Facets of integration: the role of ideas

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Andrey Baykov


Issues relating to integration can barely be qualified as understudied. This may partly account for the current trend of misplacing the term with respect to nearly all forms of state-to-state rapprochement, including those that should be more accurately described as co-operation or a union. Most authors draw chiefly on the European experience only to refer in passing to the instances of integration activities outside of Europe.

Meanwhile political and economic integration projects define international-political landscape well beyond the European Union. Today they encompass North and South America, East and South Asia, and with reservations – even the former Soviet space. These are tangible and complex political, economic, cultural and ideological processes, problems, contradictions and results. We continue to accumulate varied and diverse empirical material, and to grasp it means significantly enriching our notions of integration patterns and of possibilities of setting up integration management schemes in all corners of the globe.

The primary goal in this respect is to understand if it is at all worth reducing integration to its unique EU-styled variety, denouncing all other undertakings as not meriting attention and doomed to similarity with EU-styled integration or to failure. Another thing completely – is to assume that there is no normative integration model, whereas the real paths of integration comprise a multitude of most different plans. According to this latter hypothesis, each and every regional version of integration is contingent on specific local conditions and evolves in a strict conformity with them, above all where it concerns stages, terms, pace – and last but not least – ultimate ends of unification. This last statement may apparently be a key to fruitful comparisons. Such comparisons are theoretically uncommon, but are very instrumental empirically.

A brief review of bibliography should suffice to notice the limitations of Eurocentric approaches to studying cases of integration elsewhere other than in Europe. From the standpoint of European integration theories any integration outside the EU is branded as deficient or is just denied the right of being called “integration”.

This may to a certain extent be enough for European scholars. But definitely not enough for the science large or for concrete regional policies. Western Hemispheric, Asian and Russian leaders persist in applying the term ‘integration’ to refer to the real economic and political trends involving their respective countries. And they appear to scarcely pay heed to the position of eurocentrically leaning academics.

One has to admit that EU politicians themselves, however much inclined they are to subscribe to Europatriotic views, they are not that quick to side with them in practice. By contrast, they seek to display respect for integration processes in other parts of the globe. They don’t deny them the right of being called integration or of getting the chance of identifying a typological commonality in between European and non-European integration version.

Practice leaves theory well behind. The farther from Europe the higher concentration of various manifestations (in Europhiles’ perspective – deviations) of integration interactions. Experience of Asia and America does not entirely fit into the European theoretical paradigm. At the same time they bring into a justifiable question its claims on a universal explanatory utility.

In no way does it downgrade the significance of European theoretical contribution. It is in fact owing to it and on its basis alone that it became possible to single out the major typological streaks of the European integration pattern, by which it can be compared to non-European patterns, East Asian in particular, and thus be indirectly conducive to elaborating the latter’s typological model as well. The purpose of the present article lies in an attempt to look for effectively universal integration trends and discover distinguishing traits of the two regions subject to comparison – Central and Western Europe and East Asia.


The analysis of “classical” literature allows naming several “compulsory” signs of integration recognized as such by most authors focusing on integration1. These signs are expected to be present in one shape or another in all integration associations regardless of their location. These signs are seemingly not numerious. Furthermore, they confuse by their rigidness:

  • the existence of supranational institutions;

  • a comprehensive nature of integration: starting off with economy, it then must in theory spill over onto social and political domains;

  • emergence of a single demos – with shared sociocultural, normative, value-related and political attitudes.

The confusion will let up once you bother appraising in what degree the EU itself actually corresponds to the aforementioned criteria. They were derived from the European material. But this does not necessarily imply that the European Union in its present-day shape utterly meets them.

It is worth commencing with the most basic touchstone of “integrationness” – supranationality. This principle is officially put forward as all but the mail characteristic of the EU. In East Asia one does not even think of going that far. In reality, there is no unbridgeable gap in between them along these lines. In fact in the emerging East Asian Community (EAC) 2 as well as in the European Union decision-making operates as an elitist cartel3.

In both instances the leading role is performed by the member-states’ executive branch of authority4, rather than supranational institutions. In the EU – it is the European Council, and in East Asia – regular summits of heads of state and government. The jurisdiction of the EU supranational bodies only envelops most “technocratic areas” 5 – ties of economic, scientific and technological order within the European Coal and Steel community (until 2002), EEC, Euroatom. The questions of real delegation of sovereignty are still settled through intergovernmental agreements.

The EU member-states are mainly reluctant to abide by the supranational decision-making procedure. The EU Commission official statistics indicate that even though simple and qualified majority are spelled out in the founding treaties as the predominant methods of voting, some 80% of all decisions in the Council are adopted by consensus, which emphasizes the factual similarity of the EU and East Asian integration schemes – the domination of elitist, rather than electoral, politics in their institutional architecture6.

Equally well-known are the complexities that the European Union is experiencing with spreading integration onto the sphere of social relations and with shaping a single demos. A recent robust increase in interethnic friction in the EU stresses the relativity of labeling social integration as a fundamental and compulsory parameter of integration per se. The ambition to achieve social integration enunciated by the European Union several decades ago can only be treated at present as “rushing things”. On the other hand, it may as well be looked upon as a reflection of a purely empiric strategy resting not on a scientific theory, but, instead, on a one-time observation: taking into account the ethnodemographic composition of Western European countries’ population in the 1960-70s and the then-prevalent migration patterns.

From this perspective the unwillingness of the East Asian nations to speed up social integration – is not an alternative, but, rather, a rough and unconscious analogy of the European approach. Just like the Europeans, East Asian nations proceed not out of general theories (there is none), but out of practice. The indefinite postponing of social integration in East Asia represents an as exclusively pragmatic response to the region’s current ethnodemographic realities as was the Western European bold and not quite relevant by the criteria of today attempt to mold “an integrated West European” in the mid-XX century.

In terms of case study theories, the EU and EAC (as well as the other regional groupings to be found in East Asia) should be accepted as the most-different systems (or “the least similar systems for that matter). These are the systems that differ on the majority of parameters but turn out to be similar on one sing essential for their functioning.

If we take the principle of likeliness as the starting point, we shall have good grounds to assert that the integration model, which was born in an utterly specific historical and cultural environment of the after-WWII Western Europe and has been evolving without any pre-made theory ever since is starting to lose its essential uniqueness, though it retains its historical and phenomenological unparallelness. Put differently, nowhere other than in Western and Central Europe the EU-style integration pattern seems worthy of being replicated, but at the same time in various corners of the globe, driven by their own logic, appeared and began to develop integration trends whose constitution and management procedures were in one way or another influenced by a specific historical experience of the European Union.

Even the principled absence of a desire to build up a supranational grouping within the ASEAN7 and APEC8 members should not in itself be perceived as a case against any similarity between European and East Asian integration processes, and all the more so as a case against the assumption that a potential for a comparable integration development may be in the making in two geographically remote parts of the map. It appears that in every single case an integration association brings in precisely that share of supranationality that it deems indispensible for itself at a given point in time and at a certain stage of an integration evolution9.

The typological similarity of the EU, ASEAN-APEC or, say, MERCOSUR is determined not by the nature of their respective decision-making (supranationality), but by their character, by a sustained aspiration of member-stated for seeing an institutional groundwork of their integratio, by a systemic orientation of their action towards a search for that particular configuration of governing bodies that would prove most effective in overcoming economic barriers in concrete regional circumstances.

Therefore, to obtain analytically instrumental results it would be important to compare not only the form of integration efforts, but rather these integration efforts themselves, the measure of their sustainability, their orientation and efficiency. The latter, of course, always varies from one association to another but at all times hinges on local conditions – which is yet another typologically shared feature of all versions of regional integration.

It is in effect Western Europe’s salient uniqueness, its all too profound embodiment in the EU norms, procedures and institutions that prevents the European integration experience from taking roots elsewhere in the world. It is highly indicative that all the attempts to overcome this uniqueness in the EU itself after 1991 have not only obstructed the European integration development, but furthermore altered the vector of this development. It has become somewhat less European, or at least less West European.

The study of the European integration through a broad comparative prism can be practical for yet another reason: analytics relating to non-European versions of integration induces us to significantly complement the list of integration criteria described above. Many authors believe that necessary characteristics of integration include an express striving for multilateral co-operation with the view of joint problem-solving, confirmed by a high regularity of meetings intended to tackle questions that transcend regularly international communication10.

In terms of sustained integration aspirations, South East Asian countries, for example, are not inferior to their European counterparts. In a sense they even surpass them. After the Second World War it took the West European nations nearly 6 years to make their first major step towards economic integration (1951). Smaller and middle-sized countries and territories of East Asia took about30 years from their first integration moves to more sophisticated versions(mid-1960s – 1990s). Quite a time to get disappointed at the integration idea per se, which continues to be implemented nevertheless. Consider the magnitude and cultural diversity of East Asia as opposed to Western Europe. Even so East Asian region is defined by a yearning for material well-being that achieved without resorting to force (for over 35 years – since the end of the Vietnam war in 1973). East Asian countries have proved their commitment to elevating their regional collaboration way higher than traditional state-to-state interaction.

The aforesaid allows specifying a number of notions. The necessary criteria of an integration movement in any region of the world is not the extent of supranationality, but a sustained orientation of integration participants towards preferentiality of their mutual relations, the priority of developing intraregional links as opposed to extra-regional, their willingness to grant on a reciprocal basis to each other particular rights, benefits and privileges. This reading of integration does not correspond to classical analytical conclusions. Nor does the real experience of integration processes outside EU correspond to them.

Meanwhile this definition of integration is analytically prolific. It helps analyze in their entirety real economic and political processes outside Europe, specifically in East Asia without formatting the analytical prism by the frames of the European experience, which is only secondary to appreciating the gist of Asian realities.

Bjorn Hettne, of Geteborg University, offers in one of his works on East Asian regionalism a fairly detailed list of necessary criteria of integration, naming, in particular:

  • an advanced level of cooperation in cultural, political, economic and – in a lesser degree – military spheres

  • effective decision-making institutions

  • institutions responsible for regional security, not necessarily linked to the economy-oriented institutions.

  • Partial and selective application of supranational decision-making methods – predominantly in the field of foreign trade;

  • Ability of a regional structure to act as a consolidated actor which is legitimate in the eyes of other world political players11.

Judging by the word usage in literature and political documents covering preferential regional in East Asia, many authors, as well as local politicians, sometimes like to avoid, at any rate in the formal discourse, the use of the term “integration”. The word “integration” sounds to Asians all too “European”, confusing, full of fearful connotations that conjure up disagreeable in the Asian historical and political-psycological context images of a “superstate”.

Not only are the Asians unable to build up a supranational federation. They decisively reject it. Against the backdrop of a centuries-long struggle for national sovereignty, this very idea feels deeply pernicious to them. In East Asia the concept of limited sovereignty, its delegation to supranational authorities appears to be inextricably linked to a renewed colonialism. The East Asian ideal – selective, rather than universal, incremental, rather than all-out, integration of national economies under a strict control of national governments. They are ready to gradually delegate to the upper level some of their powers, but never in the foreseeable future, to what we can conclude proceeding from the current state of affairs- to give up on the political authority in favour of supranational institutions. Mysteriously (for a European’s mind) the idea of regional cooperation turns out to be perfectly compatible in the vision of East Asians with the concept of a strong nation-state.

One has to admit that this reading of integration goes against the spill-over pattern when integration impulses migrate from economy into the social sphere and then on to politics. In other words, the set forth appreciation of integration is out of keeping with the logic of “total”, all-encompassing European-style integration. It is not that important. East Asian countries, despite all their doubts in the workability of the EU experience, persevere in mutual economic rapprochement, while using the term “regionalism12” to refer to their movement. But it is used in the same very meaning that the word “integration” with regard to the EU. In both cases we imply a preferential rapprochement to attain common goals.

The ceiling (or the vector?) of integration evolution varies as well - in large part due to the fact that the political and institutional experience of the two groupings remain different. The national consolidation of the European countries had been achieved by the mid-XXth century. In Asia this process just set in then. Their political-affective experience differs too. Following the two World Wars, the Western Europe became ‘blasé’ about their sovereignty, having realized its limits and its economic inadequacy. Asia still stands at the stage of cherishing sovereignty. Their social-institutional traditions do not coincide either. In Europe – the maturity of political culture, political co-operation of societal groups, formalized channels of detecting and articulating mass interests. In Asia – the prevalence of vertical links and lack of interests differentiation13.

Against this background the East Asian countries’ commitment to integration is highly indicative, although the meaning of integration slightly differs in the Asian conditions. In their specific conditions economic integration is a tool of reinforcing political independence, accelerating economic and cultural development, survival in the circumstances of global competition through building collective defence mechanisms, including on the basis of joint protectionism. True, these goals are typical of all regional versions of integration, including the West European one.

The notion of integration is in a way linked to the idea of homogeneity, even though the nature of this link in the EU and East Asia has yet to be clarified. One can assume that political homogeneity is a key prerequisite of a successful integration. A different hypothesis can be advanced however: the emergence of political homogeneity is not the starting point of integration, but, rather, one of its possible (not necessarily principal) consequences.

Many scholars note that integration of politically similar nations goes on faster and acquires a more steady character as opposed to the countries with differing political regimes. This assumption works equally well with respect to Western Europe and East Asia. All, at any rate original, participants of the European integration belong to the global democratic core. The homogeneity is definitely there.

But it can also be found in East Asia. Political systems of the region’s integrating countries do not appear less homogenious than the EU member states, though at all events undoubtedly less democratic. At the time ASEAN was created the majority of the regional states were defined by a mild authoritarianism (in the terminology of a Russian academician N.A. Simonia – “authoritarian parliamentarianism”). By the late 1980s it began to convert into an “illiberal democracy” 14. Almost all original ASEAN member states continue developing along the lines of this hybrid regime. Some researches qualify South Korea and Taiwan as illiberal democracies as well. One can’t rule out that the People’s Republic of China and Vietnam may also drift towards a variety of this regime.

But there are hardly any sufficient grounds to take the principle of homogeneity to its extreme. Neither the European Union nor the East Asian region provides empirical material for the absolutisation of this principle. In the European Union there have always been marked deviations from the average pattern of democracy. The variations have to do with the mechanisms of political representation and the welfare state models. From this point of view the palette of Western European political regimes appear to be fairly multifaceted. In France politicians sought to put in place a pure social-democratic pattern. In Great Britain they implemented the American-French model in the socio-economic domain and the majoritarian system politically. In Germany there have been a tripartite model: the welfare state socially is complemented by economic liberalism and consensus model in politics. It appears that homogeneity and heterogeneity exist in the EU, albeit in unequal proportions.

A similar coexistence and inequality of differing elements and patterns are also noticeable in Ease Asia. The political systems of present-day China and Vietnam, on the one hand, and Malaysia and Indonesia – on the other demonstrate significant distinctions. The fact is, however, that all the aforementioned nations display an increasing insistence on pursuing regional integration, despite political inconsistencies. The economic policies of the majority of the integration core countries are not the same, but homogeneous nevertheless, and are embodied in market regulation with a more or less substantial share of state control. It seems that the starting point of the East Asian version of integration was not their political commonalities, but the similarity of their economic policies. In the European Union it is the democratic idea that has worked and continues to work for the success of integration. In East Asia – it is the economic pragmatism.

Can the philosophy, the ideational system of pragmatism serve as the basis for integration policies? Perhaps, alone it wouldn’t suffice. But in Asia it is buttressed by the power of its sociocultural distinctive features (identity in the terminology of the author of the communication theory Carl Deutsch). The question is how to analyze it properly.

In the regional identity that we can discern in East Asia, one can very clearly distinguish its Asian (and not East Asian) macro-component. It continues to be the main factor of the local states’ self-perception. Furthermore, its inherent charge of emotional attractiveness (the idea of humiliation, deceit, revanche in a sense) turns out to be enough for the local peoples to serve – to the extent to which it may be necessary – as the “locomotive” of the regional integration given its today’s pace and forms of evolution. In part the shared identity of the East Asian countries can be accounted for the long periods of regional domination by China and Japan that left behind common traditions, stereotypes and behavioral norms.

In the EU it has become traditional to consider that a sense of “belonging to Europe” is the factor of regional consolidation. In this neighbourhood the all-European (“we live in Europe”) and regional (“we are the EU citizens”) identities practically merge. Moreover, the EU member states almost officially stimulate the confluence of the notions “Europe” and “the European Union”, thus successfully inducing this kind of appreciation even in outside countries, like Russia (many Russian political analysts, let alone reporters and commentators, are not embarrassed to use the word “Europe” to refer to “the European Union”). Owing to the conflation of these two identities within the EU it is at times extremely difficult to tell which one provides the breeding ground for integration ideas. Usually experts finish off by stating a vague assumption that “the European self” benefits the European integration.

In East Asia the structure of identities is not the same, but paradoxically it benefits the local integration as well. ASEAN member states’, Chinese of South Korean citizens certainly identify with Pacific countries’ citizens. But their identification with specifically Asian countries is way stronger. In the EU – belonging to Europe is treated as a sign of cultural and any other supremacy. In East Asia – to be an Asian implies feeling a historical complex of grievance, grudge, and subordination, and therefore, a strong yearning to catch up with their former offenders or even to overtake them. Integration in Europe today is not only a safeguard against intraregional wars, but, rather, a promise of a higher well-being. Integration in East Asia can be perceived as a tool of “self-elevation” by virtue of a favorable economic performance and the glorification of the spirit of Asia, profaned by the West in the past. The European integration ides was in a way a means of overcoming nationalism. The East Asian one – was a means of sustaining nationalism in a cultural, non-aggressive, economic form. The question is not which version is better. What really counts is that their respective political-psychological power is comparable.

* * *

Throughout the European integration economic, military and political aspects became all mixed up in a single tangle of problems. They were subject to a comprehensive resolution when, say, the economic integration served as a tool for achieving political stability and bringing general (including military) security. Behind the stage a permanent process of interests reconciliation has been going on. And the unity of those interests has always assured a conflict-free development15. The European unity advocates were perfectly well aware that through nipping in the bud the causes of confrontation both from within and from without the grouping, political and economic integration would bring about a higher lever security for every European. Apart form security, the United Europe framers sought to “catch up with the USA”, though in a collective format.

The East Asian nations, just like the European ones, also look at the integration project as a source of peace in between themselves and as a tool of enhancing their status in the international arena. The present-day East Asia is characterized by a high degree of stability, and although fairly differing political regimes cohabitate in this region, its major trend is towards economic stabilization and less authoritarianism of their polities that emerged here in the second half of the XXth century, in the main as a result of an armed struggle for national self-determination.

1 The European Integration Theory. Antje Wiener и Thomas Diez (eds.). Oxford University Press, 2005. P.54-61.

2 The East Asian Community is to bring together the ASEAS countries, Australia, India, China, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. The first EAC summit was held December 14, 2005 in Kuala-Lumpur.

3 The elitist cartel – is a decision-making mechanism involving experts, bureaucrats and statesmen with the minimal representation of national electorates, on the one hand, and supranational technocrats on the other. In effect it boils down to intergovernmentalism.

4 Strezhneva M.V. The European Union and the CIS: a comparative institutional analysis. Moscow, 1999. P. 11-19.

5 The technocratic approach integration prevailed at the initial stages of the united Europe. It was a wide-spread belief at that time that the eradication of national egotism was possible through minimizing the politicians’ influence on integrative spheres and through the transfer of the main powers to experts. There reigned an illusion that it was feasible to draw a line between political and specialized domains, between the interests of the state, the community and technocrats. In tune with this logic the supranational method was initially reserved for purely technical issues (peaceful use of atomic energy, the common external tariff, the removal of the entire industries form the national control – coal and steel-making as most graphic examples).

6 The elitist politics (EP1) and electoral politics (EP2) are the two varieties of a regional political regime, that is a space characterized by the commonalities of its value-based approaches and behavioural norms, as well as by the elements of national policies harmonization. EP1 represents an authoritarian approach to politics. EP2 is a pluralism-driven approach, the main actors of which are political parties, interest and pressure groups, Parliaments and public politicians. See: Strezhneva M.V. The European Union and the CIS: a comparative institutional analysis. Moscow, 1999.

7 ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations) – is a regional integrational grouping of states created in 1967 in Bangkok. At the present time it brings together Brunei, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines.

8 APEC (Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation) – is the world’s largest economic organization formed in 1989 in Canberra. It now comprises 21 economies (Australia, Brunei, Vietnam, Hongkong, Indonesia, Canada, China, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, Singapore, the USA, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines, Chile, South Korea, Japan).

9 Suprantionality implies that the decisions made by a regional grouping’s governing bodies (by a simple or qualified majority) are binding for all its members, including for those who abstained from voting or voted against a given measure.

10 Mark Beeson. Regionalism and Globalisation in East Asia. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. P.218.

11 Hettne, Bjorn. Globalisation and the New Regionalism: the Second Great Transformation. // Hettne, B., Inotai, A. and Sunkel, O. (eds.). Globalism and the New Regionalism. London^ Macmillan, 1999. P. 3-24.

12 Ibid., P.218.

13 Avery D. H. Poole. Cooperation in Contention: The Evolution of ASEAN Norms. University of British Columbia YCISS Working Paper. No 44. January 2007. P.5.

14 The term “illiberal democracy” is commonly attributed to Farid Zakaria, who 2003 published a book with this title. Yet, 10 years before another pertinent book came out: Daniel Bell, David Brown, Kanishka Jayasuriya, David Martin Jones. Towards Illiberal Democracy in Pacific Asia. N.Y., 1993.

15 McCormick, John. The European Union: Politics and Policies . Colorado: Westview, 1999. Р.45.

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