Crises, cost like those gripping Europe, tend to expose the process and practice of regional governance as technocratic and elite-driven. But citizens and civil society may well demand more voice and power, in a ‘politicisation’ of regions.
In a globalizing world, where old and new evolutions challenge traditional decision making and (nation) states find it increasingly difficult to govern political processes and economic transactions that are ever more cross-boundary in nature, supranational regional governance has proven a powerful tool to address such growing complexity.
As a meso-level between the state and a hypothetical global government, regional organizations have been purposefully created with a view to providing more effective management structures to deal with phenomena and processes transcending the borders of national communities. Traditionally, trans-frontier natural resources were the first common goods to be placed under the administration of regional organizations. For instance, the oldest existing regional organization in the world is the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine, an authority established in Europe during the 1815 Congress of Vienna. Its purpose was to manage cross-boundary transports along the river Rhine, which cuts across France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, and – in spite of its limited political clout – it set an important precedent for the future evolutions of European integration. The forerunner of the European Economic Community, which then transformed into the European Union, was the European Coal and Steal Community, a supranational authority created to provide common jurisdiction over the most fundamental natural resources of the continent, whose direct control had historically been the main source of conflict in the region.
Nowadays, there is a virtually endless list of regional organizations operating in divers sectors, entrusted with varying degrees of power and decision-making authority. Although most of them only perform specific functions (e.g. natural resources management, conflict prevention, legal advice, customs control, policing, etc.), there has been an increase in the establishment of ‘general purpose’ regional organizations, of which the EU is the most well-known and developed example. Some of them have evolved out of specific trade agreements (e.g. free trade areas), such as the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), while others have been created with a view to guaranteeing security and development, such as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the African Union (AU). As famously remarked by P. Katzenstein, the contemporary international arena may very well develop into a ‘world of regions’, where openness and cooperation are reinforced by growth in cross-border exchanges and global transformations in interstate relations.
Regions and crises
According to Karl Deutsch, one of the forefathers of regional studies, the most fundamental example of region-building is constituted by so-called ‘security communities’, groupings of countries that share institutional systems to avoid internal conflicts and address common external threats. In this vein, the existence of certain threats (often in the form of fully-fledged conflicts) has been instrumental to the creation of regional organizations. The European integration project emerged out of the ashes of World War II. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was created after the end of colonialism while its successor, the AU, was established to guarantee peace and development in a traditionally troubled continent. Similarly, ASEAN was founded to oppose the advancement of communism in South East Asia and strengthen the small countries of the region vis-à-vis their strong and powerful neighbours.
Supranational regionalism and crises have always been intimately connected, both empirically and theoretically. Yet, although most theoretical approaches appear to discuss crises as potential springboards for more and better regional cooperation/integration, the opposite is equally true. For instance, De Gaulle’s critical stance vis-à-vis the process of European integration (which led to a prolonged institutional crisis in the 1960s) prompted Ernst Haas, the founder of the neo-functionalist approach, to conclude that regional integration theory was ‘obsolete’. The current sovereign-debt crisis (often dubbed as the Euro-crisis) is raising a lot of doubts about the capacity of the EU to weather the storm and re-launch integration of the European continent. Public discourse not only in Europe, but also in the rest of the world, hints at the fact that regional cooperation/ integration does not deal well with ‘rainy days’, when member states tend to become more inward looking and seek refuge in short-sighted nationalism.
The word ‘crisis’ derives from the ancient Greek verb krinein, which means to ‘separate, decide and judge’. As such, it therefore describes events or phenomena that produce change and lead to decisions. Looking at most current events, it is not easy to gauge the extent to which these crises may lead to more regional cooperation/integration or, conversely, to gradual/abrupt disintegration. However, there is little doubt that they present fundamental turning points in the evolution of regional cooperation/integration and pose significant challenges to all stakeholders involved. At the same time, they may very well become opportunities to reassess the usefulness of supranational regions and prospectively re-design a world of new regions.
Euro-crisis and the weakening of the European model
Crises are revelatory moments. They break the repetitive continuity of ordinary processes and present us with unexpected threats and opportunities. As disruptive events, they force us to rethink conventional wisdom and become imaginative. In the evolution of political institutions, crises have been fundamental turning points opening up new space for governance innovations or, by contrast, reducing the spectrum of available options. They have ushered in phases of progress and prosperity or plummeted our societies into the darkness of parochialism and backwardness.
The current Euro-crisis may have a significant long-term impact on the ‘acceptability’ of regional integration as an end-goal for regionalism not only in Europe, but also in other regions. If the European project fails to deliver the expected outcomes of stability, well-being and solidarity, then it is likely that other regions will refrain from pushing for full-blown integration, perhaps privileging less demanding forms of cooperation. It also appears as if the EU ‘model’ of integration has been severely eroded by the global financial crisis and the turmoil in the Eurozone. There is indeed growing criticism of Eurocentric approaches to regionalism, not only among scholars, but also among leading policy makers. Especially, emerging powers in Africa, Asia and South America are becoming more assertive about the need to find different ways to promote regional governance in a world in which traditional power distributions are being fundamentally called into question. Moreover, the recent popular revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East are likely to reshape geostrategic equilibria in the Mediterranean and possibly usher in a new phase of regional cooperation within the Arab world and also with Europe.
Citizens and regional governance
Citizens have been the underdogs of regionalism. From Europe, to Africa, Asia and Latin America, civil society has largely been on the receiving end of region-building processes. More often than not, civil society has been intentionally sidelined, while some sympathetic non-governmental organisations have been given the instrumental task of supporting institutions in their efforts at building a regional ‘identity’. In spite of rhetorical references to the importance of civic participation, regionalism has largely developed ‘without the citizens’.
Yet contemporary crises seem to bring ‘the people’ back into the picture, at least insofar as various attempts at regional cooperation and integration stumble upon the ideas, values and expectations of the citizens. The Euro-crisis is not just a matter of scarce liquidity and overexposure of a few national governments and most private banks. It is first and foremost a legitimacy crisis, which is revealing the fundamental limitations of an elite-driven regionalism model. Not disputing the pivotal role that European political elites played in setting the integration process in motion, there is little doubt that ‘deep integration’ will only be achieved when European citizens will have a say over the type of developmental trajectory that the EU should adopt as well as its ultimate goals. Looking at the astonishing amount of public resources channelled to rescue private banks in comparison to the harsh austerity plans enforced on allegedly profligate Member States, one cannot help but ask the question: what actual interests drive regionalism in the world?
Most observers have been traditionally looking at regionalization processes as politically neutral phenomena in international affairs. Research in this field has been generally restricted to the ‘quantity’ of regionalism, rather than its ‘quality’. Whether it is to explain the gradual devolution of authority from nation states to supranational institutions (as is the case with neo-functionalism) or whether it is to demonstrate the continuous bargaining process involving national governments (as is the case with intergovernmentalism), mainstream approaches to regional cooperation and integration have refrained from looking at the quality of regionalization processes. Will there be more or fewer regions in the world? Will regional institutions replace the nation state? Will regional governance become predominant in the years to come? Granted, these are very important questions and deserve to be examined in depth, especially in academic circles. Yet, the current crises force us to assess the state of regionalism in the world not only in terms of its predominance and diffusion, but also – and more importantly – in terms of how it contributes, if any, towards the well-being of our societies.
Most ‘models’ and ‘practices’ of regionalism have tended to exclude the diversity of voices and roles in society. They have often served the specific interests of ruling elites (as in Latin America and Africa), the ambitions of hegemonic actors (as in Europe and Asia) or the agendas of industrial and financial powers. Moreover, through their apparently neutral technocratic character, most attempts at regional cooperation and integration have aimed to obscure the fact that there are always winners and losers in regionalism processes.
This top-down model is being increasingly challenged. Overlapping crises and the redistribution of power at the global level call into question the capacity of regions to deliver on their promises, thus unveiling the unavoidable political character of any model of regionalism. In response to the growing cost of regionalism, citizens want to have more say over future regional trajectories and exercise their democratic powers. As a consequence, regionalism is evolving from a ‘closed’ process, designed and packaged by a small circle of political and economic elites, to an ‘open’ process, in which democratic participation and accountability are playing an ever more important role. Borrowing from the jargon of Internet users, one may say that regions are transitioning from a 1.0 phase dominated by technocrats to a 2.0 stage characterised by horizontal networks, alternative models and citizens’ contestations.
The EU, undoubtedly the most advanced and successful example of regionalism in the world, is now experiencing the direst consequences of such a transition. Amid rising unemployment, social malaise and growing discontent for the lack of accountability of national and regional politics, millions of citizens have been protesting against the Union and its political and economic agenda. Contrary to what eurosceptics would have us believe, these citizens do not call for less Europe: they want a different Europe. They would like regional integration to be more about connecting cultures and individuals and less about supporting capital. They would like their regional institutions to focus on helping the unemployed rather than bailing out bankrupt banks. They would like to see more solidarity across classes and generations, rather than less. They would like cooperation to be about building a different future instead of reshuffling old ideas. The future of regionalism may very well entail a growing ‘politicisation’ of regions, whereby citizens and civil society demand more voice and power in influencing not just general principles and values, but also the long-term political trajectories of their regions.
Source: Open Democracy
LILONGWE/JOHANNESBURG, Aug 29 2013 (IPS) – The Southern African Development Community has had to revisit its plans to raise funding for its ambitious regional development plan in the wake of a cold-shoulder from western nations and multilateral finance institutions.
“Nobody has come forward to fund any of the projects we have outlined. I have been to Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom, among other countries,” SADC deputy executive secretary for regional integration Joao Samuel Caholo told IPS.
“What is holding us back as SADC is our inability to fund our own priorities and programmes. Therefore, a sustainable funding mechanism has to be established if we are to show that we are committed and progressing.”
However, development experts have questioned whether SADC is sufficiently mature to handle ambitious projects such as the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP), which is estimated to cost 500 billion dollars.
The RIDMP aims to rebuild the region’s deficit road, rail and ports infrastructure, increase its power-generation capacity, and establish communication and weather systems. Access to water, and providing the infrastructure for its distribution is also a priority.
“SADC has the potential and we are asking for the goodwill of all member states. Let them put in the seed money,” said the outgoing executive secretary.
The long-awaited SADC Development Fund will be modelled on the European Investment Bank and other regional funding ventures. SADC countries will initially contribute 1.2 billion dollars or 51 percent. The private sector and international partners will contribute the remaining 37 and 12 percent respectively.
Contributions will be over a five-year period starting in 2013 based on a country’s affordability, institutional capacity and other criteria, which Caholo was reluctant to divulge.
“If after five years a country fails to pay its contribution, its shares will be recalled and distributed among the complying states so that the 51 percent shareholding by African states is maintained,” Caholo said.
However, a member state will still be able to access funds for its development projects as outlined in the RIDMP.
Professor Eltie Links, the chairperson of Doing Business in Africa at South Africa’s University of Stellenbosch Business School, told IPS that “SADC as a regional body would have to think about the objectives and the management of a new financing arm.”
“The fact that the region comprises a number of countries with varied levels of development makes it essential that some or other form of assistance be given to economies that are suffering in the development sphere. This, however, can only be afforded if there is sufficient economic and financial muscle in the regional body,” Links said.
He said there was no doubt about the need for more infrastructure development in the region, but development aid channelled through SADC “will always be at the cost of the bilateral support given by these same [donor] countries to the region’s needy countries. This aid funding pool has always been finite.”
He suggested that donors would need to be convinced that SADC is now at a stage where it can handle multi-billion dollar projects.
“SADC’s record as an institution that is well organised and governed has been questioned in the past. To the extent that these perceptions of a body with challenges in governance still persist, it will not get the type of support needed for a project financing arm.
“It will also have to demonstrate the ability to administer and manage such funding and projects; something it has not been able to prove beyond any doubt.”
This view was echoed by the chief executive officer of the Frontier Advisory consultancy, Martyn Davies, who argued that the SADC secretariat should not be the body that seeks to fund projects, and should instead focus on coordinating and bringing projects to the point of bankability.
“SADC, unfortunately, does not do enough in harmonising pursuits towards regional integration, and needs to do more of the basics toward promoting the facilitation of trade and capital flow in the region,” Davies told IPS.
“Donors regularly work with SADC, but the more important engagement should be with big business, and this is currently insufficient. There needs to be greater communication from SADC as to its role and also outreach to and engagement with business in order to better implement these goals.”
Trade consultant John Mare agreed that initially SADC should play more of a coordination role.
Mare told IPS a new funding institution was not needed as “there are already too many others – but SADC can help shape bankable projects and relate them to SADC priorities.”
He added that there was a need for better capacities inside SADC to work on such projects and, especially, a greater need for coordinating mechanisms between all stakeholders at national and regional levels.
“A key challenge is to improve SADC coordination with other regional organisations in which many SADC members are also members. It is crucially important that this happens – and the tragedy is that SADC is said to have more capacity than many other regional organisations in Africa,” Mare said.
He added that while there were many potential projects in Africa, what was missing was driving mechanisms for these projects.
Davies agreed there is no shortage of projects, but suggested “the challenge lies in fostering cooperation between the respective governments and bringing the projects to bankability.”
“I have never seen a good project that cannot get funding when politics is aligned.”