Can the EU Serve as an Integration Model for ASEAN?

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18th Feb 2019 International Relations Reference this


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The age old saying of “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” has served as a clichéd phrase to adequately illustrate and paint the canvas of the archetypal process, exemplar standard or the perfect specimen isn’t the only path to success. This expression has been applicable as life advice, in competitive sports, career choices, as well as habitual daily-life in achieving greatness, the idiom has also lent to International Relations. Cooperation at any level is considered an achievement in all respectful fields; the ability to set aside differences, identify commonality for a purpose and the overlapping determination in reaching that ambition. The success of cooperating in International Relations takes the form of nation states coming together in alliance on the basis of commonality towards an ambitious goal, furthering into nation states in regions linking arms in pursuit for a collective objective. This profound bond is the grouping of nation states in a region exuding behaviors as a collective who understand differences, identify common interests and strive towards a unified goal. The examples of regionalization would be of the European Union, the EU, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN. While the two regional groupings have been known to be successful, the level of integration between the two differ quite considerably. The EU’s level of integration furthers ASEAN by many folds; the ability to integrate not only areas for free trade, but the unification of the market, currency, common passport, a customs union and a commonality in foreign policy as a region all through a common institution. The overwhelming success of the European Union dwarfs that of ASEAN where the Asian counterpart has only been able to achieve integration regionally through free trade and economic movement. The difference in level of integration begs the question of whether the EU model has the ability to befit that of ASEAN and provide guidelines and prove to be exemplar in regional integration. To begin whether the EU model is capable of providing as a structural guideline for ASEAN, we inspect the circumstances of the purpose each integration from its origins, and examine the validity of the two then systematically determine whether the EU model is capable of befitting that of ASEAN to achieve paralleling success in the East.

The integration of the European Union is herald as the greatest union of nation states in a region, highest achievement in integration of a common currency, customs union, single market, common passport and foreign policy under a common institution. The ability for the members to share sovereignty and surrender to a collective long-term goal of a regional cooperation above domestic interests creates a supportive environment in channeling political will. The European Union marked the pioneer for regional integration which exhibited a collective ideology of a ‘community approach’ rather than the traditional balance of power mode accrediting Robert Schuman of France and Konrad Andenauer of Germany. The collective to channel political will led to the construction of a legally binding common institution which oversaw the integration project. This Western model empowered the consensus approach with a pronged initiative of solidarity and tolerance by not isolating any member regarding major domestic issues of a banking crisis resulting in an increase in public debt. Greece represents the first test to the European Union’s Single currency resulting in a great increase in both public debt and deficit. The consensus approach meant that Union were hesitant in decision-makings as well as implementing policies until the vast majority of member states were pursued to collectively pursue and implement such policies. The process of proposals passed through the Working Party, then to the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) then finally a Council configuration secures that a proposal befits the interests of the entire Union. The willingness to provide significant financial transfer to help poorer members catch up with the collective norm meant that stronger members in the Union saw the importance of financial weaker nation states and placed collective will power above domestic interests but meant a lag and a pull back on financial capabilities for further advancements.

Under the leadership of France and Germany meant that Paris and Berlin were the driving force behind the EU integration, and under this leadership can attribute to the success of the integration itself in the ability for the two countries to overlook historical differences between the two and step together for a success of a better tomorrow. The critical element that make regionalism successful in Europe in achieving the European Union was the ability to push aside differences; the capability in reconciling historical pasts. With historical reconciliation, especially between France and Germany with a turbulent historical past of the war of 1870, the First and Second World War. The reconciliation brought the cohesion that allowed for the development of relationship building and the necessary political will for cooperation and ultimately integration. The achievement through years of sustained political effort from leaders of both countries paved way that facilitated the mend of commonality towards sculpting a regional community. This is a reflection of the European Union’s ability and ‘community approach’ and through a common institution of the European Econmic Community formed a Free Trade Area, instill a Customs Union that led to a Single Market and Single Currency. The regional cooperation of economics wasn’t the limit as foreign policy overlapped amongst the members which allowed for a common passport. These aspects and byproducts through political will in achieving an ambitious common goal forged an atmosphere of peace, prosperity and security in the European environment.

With an ambitious idea seen through to the very end can prove to solidify and validate the EU model of integration especially in its historical record of responding to crisis. The validity of cooperation is tested in the face of turmoil and with such response by the European Union model, this integration has proved time and time again that in crisis it has responded astoundingly, as well establish mechanisms that eliminate repeating failures. Crisis that brought leveraged adversity namely the failed plan for a European Community in 1954 led to the creation of the European Economic Community, the EEC, the empty chair crisis of 1965 led to the de facto acceptance of the Qualified Majority Voting reflecting the consensus approach, QMV, and its eventual acceptance resulting in the 1986 Single European Act. A currency crisis of the 1980s birthed to the European Monetary System and ultimately the Euro, and finally the demise of communism in Europe led to the establishment of a common foreign and security policy paving way for the widest enlargement EU members into the Union’s integration.

In retrospect, there were many requirements that had to be met for numerous nation states to come together in unison linked by interests. Requirements that places the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the test in its own integration. The process of the European integration may have had the head start and set an example to other regions for the strive for regionalism but the European Union isn’t without flaws, flaws that once examined may unveil why the Western model is ill suited for ASEAN. The European Union has been the most developed model of regional integration, although historically through common institutions and the sharing of sovereignty for problem solving, recent crises haven’t been handled well. Shaken by an economic and financial crisis, and the lack of a timely and coherent response to the Eurozone crisis called into question the integrity of the union and increased doubts of the integration process altogether. The financial crisis revealed structural and institutional fault lines which led to a decline of the Western orientated world power into one that gave rise to Asia and its market power. Mechanisms in place that aimed to reverse or buffer the effects of the economic and financial crisis were economic adjustments or austerity measures but came off as threatening towards domestic affairs. The adjustments allowed for the fragility of political cohesion and stability; the Lisbon Treaty, also known as the Reform Treaty, that replaced the European Constitution. One of major changes of the Lisbon Treaty will be the new president of the European council with two and half year term which will replace the current presidency rotating between member states every six months. Although the Lisbon Treaty sought a reform that would restructure leadership, it paved way for a failure that would undermine the integrity of the shared collective that the European union herald greatly. The obstacle that the Lisbon Treaty faced was that Ireland placed the Lisbon Treaty on referendum, and the Irish public did not accept the Treaty and rejected its ratification. With this wave of doubt in the ratification, the Czech Senate voted for the Lisbon but lacked the signatory approval of the Czech president, without such proved his Euro-Skeptic attitudes towards it sand fueled a demonstration of the Czech public who shared disapproval of this Treaty. With this apparent failure convinced the interests to stray away from any further institutional changes, “More Europe, no more.” This example explores that a regional restricting that a shared collective no longer spreads the region evenly, the region’s interest has slowly diminished and national interests have overtaken decisions made in this Union. Evident of this change of heart is Germany’s shift in perception, as one of the strongest advocate and champ of integration, Germany leaned towards the skeptic camp as well as issuing public doubts of the Eurozone.

The growing urgency rising from the problems of the European Union is that rapid integration without commensurate strengthening of political and economic institutions. The emerging gaps can allow for lessons to be learned by other regional groupings in terms of institutional capacity and necessary coordination in integration. The challenges that follows of the EU integration can be accredited to fiscal coordination, amidst a worsening of economic outlook the reform adjustments to cleanse the financial system with austerity measures led to fragility of economies of EU member states like Greece, Spain, Portugal and renewed speculation in the financial market.  The second challenge that the European Union faces is a long-standing identity crisis, the Eurozone with 16 members, European Union members allotting at 27 issues a high number heterogeneity.  The attachment of European capital to national sovereignty and its reluctance to give power to Brussels for decision making lends to a decrease in the willingness to share sovereignty. On a recent note, at the Copenhagen climate change conference in December 2009, the EU inability to collectively voice at the conference revealed the Union’s weakness as an international actor. The conclusion of the conference ended with the EU agreeing to a deal that leaders of the region agreed that “no deal would have been a better deal”, endorsing a deal with no legal bindings, and an informal setting of promises to curb emissions speaks volumes on EU being unable to assert itself at the most critical juncture on the world stage and stains the legacy of its integration and its ability to conform to differences and shared sovereignty in the region. If the deal wasn’t endorsed, it would have rallied a collective of voices who share the sentiment that such a deal would make no changes to the environment. The European Union in many of its successes poses numerous present-day challenges that undermine the achievements of this regional integration, its inability to respond to difficulties of a financial crisis and the burdening increase of doubt spreading throughout the region on the crumble of an aligned collective interest.

The Asian counterpart to the European Union is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also known as ASEAN. When foreign ministers from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore came together to sign the Bangkok Declaration on August 8th, 1976 it established this newly founded association, in hopes to manage and contain intra-regional conflicts. The Association grew to ten members with the additional Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The goal extended to maintaining peace, and bringing stability in a community marred by war to ensure that each member is free to pursue domestic development in their respective nations. The success of ASEAN was the ability to house a community of nations whom were independent and sovereign with different historical pasts, multitudes in diversity of languages and beliefs and rarely any overlap of culture to peacefully co-exist. Aspects of diversifying historical pasts, and intra-regional conflicts didn’t hinder the forging of the association, the ten Southeast Asian nations were able to overcome suspicions of one another and set aside latent hostilities.

ASEAN in its inception established a means of non-intervention and non-binding agreement, the inability to impose disciplines on any of its members. The approach to the ASEAN model is under the foundation of consultation and consensus which allows for a decision based on the majority before implementation. In attesting the ASEAN model, the process and approach to solving issues relies on the ‘ASEAN Way’ that reflects and respects cultural norms in Southeast Asia,

“A working process or style that is informal and personal. Policymakers constantly utilize compromise consensus, and consultation in the informal decision-making process. Quiet diplomacy allows ASEAN leaders to communicate without bringing the discussions into the public view.”

(Masilamni and Peterson)

ASEAN did indeed progress but without flaws and missteps of their own, this Asian collective failed to resemble the progress of the EU with historical pasts unreconciled and still damaging relationships between Southeast Asian members. For example, the dispute of the Preah Vihear Temple located in Cambodia standing as a World Heritage site, struggled to resolve with Thailand. The historical site stands on Cambodian sovereignty but was under Thai occupation until Cambodia’s independence in 1954. The UN has granted that Thailand remove military personnel as the site rightfully belongs to Cambodia, this territorial dispute has sparks major clashes between the border of the neighboring Southeast Asian countries. One settled by the United Nations through the International Court of Justice but stands as contention between Cambodia and Thailand. Reconciliation hasn’t been an agenda between the two over a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

Although there are territorial disputes, and misalignment in political institutions, ASEAN is by far the most advanced of cooperatives amongst the efforts to regional groupings, taking the EU not by emulation but by examples. The ability for ASEAN to adapt progress of the integration model of the EU into ASEAN applicable means plays homage to the ‘ASEAN way’ of doing things that are sometimes unorthodox and against the grain. An example of using the EU as an exemplar inspiration and not by example is regularly sending delegates to Brussels to seek ideas from the EU experience. In this admiration of inspiration of the ASEAN of the progress of the EU, displays elements that differ from the Asian Association to that of the European Union and how the Western model isn’t necessary applicable to befit the Asian. ASEAN establishes a strictly inter-governmental body, with no interest in or indication of relinquishing means to share sovereignty between the nation members, and additionally, for ASEAN to emulate the EU model would require the ASEAN members to prerequisite a certain set of requirements to progress into integration based the EU model. Requirements that predetermine that integration breeds mutual political will and shared beliefs in the success of the long-term goal of the high level of integration is historical reconciliation for ASEAN members. Reconciliation did not take place as the nations differed on many aspects for example…

Without such reconciliation, the necessary political will and shared belief towards a long-standing goal of integration on the merits of shared sovereignty diminished which led to the operations and leader of ASEAN to be one of inter-governmental rather than through a common institution. Although ASEAN has made innumerable declarations to emulate the European Union integration model, their words of rhetoric reflected in their actions as unmatched with their words.

The present ASEAN development process poses a challenge to the traditional Anglo-Saxon capitalist models as it contested the reformed rules-based system of global governance. The pressure that the EU and the EU places on ASEAN members regarding labor, social environment, and human rights if seen through as a success in pressure assimilation, actually presents itself as a disadvantaging stage in the development of the Asian model if implemented as the model itself is far beyond Western pressures to curb issues. The ideology of ASEAN itself embodied the ‘ASEAN Way’, a means of consultation and consensus, similar to that of the EU model but in the Eastern agenda, practiced non-interference with non-binding agreements to accompany decisions made and policies to follow. The problem with an open-ended agreement meant no enforcement to curb behaviors and the inability to impose disciplines, essentially heavy-hearted words with empty actions to fulfill promises.

ASEAN’s point of enlargement on taking new members in 1997 introduced members of Myanmar and Laos with the expectation to solve and contain regional problems with Myanmar at the time housed a closed economy with a military regime as leadership, economic crisis and cross-border pollution. The trifecta of expectations created the illusion of integration with the confidence between members but instead exhibited loose inter-governmental cooperation. Myanmar’s triple threat posed a threat to an initiating cooperative of its region members but ASEAN overlooked this threat and extended the membership regardless.

“The incorporation of countries like Myanmar with its military regime and closed economy represented a new extreme in ASEAN’s diversity. This in itself would have tested the Association’s claim to deeper integration as ASEAN has not found a way to reconcile its breadth with its attempts to achieve a greater depth of integration” (Henderson 1999, 74-76).

The ‘ASEAN Way’ became a means to avoid rather than solve issues and conflict, the complementing of informal operations and non-binding agreements imposed no tangible means of success and integration. The ASEAN Way in this examination doesn’t pose as a threat to the integration of its members but rather examined through a behavioral lens of informality in actions that isn’t present in the European Union attributes, the lack of formal operations and behaviors may ill-fit the EU model.

The inceptions of the European Union juxtaposed with the later formation of ASEAN provides a historical overview on the ability in identifying commonalities and interests for the two groups of nations coming together as a collective. In their respective collectives, ASEAN and the EU share numerous elements that prove their successful integration, but having the EU being the ‘superior’ model lends the thought of the possibility to befit the Western model with the Eastern. With the two models explained and deciphered, we resume the suitability in befitting the EU model within the fixtures of the ASEAN structure. The two are known and documented as both eliciting economic integration and community building to both foster and maintain security as well as further economic development. The best description of ASEAN’s use of the existing EU model without imposition from the Union to befit guidelines would be “admiration, not emulation”, this pronounces volumes on the actions ASEAN have already undertaken from both the successes and failures of the European Union. The admiration and not emulation can be attributed to skepticisms especially with Brexit and the consequences of the post-event in addition to EU-style regional integration increases doubt on the validity of not the EU model but its emulated nature on ASEAN’s. ASEAN’s inability and latent behavior to reconcile historical past illustrates the initial step of ASEAN’s incapability in emulating the EU model. ASEAN has never been more unanimous on the need for greater integration, but the capacity to make the necessary domestic political and economic adjustments to implement the reforms that are necessary to achieve the goals and objectives of integration in uneven amongst the different ASEAN member states. The late former secretariat to ASEAN, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, elaborated that the EU served as an inspiration for ASEAN but never a model. An inspiration to guide ASEAN rather than an imposed steer of how-to suggests a road heading to demise.

Models in their generality suggest emulation but downplays learning, without learning it inhibits growth, change and innovation, emulation doesn’t produce lessons learned and nor does it generate dynamic innovators but rather passive mimics. ASEAN can adopt many aspects and successes of the European Union but merely as an inspiring element and not a full-fledged guide as the two entities differ in mannerisms, operations and behaviors in their procedures that hinder such transfer of mimicking. The ASEAN Way of operations is the mannerisms that prohibits such transfer of guidelines and procedural operations housed by the European Union, the Qualified Majority Vote suggests a similarity in the consensus approach but the backroom conferences secluded from the public by ASEAN members suggests differently.

Emulation creates subjective benchmarks which allows for no feasible alternatives to the dominant model, in the case ASEAN and EU, the imposition of EU onto ASEAN breeds a form of Eurocentrism. The imposition by the EU regardless of validity of model strikes a force by the West onto Asia which romances dominance, although the European Union exhibits soft power with inclinations on intrinsic values, there are other means of assertion rather than projected imposition. The imposed force from the West, although in good intent to improve and expand markets in the East, presents itself as a dominant force by the West to ‘handle’ the East. This imposition and emulation of the EU model would have viewed as the West to overtake the East, and with the current rise of China, Asian nation states wish not to look beyond the Pacific for inspiration let alone a steer from elsewhere.

The necessities that ASEAN must take in order to inspiringly succeed like the European Union and not simply emulate it would be to learn from the Union’s failures and adapting it to ASEAN in a manner than preserves inter-governmental operations as well promote unifying political will in attaining a long-term goal of sustained integration. An investment that ASEAN can consider follow in the footsteps of the Union would be placing national government’s interests of achieving long term goal of regional integration by all member states above domestic priorities. The push for integration should be one that synchronizes the public as well as the government that It is in their vital national interest to integrate. These elements ‘borrow’ the attributes that the European Union succeeds on and adapts it to the ASEAN model, this inspiration proves key points for ASEAN to improve in its own integration but suggests that the EU model needs improvement in order to be applied. The learning of the crisis in Europe that threatens the European Union fuels the need for ASEAN to take inspiration from the EU model rather than at total replicating.

The merits of the European Union serve as inspiration for ASEAN integration and not as a total guideline for the Southeast Asian collective, the missteps and struggles of the EU model provides learning points for ASEAN to improve and implement, the successes of overcome historical differences between regional members provides reflection that differences in Southeast Asia are still prominent. The EU model holistically ill-fits the ASEAN model by the diversifying approach by the two collectives, the evolved formality of operations by each differ considerably and the approach to crisis cements that each deal with struggles in differently. The European Union still stands as the most successful regional collective to integrate upon a common goal, this Union presents itself as an exemplary model of both trials and tribulations of nations integrating, one that ASEAN views admirably and inspired. Success takes many forms and there is no single paved way to achieve it, the European Union represents one road to success and its success speaks volumes that outweigh their struggles that on the world stage provides lessons for inspired regions to integrate. As for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, it is adamant that ASEAN will make its own Way in achieving a high level of integration one that doesn’t mimic the EU model but mirrors in its success.


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