A common definition of regional integration begins with an understanding of what the term 'region' means. This is most often described a "territorially based subsystems of the international system" (Allied Consultants, 2002). When regions develop pacts or alliances with each other to accomplish what each region could not accomplish on its own, regional integration has occurred (Allied Consultants, 2002). Very often, the territory is a country or a nation-state. Some examples of regional integration alliances include the North Atlantic Free Trade Area (NAFTA), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) (Allied Consultants, 2002). The relative success or failure of any of these or the many others that exist is a an issue that is frequently debated.
A primary purpose of regional integration alliances is to promote a more open or more liberal trading arrangement. Very often, it is only through this type of arrangement that some nation-states can become more involved in global trade. One of the most successful alliances is the European Union. In fact, more than a decade ago, Ruggiero (1997) asserted that the European Union was the best example of regional alliances for many reasons.
The European Union did not suddenly happen overnight or even over a few years. It was a long time in the making. The European Economic Community was established initially in 1957, long before the average person in the world knew about it (Oxfam Education, 2007). This alliance had two primary objectives: to forestall another war, i.e., to encourage and foster peace within the region, and to open trade between the countries who were members of the alliance (Oxfam Education, 2007). Over the years, the alliance changed its name to the European Union and became a large political organization with rules and institutions (Oxfam Education, 2007).
There are now three major organizations in the European Union (EU): the European Commission, located in Brussels; the Council of Ministers, also in Brussels, and the European Parliament, which has offices in Brussels and in Strasbourg, France (Oxfam Education, 2007). There are other organizations, as well, including the Central European Bank (Oxfam Education, 2007).
There are many advantages and also disadvantages to being a member of the EU. On the positive side, the alliance offers a market of about 400 million people; citizens of any of the member states may travel freely between and among other member states, and there is a much broader choice for products and services for all the citizens (Oxfam Education, 2007). These advantages include no restrictions on the sale and purchase of goods, citizens may gain employment in another state without any other papers and the more open marketplace translates into higher quality and lower consumer costs in the most competitive industries (Oxfam Education, 2007).
On the negative side is the fact that some member stats believe the institutions governing the EU have far too much power, leaving member states with less power to govern their own nations (Oxfam Education, 2007). The people most affected by the decisions made by the various governing bodies in the EU, such as individual citizens, have little or no say in those decisions (Oxfam Education, 2007). There are also many who believe there are far too many regulations and many of them make no sense (Oxfam Education, 2007).
The member states of the European Union would not have the same opportunity for global trade in isolation. For instance, the largest trade relationship in the world is between the EU and the U.S. (External Trade, 2007). The European Union reported that the EU and the US "economies are interdependent to a high degree" (External Trade, 2007). And, the intention is to continue to promote trade between the two. This was reaffirmed at a Summit on April 30, 2007 when the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission and the President of the United States all signed the "Framework for Advancing Transatlantic Economic Integration between the USA and the EU" (External Trade, 2007). One of the agreements in this document is to establish a Transatlantic Economic Council to oversee and guide more trade between the two political bodies (External Trade, 2007).
Conflict resolution is another huge advantage to regional alliances. Stefanova (2006) said the member states of the EU are extremely diverse, in fact, the European Continent has changed dramatically over the last few decades. This author believes it is the European Union alliance that has brought more stability to the area and minimized the possibility of armed conflict (Stefanova, 2006). The institution provides a venue to resolving conflicts and encouraging peace and interdependence (Stefanova, 2006). While we all know there have been atrocities, such as genocide, committed in many regions, such as Yugoslavia, the EU has taken it upon itself to make a strong commitment towards peace-keeping efforts (Stefanova, 2006).
There are always going to be positives and negatives associated with any regional integration alliance. They do give smaller countries more opportunities to participate in the global market and they do take away certain powers of individual nations. After all these years, the European Union continues to evolve but the final word is that it is a successful alliance.
- Allied Consultants. (2002). Our Definition Of Regional Integration. Retrieved April 2, 2008, from http://www.allied-co.com/ri/ri/004010000.html.
- External Trade. (2007). Bilateral Trade Relations. USA. Retrieved April 2, 2008, from European Commission http://ec.europa.eu/trade/issues/bilateral/countries/usa/index_en.htm.
- Ruggiero, Renato. (1997, November 7). Regional initiatives, global impact: cooperation and the multilateral system. Retrieved April 2, 2008, from the World Trade Organization http://www.wto.org/English/news_e/sprr_e/rome2_e.htm.
- Stefanova, Boyka. (2006, October). Regional Integration as a System of Conflict Resolution: The European Experience. World Affairs 169(2), 81.
- Oxfam GB. (2007). The European Union. Retrieved April 2, 2008, from http://www.oxfam.org.uk/education/resources/milking_it/milkingit/information/international_orgs/international_orgs_eu.htm.