EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Sir,

The European Union (EU) is due to publish its long-awaited ‘Communication on Regional Integration in ACP countries’ soon.

The document represents a welcome update of the EU’s strategy of supporting regional integration worldwide, last laid out extensively in 1995. In the intervening years, regional integration has leapt to the forefront of the global agenda, as increasing globalisation has led states to conclude that many of their most pressing problems – issues such as climate change, pandemics and armed conflict – can only be dealt with at the supra-state level.

The EU has acknowledged this trend, and is today without doubt the world’s leading proponent of regional integration. It actively backs dozens of regional integration schemes, both close-to-home (e.g., the much-touted new ‘Union for the Mediterranean’) and further afield (it has collaborated with the Association of South East Asian Nations since 1980), lending technical, financial and moral support.

The EU has impeccable credentials in regional integration, given its own largely successful coalescence into a single entity over the last 50 years. Cognizant of its unique comparative advantages, eager to strengthen its relations with far-flung parts of the globe and sincerely believing that regional integration contributes to the establishment of a more peaceful, prosperous and just world system, the EU has found the correct framework for handling many of its international relations.

While the policy largely makes sense, however, its application has not always been well-thought out. The case of East Africa is revelatory: there the EU is undertaking a range of regional integration projects, from helping to finance the East African Community’s (EAC) soon-to-be-completed headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania to providing technical assistance with the development of an EAC common market. In July, the EU also co-organised a high-level conference in Dar es Salaam on ‘Accelerating Regional Integration in Eastern and Southern Africa’. The conference brought together dozens of African ministers and development partners, and while there were interesting debates at times, the event was plagued by the EU’s mistaken belief that Eastern Africa, parts of Southern Africa, and the island nations of the Indian Ocean somehow all constitute a single ‘region’.

The organisers should instead have realised that no less than five separate African regional organisations were represented at the conference (COMESA, EAC, IGAD, COI, and SADC); the difficulty in organizing a conference at such a broad level is that the states present looked to get very different and occasionally incompatible benefits from regional integration.

The EU’s problem of targeting the wrong region is not limited to Africa. In South America, for example, the EU has a disturbing pattern of vacillating between supporting limited regional organisations, such as Mercosur and the Andean Community, and wider integration schemes, be they at the continental level or in even broader configurations (i.e., including Central America and the Caribbean). The latter, while having the benefit of being inclusive, rarely allow for the political intensity that can move integration along. The EU thus undermines one of its most promising and distinctive foreign policies by failing to focus on the most appropriate regional levels, substituting breadth for depth.

To be fair to Brussels, finding the appropriate level for each part of the world can occasionally be a very difficult and subjective task, as academics can attest to. However, the solution is not to lump dozens of countries together into the broadest bureaucratic categories possible, such as ‘Eastern and Southern Africa’.

Hopefully the EU’s new strategy document will maintain and strengthen the policy of promoting regional integration while demonstrating some new thinking on how best to apply it.

Nicolas de Zamaróczy is pursuing a Ph.D. in International Relations at the University of Southern California. He can be reached at nicolas.dezamaroczy@usc.edu.

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Comments

  1. Dear Sirs,

    It is good to see and read public debates about the EU’s regional cooperation with different parts of the world. Such debates and exchanges are needed because much can be improved. Whether the recent EC Communication on regional integration is a step in the right direction is still to be seen.

    However, the piece submitted by Mr. Zamaróczy shows that scholars need to carefully study the issues before they criticize the ECs Africa policy. There is much that must be done better so views and opinions are welcome. That said, scholars need to understand the underlying factors on which EU policy and implementation issues are based.

    Mr Zamaróczy thus totally misses the target with regard to the criticism of the EU’s regional cooperation with Eastern and Southern Africa. The EC decision (taken back in 2002) to cooperate with EAC, COMESA, IOC and IGAD within one framework was (and is) based on the problem of overlapping membership and mandates of these regional integration organization. The EC has – rightly – decided not to support similar and mutually exclusive integration processes in eastern and southern Africa. Rather – and in line with the AU harmonization process and the EAC-COMESA-SADC Tripartite – the EC has decided to ensure that development finance is used more effectively by providing incentives for harmonization and coordination among these organizations and their integration efforts. The underlying issue here is that countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda are member of several of these regional organizations, and that depend and widened of regional integration can’t move ahead as long as status quo is maintained.

    That said Mr. Zamaróczy is right in stressing the need for improved EC cooperation with the regional organizations in Africa. However, the main challenges are still at the level of implementation rather than on the policy level.

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