| REFLECTIONS ON TWO EXPERIENCES:
What factors help to preserve the voluntary integration between sovereign
by Félix Peña
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
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
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
What criteria to consider in order to assess the potential irreversibility
of a voluntary association between sovereign nations that share a regional
- 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
- 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
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.
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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