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  Félix Peña

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  ZEI Regional Integration Observer Vol. 6 No. 2 | August 2012
What Lessons Can We Draw from the EU`s Recent Difficulties?


ZEI. Zentrum für Europäische Integrationsforschung.
Center for European Integration Studies.

The Regional Integration Observer is
published three times a year.

ISSN1996-9678 | Center for European Integration Studies.Walter-Flex-Str. 3
53113 Bonn, Germany

Universität Bonn.

Not necessarily a model to be applied in different realities. But the European integration process has at least been perceived frequently as a valid point of reference for those interested in promoting regional integration in developing countries. This has been the case especially when countries of a Latin American sub-region voluntarily took the political decision of working together with the aim of gradually building some modality of economic community, including common rules and institutions.

In that respect, the more notorious experiences have been those related with the Central American, Caribbean, Andean and southern South American nations. That perception could be one of the reasons of concern raised by the actual EU crisis in the Mercosur region. In no way is it the only reason. Perhaps the impact of the future evolution of Europe in the global economy attracts greater attention in South American governments and businessmen. But keeping in mind that Mercosur also has strong difficulties achieving its main objectives, it is useful to raise the question about what could eventually be learned from the difficulties facing the EU. This could be particularly useful taking in consideration that after the Mercosur Summit in Mendoza (June 2012) a debate about its future has been open in its member states. It seems that at least three main lessons could be drawn by them from the EU crisis:

The first one is that voluntary integration among sovereign nations requires permanent adaptations to changes in their domestic and international environments. It is naïve to pretend a ? xed plan toward any long term objective. Roadmaps and working methods should be permanently adapted to new circumstances. How to produce this adaptation preserving, at the same time, the accumulated assets of years of working together, is then a big challenge, and not only for the EU. This will most probably require a kind of metamorphosis and this implies a lot of political skills. Adaptations become more necessary when citizens began to doubt the convenience for their own country to continue working together with nations with whom they share a geographic space. It could arrive at a point in which they perceive the integration process as part of their problems and not of any solution. Sometimes this is the result of not recognizing the problems of the people of another member country as being their own problem. If that is the situation, a frank explanation to the citizens of the different countries of what the costs could be for them given a failure in the integration process seems to be necessary. Particularly if the political leadership perceives that they don’t have rational options to the idea of working together with their partners.

Preserving the win-win perceptions among the people of the member countries is then one of the main challenges faced by the construction of any voluntary integration process. This is more dif? cult in a context of deep global economic and political transformations as we are facing these years. The impacts of those changes sometimes are very different from one member country to another. It could then weaken the idea of being in the same boat, or increase the perception of the advantages of navigating alone to better tackle the challenges posed by new realities. The notion of “each nation for itself” could then jeopardize the core idea of working together among nations of the same geographic space, especially if institutions with the capability of expressing a common vision do not exist or are not able to undertake the necessary leadership.

The second lesson is that there is no unique model or formula to produce that adaptation to an environment of deep changes. There are obviously limits to the imagination about how to tackle the main problems that are faced. They could be the result of political, economic and legal constraints. But at the same time, with a mix of political will and technical capabilities –and eventually, good luck- it is always possible to draw mechanisms that could contemplate the new realities and the different interests of member countries. Most likely this will imply heterodox and ? exible formulas including those requiring multiple speeds, variable geometry and “à la carte” approaches.

And the third lesson is that to succeed in the difficult task of integrating sovereign nations through a voluntary and long term process implies, at the same time, effective common disciplines and a clearly defined national strategy by each of the participant countries. The dynamic interaction of both factors seems to be crucial precisely to preserve the “win-win” situation among the members of a common integration process, and here is where ? exibility of concepts, mechanisms and instruments become so important. It facilitates the continuous adaptation of the process to new realities. And this becomes more important when those new realities have different impacts in each of the member countries due, eventually, to asymmetries of relative power, dimension and degree of economic development among them. Perhaps the more important conclusion that we could draw from the recent European experience is that in critical moments, when the main idea of working together among sovereign nations could raise doubts in some or in all the participant countries, what becomes necessary is a frank debate in each country – with a large participation of their citizens – about the political and economic costs of failure and the feasibility of different options. What is normally referred to as a “Plan B.” If this option exists, it would be logical to follow it and to withdraw from the integration process.

But if for participant nations the costs of failure are high, and at the same time a rational and feasible doesn’t appear to exist option to the membership of an integration process, the debate should concentrate itself on how to continue working together, introducing all the adaptations that would be necessary to assure the effectiveness of the process and, at the same time, to preserve its “win-win” condition.

Félix Peña Director of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC Foundation. Director of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres de Febrero National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of the Evian Group Brains Trust. More information. |

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