Developments in Regionalism

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. 

Federalism, Functionalism and Neo-Functionalism 

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 whether or not a monetary union can be made to work in the long run