Global Politics

by Andrew Heywood

Chapter 20 Notes: Regionalism and Global Politics

  • What is regionalism, and what are the main forms it has taken?
  • Why has regionalism grown in prominence?
  • What is the relationship between regionalism and globalization?
  • How does regionalism in Europe differ from regionalism in other parts of the world?
  • What is the nature and significance of European integration?

The common view that world politics is being reconfigured on global lines has been increasingly challenged by the rival image of an emerging 'world of regions'. In this view, regionalism is both the successor to the nation-state and an alternative to globalization. Since 1945, regional organizations have sprung up in all parts of the world. The first phase of this process peaked in the 1960s, but the advance of regionalism has been particularly notable since the late 1980s. This has given rise to the phenomenon of the so-called 'new' regionalism. Whereas earlier forms of regionalism had promoted regional cooperation, and even integration, over a range of issues – security, political, economic and so on – the 'new' regionalism has been reflected in the creation of regional trade blocs, either the establishment of new ones or the strengthening of existing ones. Some even believe that this is creating a world of competing trading blocs. But what are the main forces driving regional integration? Is regionalism the enemy of globalization, or are these two trends interlinked and mutually reinforcing? Does the advance of regionalism threaten global order and stability? Without doubt, the most advanced example of regionalism anywhere in the world is found in Europe. The European Union (EU) has engaged in experiments with supranational cooperation that have involved political and monetary union as well as economic union. In the process, it has developed into a political organization that is neither, strictly speaking, a conventional international organization nor a state, but has features of each. How is the EU best understood? To what extent does the EU constitute an effective global actor, or even a superpower? And is the European experience of integration unique to Europe itself, or does it constitute a model for the rest of the world to follow?

  • Regionalism is a process through which geographical regions become significant political and/or economic units, serving as the basis for cooperation and, possibly, identity. Regionalism takes different forms depending on whether the primary areas for cooperation are economic, security or political.
  • The tendency towards regional integration, and particularly European experiments with supranational cooperation, have stimulated theoretical debate about the motivations and processes through which integration and institution-building at the international level are brought about. Federalism, functionalism and neofunctionalism are the main theories of regional integration.
  • So-called 'new' regionalism is essentially economic in character, usually taking the form of the development of regional trade blocs. However, while some see these trade blocs as the building blocks of globalization, enabling states to engage more effectively with global market forces, others see them as stumbling blocks, defensive bodies designed to protect economic or social interests from wider competitive pressures.
  • Although forms of regionalism have emerged in Asia, Africa and the Americas, regional integration has been taken furthest in Europe, precipitated by a particular, and possibly unique, set of historical circumstances. The product of this process, the EU, is nevertheless a very difficult political organization to categorize.
  • The EU's capacity to act within the global system as a single entity has been enhanced by attempts to develop a common foreign defence policy. Nevertheless, tensions between 'Atlanticists' and 'Europeanists', sensitivity about the implications of security regionalism for NATO and the EU's relationship with the USA, and anxieties about the erosion of state sovereignty each help to explain why progress on this issue has been slow.
  • After the renewed impetus that was injected into European integration in the 1980s and 1990s, concerns have emerged about the stalling of the European project. These have been associated with tensions between the goals of widening and deepening, about the EU's declining global competitiveness, and about whether or not monetary union can be made to work in the long run.