia. Furthermore, “it continues to provide an important forum for Southeast Asians to project their voice on the international stage.” (11)

Briefly, regional cooperation schemes are becoming more influential on the global arena. The European Union, for instance, is an important actor in the global trading regime. This might signal a transition between two trading orders – a transition from the old trading regime of national states to the new trading regime of regional blocs. At that point, the examples above show us that today’s world is based on supranationalism and regionalism. Also, we are sure that instead of international relations, inter-regional relations will be more visible, such as the EU in the UN; EU with the USA and AU; Shanghai with/ vs. NATO, Arab League with MERCOSUR, and ASEAN with NAFTA and etc. Thus, this multipolarism among regional powers has changed the international order and will change more than in the future.

Hacı Mehmet BOYRAZ, Gediz Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler (2.sınıf) & Siyaset Bilimi ve Kamu Yönetimi (Çift Ana Dal)

27 May 2014

Main Sources

  1. E.J. Hobsbawm, “The Age of Empire”, First Vintage Books Edition, 1989
  2. Fahir Armaoğlu, “20. Yüzyıl Siyasi Tarihi”, Alkım Yayınları, 1999
  3. Henry Kissinger, “Diplomasi”, Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2014


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supranational_union (17.05.2014)
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regionalism_%28international_relations%29 ( 17.05.2014)
  3. Margaret P. Karns and Karen A. Mingst, “International Organizations”, Lynne Rieener Publishers, Second Edition, p. 148.
  4. Merve Şen, “Analyzing the League of Arab States and the Gulf Cooperation Council within the framework of security regionalism in the middle east”, 2011, p. 15.
  5. Majid Khadduri, “The Arab League as a Regional Arrangement”, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1946, p. 770.
  6. To understand the difference between old regionalism and new regionalism look at the table
  7. Margaret P. Karns and Karen A. Mingst, “International Organizations”, Lynne Rieener Publishers, Second Edition, p. 148.
  8. Fawcett, “Exploring Regional Domains…”, p. 437.
  9. Margaret P. Karns and Karen A. Mingst, “International Organizations”, Lynne Rieener Publishers, Second Edition, p. 160.
  10. Margaret P. Karns and Karen A. Mingst, “International Organizations”, Lynne Rieener Publishers, Second Edition, p. 211.
  11. https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/contemporary_southeast_asia_a_journal_of_international_and_ strategic_affairs/v025/25.1.dupont.pdf (17.05.2014)

Appendix 1

 (5) (Source: Hettne and Söderbaum, “Cross Cutting Issues”, Chapter 5, p.183)


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