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Regional integration is a process in which states enter into a regional agreement in order to enhance regional cooperation through regional institutions and rules. Its objectives could range from economic to politic although it has become a political economy initiative where commercial purposes are the means to achieve broader socio-political and security objectives. Past efforts at regional integration have often focused on removing barriers to free trade in the region, increasing the free movement of people, labour, goods, and capital across national borders, reducing the possibility of regional armed conflict (for example, through Confidence and Security-Building Measures), and adopting cohesive regional stances on policy issues, such as the environment, climate change and migration. Such an organization can be organized either on supranational or intergovernmental decision-making institutional order, or a combination of both.



There have been several efforts at regional integration, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mercosur, the African Union, and the Organization of American States. Perhaps the most well known and developed attempt at regional integration has been the European Union, which in some policy areas has moved beyond an intergovernmental approach to decision making at a federalist or supra-state level.

Regional integration has been defined as an association of states based upon location in a given geographical area, for the safeguarding or promotion of the participants, an association whose terms are fixed by a treaty or other arrangements. Philippe De Lombaerde and Luk Van Langenhove define regional integration as a worldwide phenomenon of territorial systems that increase the interactions between their components and create new forms of organisation, co-existing with traditional forms of state-led organisation at the national level.[1] According to Hans van Ginkel, regional integration refers to the process by which states within a particular region increase their level of interaction with regard to economic, security, political, and also social and cultural issues.[2] In short, regional integration is the joining of individual states within a region into a larger whole. The degree of integration depends upon the willingness and commitment of independent sovereign states to share their sovereignty. Deep integration that focuses on regulating the business environment in a more general sense is faced with many difficulties, as Simone Claar and Andreas Nölke write. Deep Integration

Regional integration initiatives, according to Van Langenhove, should fulfil at least eight important functions:

  • the strengthening of trade integration in the region
  • the creation of an appropriate enabling environment for private sector development
  • the development of infrastructure programmes in support of economic growth and regional integration
  • the development of strong public sector institutions and good governance;
  • the reduction of social exclusion and the development of an inclusive civil society
  • contribution to peace and security in the region
  • the building of environment programmes at the regional level
  • the strengthening of the region’s interaction with other regions of the world.[3]

The crisis of the post-war order led to the emergence of a new global political structure. This new global political structure made obsolete the classical Westphalian concept of a system of sovereign states to conceptualise world politics. The concept of sovereignty becomes looser and the old legal definitions of an ultimate and fully autonomous power of a nation-state are no longer meaningful. Sovereignty, which gained meaning as an affirmation of cultural identity, has lost meaning as power over the economy. All regional integration projects during the Cold War were built on the Westphalian state system and were to serve economic growth as well as security motives in their assistance to state building goals. Regional integration and globalisation are the two phenomena challenging the existing global order based upon sovereign states at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The two processes deeply affect the stability of the Westphalian state system, thus contributing to both disorder and a new global order.

Closer integration of neighbouring economies is seen as a first step in creating a larger regional market for trade and investment. This works as a spur to greater efficiency, productivity gain and competitiveness, not just by lowering border barriers, but by reducing other costs and risks of trade and investment. Bilateral and sub-regional trading arrangements are advocated as development tools as they encourage a shift towards greater market openness. Such agreements can also reduce the risk of reversion towards protectionism, locking in reforms already made and encouraging further structural adjustment.

In broad terms, the desire for closer integration is usually related to a larger desire for opening to the outside world. Regional economic cooperation is being pursued as a means of promoting development through greater efficiency, rather than as a means of disadvantaging others. Most of the members of these arrangements are genuinely hoping that they will succeed as building blocks for progress with a growing range of partners and towards a generally freer and open global environment for trade and investment. Integration is not an end in itself, but a process to support economic growth strategies, greater social equality and democratisation.

Regional integration arrangements are a part and parcel of the present global economic order and this trend is now an acknowledged future of the international scene. It has achieved a new meaning and new significance. Regional integration arrangements are mainly the outcome of necessity felt by nation-states to integrate their economies in order to achieve rapid economic development, decrease conflict, and build mutual trusts between the integrated units. The nation-state system, which has been the predominant pattern of international relations since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 is evolving towards a system in which regional groupings of states is becoming more important than sovereign states. There is a powerful perception that the idea of the state and its sovereignty has been made irrelevant by processes that are taking place at both the global and local level. Walter Lippmann believes that, "the true constituent members of the international order of the future are communities of states."[4] E.H. Carr shares Lippmann view about the rise of regionalism and regional arrangements and commented that, "the concept of sovereignty is likely to become in the future even more blurred and indistinct than it is at present."[5]

See also


  1. ^ De Lombaerde, P. and Van Langenhove, L: "Regional Integration, Poverty and Social Policy." Global Social Policy 7 (3): 377-383, 2007.
  2. ^ Van Ginkel, H. and Van Langenhove, L: "Introduction and Context" in Hans van Ginkel, Julius Court and Luk Van Langenhove (Eds.), Integrating Africa : Perspectives on Regional Integration and Development, UNU Press, 1-9, 2003.
  3. ^ De Lombaerde and Van Langenhove 2007, pp. 377-383.
  4. ^ Source Needed
  5. ^ Carr, E.H. The Twenty Years Crisis, 1919-1939. Macmillan, 1978: 230-231.


  • Haas, Ernst B. (1964). Beyond the Nation State: Functionalism and International Organization. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804701877
  • Lindberg, Leon N., and Stuart A. Scheingold (eds.) (1971). Regional Integration: Theory and Research. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674753266
  • Nye, Joseph S. (1971). Peace in Parts. Boston: Little, Brown. OCLC 159089 OCLC 246008784

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