Global & International News

The high politics of/between two regionalisms

The high politics of/between two regionalisms

BUDAPEST — Since their mega-trade talks crumbled within the remaining years of the crisis-scarred 2000s, the European Union (EU) and the Affiliation of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have powered by means of together with rather more warning, though not at all less ambitiously.

As an alternative of a quixotic business compact that might conjoin two distant and numerous markets of roughly 18,5 trillion euros and one billion shoppers, Brussels is forging piecemeal offers that it hopes to quilt altogether into a future region-to-region free commerce agreement (FTA). The EU has already concluded proto-FTAs with Singapore and Vietnam, whereas bilateral negotiations are underway with Burma/Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Now prime canine from the 2 regionalist clubs self-style themselves as ‘pure partners’, ‘dedicated multilateralists’, and most lately ‘companions in integration’. Additionally they brazenly obsess about rejigging their relationship with a more strategic objective. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s outgoing overseas affairs supremo, enthused that ‘by means of our cooperation we are displaying in follow what it means to control globalisation’ in a speech on the 22nd EU-Asean ministerial hob-nob in Bangkok, Thailand. 

These (re)articulations are in fact not solely platitudinal. Beyond commerce, the EU engages with its Asean counterparts on multiple tiers and thematic areas, comparable to from showering beneficiaries with regional/national/substate improvement help to fostering the regionalisation of higher schooling mobility. Those bothered to get a chook’s eye view of these regionhood-building tasks might leaf via the newest blue ebook put collectively by the EU Mission to Asean.

Unsurprisingly what thickets of shiny reviews and political declarations conveniently sweep beneath the rug is that this: awkward tensions lurk behind the type of internationalism, or more precisely interregionalism, that the EU and Asean might need to chart politically. Coming to phrases with these contradictions matters if each side are to meaningfully reenergise their interregionalist aspirations.

Having stated that, my goal is to not recite the whole pastiche of EU involvements and pursuits in Asean, however moderately to problematise how their conflicting philosophies on worldwide governance in a globalised world might pressure, if not wreck, the prospects of closer political and economic cooperation as integrationist our bodies.

Here, let us depend on Volker Rittberger’s definition of worldwide governance as ‘the output of a non-hierarchical community of interlocking international (principally, but not solely, governmental) institutions which regulate the behaviour of states and other international actors in several situation areas of world politics’. As such, I ignore on objective different theories of governance, which rightly benefit a separate remedy. For instance, it’s turning into extra trendy in public coverage analysis to review how international organisations co-opt or orchestrate non-state intermediaries in pursuit of widespread international governance goals (Abbott et al., 2015). Indeed, the EU itself isn’t impervious to this oblique governance apply. In an try to enhance the business climate for EU small and medium enterprises abroad, the European Fee subcontracted a mandate to EU-oriented coverage entrepreneurs to affect regulatory and policy reforms in sure Asean markets. 

In what follows, I sketch out a ‘cognitive map’ of overlapping international governance issues set to pester EU and Asean policymakers within the coming years. Among other things, this newly minted Concepts on Europe weblog will inescapably return to those themes in succeeding commentaries in a departure from, and partly as a result of a somewhat private exasperation with, the standard Sinocentric debates dominating most European educational fora vis-à-vis ‘Asia’ nowadays. Because of my training, I’ll colour my studying of those difficulty areas by means of public coverage, political financial system, international relations, or postcolonial views.

When pigs fly

As ‘previous’ regional orders driven by statist forces, the EU and Asean advanced inside the bipolar context of the Cold Warfare. Nevertheless, neo-regionalists sometimes detest tying each regionalisms to the identical conceptual cart: the so-called Asean Method invokes ‘the process of regional cooperation and interaction based mostly on discreteness, informality, consensus-building, and non-confrontational bargaining types, which are often contrasted with the adversarial posturing, majority vote, and other legalistic decision-making procedures in western multilateral negotiations’ (Acharya 2001, p. 64).

Far from being a meaningless abstraction, Asean’s penchant for what Acharya (2004) calls organisational minimalism and informal non-legalistic approaches to cooperation neatly captures the area’s underlying ideological coordinates: the sanctity of state sovereignty and noninterference — a self-defensive response to the shared trauma of Southeast Asia’s colonial pasts. Right here, we immediately run into an obvious paradox: Asean articulates the Westphalian notion of recent nation-states to repel any European ‘meddlesomeness’, either perceived or actual.  Can we not exactly see these antagonisms in commerce-building efforts between the 2 golf equipment? It’s directly crucial to direct our gaze to northern free trade-ism not least because the EU is an elephantine economic integration enterprise in a position and prepared to pry open overseas markets, most of which are within the International South.

Regardless of sharing widespread integrationist ideals, the EU and Asean function as distinct political creatures. The notion of finalité politique is, in fact, an absolute non-starter in Asean’s worldview. The EU’s supranationalist strands, though besieged of late, stand awkwardly at odds with the type of fluid intergovernmentalism pedestaled by Asean states. Take their doomed region-to-region FTA negotiation, for example.  From the beginning, the EU and Asean had seen one another on an equal footing as complementary economic companions (Andreosso-O’Callaghan 2009). Yet they scuppered to succeed in an agreement. Why?

Whereas Brussels (which means to say: the European Commission) commands exclusive competence in commerce policy and may, subsequently, converse for EU member states in unison, Jakarta obviously doesn’t have the posh of speaking for the remaining nine Asean capitals in issues of external commerce. Dismayed, EU negotiators indirectly pinned the inertia to the absence in Asean of an institutionalised negotiating machinery. Perhaps more crucially, over-ambition uncloaked Asean’s unpreparedness to sign a classy FTA with the EU because of the former’s developmental heterogeneity and fierce opposition to tabled chapters on mental property rights, truthful competition, and government procurement.

Although the proto-FTAs with Singapore and Vietnam present that these variations may be overcome bilaterally, the EU should now confront at the least two issues. The primary relates to prickly points in regards to the mutual liberalisation of sensitive sectors, akin to agriculture and public procurement. Will commerce openness trump (pun meant) parochial pursuits which are averse to bargaining away sovereignty costs, particularly given the extremely defensive stature of the EU’s Widespread Agricultural Coverage and protectionist sentiments in agri-dependent Asean nations? We all know this is no straightforward feat contemplating the legislative trains for the Singaporean and Vietnamese FTAs have taken a mean of eight years to succeed in the ratification stage.

The second snag exposes a brutal pressure in the EU widespread business policy. Considering that the EU weds commerce and improvement aims vis-à-vis less industrialised markets, how will Brussels justify shifting in the direction of mutual trade liberalisation when most Asean states already benefit from its unilateral commerce preferences?

If we comply with the idea of political trade dependence, southern beneficiaries might elect to prematurely open their markets to northern patrons to ‘lock in’ their preferential standing and entry to rich-world markets (Manger & Shadlen 2014). Whether or not this can be a Faustian discount nonetheless puzzles economists right now.

In Asean, the EU gives various levels of commerce concessions to Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The first two danger dropping their particular status on account of looming EU commerce sanctions towards alleged human rights and democratic backsliding there. Because of policy innovations introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2007, this codified politicisation of trade conditionalities even in non-trade areas shouldn’t shock anybody because the EU sees itself as a group of norms and values, which frequently depart Asean governments suspicious of hoity-toity political opportunism by—dare I say—former overlords.

Noli me tangere

In subverting Spanish colonialism, José Rizal’s twin fin-de-siècle novels Noli me tangere and El filibusterismo are probably Southeast Asia’s greatest forgotten naturalistic literary articulations of indio/subaltern resistance to western imperialism. Then, as now, do Rizalian ideals not reverberate via newfangled, though maybe not completely defensible, assertions of self-governance, as ‘unruly’ Asean states detest the type of normative blackmailing typically brandished by the powers-that-be in Europe and America? 

Doesn’t the following script sound all too familiar by now? Toe the line, or else — we’ll pull the plug on overseas assist, we’ll droop your particular entry to our markets, or we’ll abandon whatever constructive obligations we’re so ‘altruistically’ discharging that will help you get out of your ungovernable misfortunes. 

In its report throughout Asean, the EU itself tends to face by normative beliefs, although not all the time, over politico-economic good points. Recall when its forerunner had did not improve the 1980 Asean-European Communities Cooperation Settlement resulting from human rights issues in the region in the course of the 1990s (Robles 2008). Recall additionally when the EU blacklisted Burma/Myanmar from its generalised system of preferences (GSP) and imposed robust financial sanctions towards the army regime in 1997 (Moeller 2007).

Not way back Brussels has initiated parliamentary proceedings with the view to withdraw its most preferential duty-free and quota-free concessions from Asean’s least developed nation (LDC) exporters because of the anti-opposition crackdown in Cambodia and the anti-Rohingya minority repression in Burma/Myanmar. The paradox right here is that, by imposing trade sanctions, the EU would successfully  cripple tens of millions of staff whose livelihoods finally rely on export-dependent sectors that provide to EU markets by the billion euros.

Curiously, commerce policy elites in Brussels seem unfazed by the documented civil rights abuses presided over by the ruling one-party regime in Vietnam, thereby leaving the FTA with Hanoi by far unmolested. Save official expressions of condemnation here and there, the EU has completed nothing to droop the Philippines’ GSP+ standing, whilst hundreds of lifeless our bodies piled up beneath Duterte’s wrath on illicit medicine. Nonetheless, Manila might danger being on the cusp of EU trade sanctions in mild of a renewed European push to research extra-judicial killings there by way of the UN.

To what extent can we detect neoliberal pursuits dictating EU policy right here? How does this ambivalent drive to penalise some and never others in pursuit of civilian and supposedly altruistic ends seize the EU as a ‘conflicted trade power’ (Meuner and Nicolaïdis 2006)? Can we ever reconcile the EU’s logic to externalise its normative values with Asean’s sensitivities towards overseas intrusions, if not neocolonialism?

The emperor has no clothes!

Anyone involved in case studies belying the ‘Fukuyamaistic’ end-of-history triumphalism ought to look no further than Asean. Is Asean’s prized principle of nonintervention not just a smokescreen to masks authoritarian tendencies from discerning outsiders, whilst its constitution avows ‘to strengthen democracy, improve good governance and the rule of regulation, and to promote and shield human rights and elementary freedoms’? Does it amount to what an Oxford scholar derides as ‘mere “organised hypocrisy” – sovereignty when it suits’?

Naturally the EU views the formation of the Asean Intergovernmental Fee on Human Rights in 2009 and the adoption of the Asean Human Rights Declaration in 2012 as necessary regional developments. But critics warning that Asean’s key motive in putting in a region-wide human rights physique is just not meant to religiously shield and promote human rights, but slightly to elude public scrutiny and criticism from its external partners (Muntarbhorn 2012).

In his ruthless coverage towards medicine and fetishism to reinstate capital punishment, Duterte appears to reject the emancipatory Rizalian beliefs of freedom and humanism and upend the small-l liberal social contract in post-Marcosian Philippines. In no unsure language Malacañang has rebuffed all EU and US official improvement assistance packages to cocoon itself from international strain to protect human rights and civil liberties.

Can we not see comparable cracks revealing the bounds of political democratisation in, for instance, Sen’s Cambodia and Suu Kyi’s Burma/Myanmar?

Illiberal politics aside, Asean stays technocratically open for business — in any case, what are those 1.000+ special financial zones peppered throughout area for, if to not strategically snap up overseas capital? 

Unsavoury political institutions in quite a few Asean capitals make life harder for Brussels. Is there not a type of Orbánism in Southeast Asia: states defanging democratic establishments, but embracing economic openness to gasoline the area’s industrialisation movements?

Muddling by means of —

A reality of life for middling and small states in Asean remains the best way to mediate and average external influences via what Beeson (2003) calls ‘reactionary regionalism’. There isn’t a denying that a triumvirate of Chinese language, Japanese, and American pursuits jockey for influence within the area’s worldwide politics. 

Small marvel, then, that Asean typically provides the EU the political cold shoulder. Non-invitation to formally be a part of the East Asia Summit, an Asean-centric strategic regional agora the place major international powers are represented, understandably frustrates the overseas coverage brass in Brussels, though which will end quickly. For now, it is clear that the EU must soothe the region’s reputable considerations relating to potential European overrepresentation in the forum.

The long-standing maritime tiff between Asean states and China also uncovers the type of suasion the EU tasks externally: normative energy over realpolitik. Although the EU’s financial and delivery pursuits in the contested waters are clear, Brussels rightly kept away from ‘rocking the boat’ when the Everlasting Courtroom of Arbitration dominated three years ago in favour of the Philippines and towards China’s nine-dash line coverage. While the US and Australia brazenly referred to as on China to heed the arbitral ruling, the response from Brussels did nothing of this type, as potential EU engagement relates extra to shaping worldwide governance frameworks on maritime safety and assets.

The inchoate interregionalism between the EU and Asean doesn’t sound a demise knell for what may be effectively achieved by each partners. As a result of it supports the notion of ‘Asean centrality’ and an ‘Asean-led regional architecture’ in East Asia, the EU itself tacitly agrees that it’s finally in Asean’s arms to form or pressure the course of their interregionalist ambitions. Though Brussels and Jakarta will continue to comply with disagree over the difficulty of human rights, there’s ample area to collaborate on worldwide governance points, even when meaning the new EU leadership would pursue in follow an advert hoc interregionalism in parallel with bilateral initiatives.

Two strategic coverage areas immediately stand out: local weather change and counterterrorism. As advocates of the Paris Settlement, the EU and Asean discover mutually useful preferences in mainstreaming clean-tech and low-carbon options in all sectors, especially power era and manufacturing. Relatedly, given Asean’s predominantly coastal topography, the rising idea of ‘blue financial system’ presents collaborative alternatives to share greatest practices on marine governance aimed toward putting a stability between blue progress and climate resilience.

The Marawi disaster (2017) and Jolo bombing (2019) in southern Philippines exhibit ISIS infiltration in Asean and bare the region’s vulnerability to international terrorism. As international security companions, EU and Asean governments stand to realize from beefing up joint counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing initiatives the place widespread consent and curiosity may be discovered. That the EU welcomes Asean’s ‘enhanced involvement’ in its CSDP activities is a step in the fitting path.

In pursuit of these and other worldwide governance objectives by the EU and Asean, the problem forward is obvious: easy methods to translate joint ambitions to effective actions by means of present interregionalist dialogue mechanisms and other fit-for-purpose outfits, similar to ASEM, ARF, and APEC.

To paraphrase a worn-out truism: The devil is in the details (and supply).


  1. Abbott, Kenneth W. et al. (eds). International Organisations as Orchestrators. Cambridge: Cambridge College Press, 2015.
  2. Acharya, Amitav. ‘How Ideas Spread: Whose Norms Matter? Norm Localization and Institutional Change in Asian Regionalism’. International Group 58 (2004): 239–275.
  3. Acharya, Amitav. Developing a Security Group in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Drawback of Regional Order. London: Routledge, 2001.
  4. Andreosso-O’Callaghan, Bernadette. ‘How Is the EU-ASEAN FTA Seen by ASEAN Stakeholders?’ Asia Europe Journal 7 (2009): 63–78. 
  5. Beeson, Mark. ‘ASEAN Plus Three and the Rise of Reactionary Regionalism’. Modern Southeast Asia 25, no. 2 (2003): 251–268. 
  6. Manger, Mark, and Shadlen, Kenneth. ‘Political Commerce Dependence and North–South Trade Agreements’. International Studies Quarterly 58, no. 1 (2014): 79–91. 
  7. Meunier, Sophie, and Kalypso Nicolaïdis. ‘The European Union as a conflicted commerce energy’. Journal of European Public Policy 13, no. 6 (2006): 906–925.
  8. Moeller, Joergen. ‘ASEAN’s Relations with the European Union: Obstacles and Opportunities’. Modern Southeast Asia 29 (2007): 465–482. 
  9. Muntarbhorn, Vitit. ‘Improvement of the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism’, Briefing Paper, Directorate-Basic for External Policies, European Parliament, 2012.
  10. Robles, Alfredo Jr. ‘The EU and ASEAN: Learning from the Failed EU-Mercosur FTA Negotiations’. ASEAN Economic Bulletin 25, no. three (2008): 334–344.

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