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  Félix Peña

INTERNATIONAL TRADE RELATIONS NEWSLETTER
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REFLECTIONS ON TWO EXPERIENCES:
What factors help to preserve the voluntary integration between sovereign nations?

by Félix Peña
October 2012

English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza


 

In spite of the profound differences, there are some common elements in the experiences of the European Union and of Mercosur. These allow us to raise some reflections motivated by the current crisis being faced by both integration processes.

What do both experiences have in common?: a regional geographic space shared by a group of sovereign and interconnected nations; the voluntary nature of an association between nations that want to remain sovereign and aspire to achieve common goals of a multidimensional scope -political, economic, social, cultural-; the absence of a guarantee against the irreversibility of the agreed association, despite having a formal permanent character.

What could the long term sustainability of the strategic idea of working together between nations that share a regional geographic space depend on?: the adaptation to the dynamics of the contextual changes; the flexibility of the working methods; and the strength of certain factors sustaining the associative will.

What criteria would enable to assess the potential for irreversibility of a voluntary association between sovereign nations that share a regional geographic space?: the accuracy of the diagnoses for international relations options of each of the partner countries; the quality of the mechanisms for the definition of national interest; and the density of the offensive interests of each of the partners an, especially, the identification of the citizens with the common project.

There are three tentative conclusions of an analysis based on the comparison of the crises being experienced by both integration processes. First, there is no single model for how to turn sustainable over time the construction of a permanent association between sovereign nations that share a regional geographic space. Second, the objectives and methods must be continually adapted to the contextual change. And third, a key variable to explain and predict the irreversibility of such integration processes is the quality of the external integration strategies of each participating country.


At first it may seem difficult to compare two very different experiences of voluntary integration between sovereign nations, such as those developed, in the last decades, in the European regional space -now called the European Union (EU) - and in the south of South America -the Mercosur.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union contributes to highlight the enormous differences between the experiences gained in these two regions. Even if there have been criticisms of the decision announced on October 12th in Oslo, it would be difficult to imagine that such an award could have been given to Mercosur.

Perhaps the article by Andrés Ortega, mentioned as recommended reading of this Newsletter, best highlights the contribution that European integration has made to peace, precisely in a region that had previously experienced a degree of violence in the relations between its nations never even imagined in the South American space. Hence, the recognition implied by this Nobel Prize can also be seen as a reminder of what is the most profound essence of the process that has been carried out in Europe since the 50s: the logic of integration as the alternative to the logic of fragmentation, conflict and war.

The recent crisis of the Erasmus program, especially due to the collapse of its financing in countries such as Spain, also contributes to warn of the undesired effects that could be the result of the return of the logic of fragmentation among European countries. Young people, with no memory of war, risk losing the experience of studying and getting to know the richness of the diversity that characterizes European nations. On this regard, it would be advisable perhaps that Europeans ponder on the provocative film by Federico Fellini called "Prova D'Orchestra" (Orchestra Rehearsal) - 1979.

The article by Timothy Gardon Ash published in Foreign Affairs, also mentioned in the recommendations of this Newsletter, provides an excellent analysis of the factors that led to the joint cooperative work between the nations of a European space that had previously been marked by wars.

Even recognizing the big differences between the integration experiences of the two regions, there are however some common elements. These allow us to raise some reflections prompted by the crisis currently being faced by both integration processes. These are crises which transcend what is frequent in any joint undertaking between sovereign nations that share a regional geographic space. We are referring to the emergence of methodological differences, sometimes very pronounced, on how to conduct an integration process, i.e.: its modalities, instruments and speeds. The question of how to work together is what characterizes a methodological crisis.

On the contrary, what we are beginning to see now, both in the EU and in Mercosur, are the characteristic elements of an existential crisis in which what is being discussed between and within member countries is the convenience of continuing with the idea of working together. The central question is: Why work together? The main issue being questioned is the basis of the distinction between "us" and "them", the foundation of any associative link based on the reciprocity of national interests.

In spite of their well-known differences -for example, in their history and geography, their cultures and level of development, their economic and political power- the question still arises: What do the experiences that are being developed in the EU and Mercosur have in common?

At least three common elements can be found in the two experiences mentioned:

  • A regional geographic space shared by a group of sovereign nations. Like all regional geographic spaces they have, at times, fuzzy boundaries. These are geographic spaces of variable geometry in which the map changes depending on the perspective of the country from which the respective region is observed.

  • The voluntary nature of the association between sovereign nations that intend to remain so and that aspire to achieve common goals of a multidimensional scope -political, economic, social, cultural-. Nobody is obliged to participate in this kind of association. For example, nobody was forced to participate in the process of European integration. The fact that, at the initial stage, the United Kingdom chose not to participate is an example of this. In the case of Mercosur this is evinced by Chile's decision not to participate in its creation, at least as a full member, despite having been invited to do so. And nobody can force a sovereign nation to stay in a voluntary association if it believes it is not convenient.

  • The potential effects of the absence of a guarantee of the irreversibility of the agreed association, despite having a formal permanent character. Success is not guaranteed. The sought goals may not be achieved. And any country may withdraw if it wishes to do so or considers it convenient. The very same partnership agreement may collapse formally or become diluted over time, falling into the realm of the irrelevant.

What do these two experiences teach us in terms of the factors that could possibly contribute to preserve the validity over time of the will of working together between sovereign nations? In other terms: Of what might the long term sustainability of the strategic idea of joint work between nations that share a regional geographic space depend on?

The following seem to be some of the relevant factors that help the feasibility of a voluntary association with multiple objectives between sovereign nations to be maintained over time:

  • The adaptation to the dynamics of contextual changes. In recent years the speed of change at a global and regional scale has increased, as well as internally in each society. This creates a strong pressure for the constant adaptation of the strategies and the joint work methods among nations that share a regional geographic space. If the mental predisposition to go after fixed targets were to prevail in the leading sectors, this might contribute to the quick obsolescence of models originated under different circumstances. On the contrary, the mental skills required are those of hunters of moving targets.

  • The flexibility of work methods. How to reconcile a reasonable degree of flexibility of the goals set by the partner nations and of the work methods employed with a degree of predictability to facilitate stable decision-making by all actors -for example by those who have to decide on productive investments based on an expanded market -, is another factor that can contribute to the sustainability of a permanent association between sovereign nations within a regional geographic space.

  • The strength of some of the sustainability factors of the associative will. Three factors stand out. One has to do with the preservation of a balance of the different national interests in order to generate a dynamic picture of mutual gains. The other refers to the institutional quality and, in particular, to the existence of rules that are at the same time effective, efficient and legitimate. The third is the development of dense networks of social interests, especially among the productive sectors, that generate a framework of "de facto solidarities" in the sense proclaimed by Jean Monnet, which are increasingly difficult to untie.

What criteria to consider in order to assess the potential irreversibility of a voluntary association between sovereign nations that share a regional geographic space?

  • The accuracy of the diagnoses on international integration options for each of the partner countries. The quality of the competitive intelligence at the national level, that enables to have an accurate and current appraisal of the real choices that a country has internationally, is essential to avoid illusions regarding a possible "Plan B", that could be perceived as an alternative to the associative link that joins it with other countries with which it shares a regional geographic space.

  • The quality of the consultation mechanisms for the definition of national interests. Both at the founding moment, as well as at the time of redefining the roadmaps and work methods of an integration process, it would seem essential that each country can reflect through its strategies the most diverse and deep interests of its productive and social spectrum. The sharing of interests at a regional level presupposes, in order to be sustainable, that the pooling of the respective domestic interests of a society has also been accurately defined.

  • The density of the offensive interests of each of the partners and, in particular, the identification of the citizens with the common project. The more extensive the players with offensive interests in each participating nation of an integration process, the more likely the forces designed to preserve the idea of working with nations with which it shares a regional geographic space are to predominate. The base of social legitimacy will be broader the greater the number of citizens who identify with the regional space -the idea of "us" and "them" - by considering it as one of the sources of their aspirations for well-being, quality of life, freedom and democracy and, in particular, of their vision of a better future.

What tentative conclusions can be drawn from that observed in the recent experiences of the EU and Mercosur regarding the sustainability of the respective integration processes?

There are three tentative conclusions of a reflection based on the comparison of the crises being experienced by both integration processes.

The first is that, in the construction of a permanent association between sovereign nations that share a regional geographic area, there is no single model for how to develop a common project and how to adapt it to the continuous contextual changes.

Second, the objectives and methods of joint work must be continually adapted to the changing context.

Finally, the third is that a key variable to explain and predict the sustainability of a process of integration between nations that share a regional geographic space is the quality of the external integration strategies of each participating country.


Recommended Reading:


  • Arbuet-Vignali, Heber; Vignali, Giovanetti, "Laudo N° 01/2012 del T.P.R. Un vacío imposible de llenar", Consejo Uruguayo para las Relaciones Internacionales (CURI), Estudio 08/12, Montevideo, 3 de octubre de 2012, en: http://curi.org.uy/.
  • Diener, Alexander C.; Hagen, Joshua (eds.), "Borderlines and Borderlands. Political Oddities at the Edge of the Nation-State", Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Plymouth, UK 2010.
  • Fundación INAI, "Boletín del INAI", Boletín N° 120, Buenos Aires, 30 de septiembre de 2012, en: http://www.inai.org.ar/.
  • Gallaher, Carolyn; Dhalman, Carl T.; Gilmartin, Mary; Mountz, Alison (with Shirlow, Peter), "Key Concepts in Political Geography", SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC. 2009.
  • Garton Ash, Timothy, "The Crisis of Europe. How the Union Came Together and Why It's Falling Apart", Foreign Affairs, Volume 91, Number 5, New York, September/October 2012, ps. 2-15.
  • González Guyer, Fernando, "Uruguay y el calentamiento global: el mundo de las ficciones convenientes", Consejo Uruguayo para las Relaciones Internacionales (CURI), Análisis 04/12, Montevideo, 10 de octubre de 2012, en: http://curi.org.uy/.
  • Kaplan, Robert D., "The Revenge of Geography. What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate", Random House, New York 2012.
  • Lamy, Pascal, "Global value chains are binding us together", WTO Director-General speech at the WTO-MOFCOM-OECD-UNCTAD Seminar on Global Value Chains in Beijing on 19 September 2012, en: http://www.wto.org/.
  • Maalouf, Amin, "Les désorientés", roman, Bernard Grasset, Paris 2012.
  • Ortega, Andrés, "La paz de los viejos y de los jóvenes", diario El País, Madrid, sábado 13 de octubre 2012, en: http://blogs.elpais.com/.
  • Malamud, Carlos, "UE-Mercosur: Negociaciones sin futuro", Real Instituto Elcano, ARI, 61/2012, Madrid, 27/09/2012, en: http://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/.
  • Malamud, Carlos, "Celso Amorim y su peculiar visión del mundo", Infolatam, Madrid 9 de octubre de 2012, en: http://www.infolatam.com/.
  • Petersmann, Ernst-Ulrich, "International Economic Law in the 21st Century. Constitutional Pluralism and Multilevel Governance of Interdependent Public Goods", Hart Publishing, Oxford and Portland, Oregon, 2012.
  • Schott, Jeffrey J.; Lee, Minsoo; Muir, Julia, "Prospects for Services Trade Negotiations", Peeterson Institute for International Economics, Working Paper Series, WP 12-17, Washington, October 2012, en: http://www.iie.com/.
  • Spyrkman, Nicholas J., "America's Strategy in World Politics. The United States and the Balance of Power", with an introduction by Francis P.Sempa, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick (USA) and London (UK), 2008.
  • World Trade Organization, "Market access for products and services of export interest to least-developed countries", WTO, Sub-Committee on Least-Developed Countries, WT/COMTD/LDC/W/56, Geneva, 1 October 2012, en: http://docsonline.wto.org/.

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.

http://www.felixpena.com.ar | info@felixpena.com.ar


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