Compare Levels Of Integration Between Eu And Asean Politics Essay

Regionalism has become a pervasive feature of international affairs. Regionalism refers to intensifying societal, political, economic, and security cooperation among states or other actors within a geographical region. Regionalism is most often discussed in terms of trade flows. The economic world has increasingly become tripolar, with more than 83.8% of world trade concentrated on three regions: East Asia, Western Europe and North America. The core International Government Organisations (IGO) within East Asia and Western Europe are the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) respectively. Sharing similar interests and goals these two organisations differ greatly in terms of their individual level of integration.

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The aim of this essay is to compare the level of integration between the EU and ASEAN. This essay will first discuss the key characteristics concerning each organisation before analysing and then comparing their specific levels of integration across several dimensions: political, economic, societal, and security.

European Union

The EU is an economic and political union of 27 member states within the European region. It was named the EU on 1 November 1993, with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. However the EU origins can be traced back to the 1950s with the union of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), Euratom and the European Economic Community (EEC). Both politically, in terms of the absence of war, and economically, in terms of expanded trade and markets, the EU has become a powerhouse in the global economy – although the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) has reduced some of its lustre in recent times. The EU has it own military force (or rapid reaction force), a single currency and a constitution. It enjoys four freedoms of movement: goods, services, people and capital. The EU achieves a supranational level of government with its own executive, legislative and judicial branches. Organisations of the EU include the European Commission, Council of Members, European Parliament, and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).


ASEAN is a geo-political and economic organisation of 10 states within Southeast Asia. It was founded on 8 August 1967 with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration. However, ASEAN genesis dates back to 1961 with the formation of the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA). ASEAN has no single military response option of force, no single currency and its modus operandi is encapsulated in the ‘ASEAN Way’. Like the EU, one of the main reasons for establishing ASEAN was to promote regional peace and stability through economic cooperation and growth. On 7 October 2003 at the Ninth ASEAN Summit, ASEAN leaders ‘agreed to establish an ASEAN Community that would be supported by the three pillars of political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation’ [4] by the year 2020, to align with the ASEAN vision 2020.

A clear distinction between the EU and ASEAN is that the EU is largely comprised of long standing democracies whereas ASEAN countries are characterised as young or emerging democracies or communist states. Furthermore, almost all EU members are developed countries, whereas ASEAN members are developing countries. The remainder of this paper will focus on comparing political, economic and financial, societal, and defence and security integration in the EU and ASEAN.

Political Integration

EU operates a supranational parliamentary democracy headed by a President on a six month rotational tenure. The European Commission (EC) is similar to the executive branch in a domestic government. Its legislative duties include drafting new legislation and overseeing the implementation of policy. The EC consists of 27 members (one from each state) and each is assigned a ministry such as Justice, Freedom and Security, or Economic and Monetary Affairs. [5] The supranational nature of this institution is highlighted by the need for Commissioners to govern in the interest of the whole community, without direction or interference from their respective governments. State interests and concerns are communicated through the council of the EU (also known as The Council of Ministers), which comprises representatives from each EU member state. The Council of Ministers in concert with parliament (elected by the citizens), through co-decision, must approve bills for them to become law.

There is neither a formal mechanism nor institution for ASEAN political cooperation. Cooperation within ASEAN is based on the concept of ‘organisational minimalism’, through a process of ‘soft regionalism’ or ‘soft dialogue’. [6] ASEAN promotes regional peace and stability through political and security dialogue and cooperation. ASEAN has achieved political collaboration by forging major political accords such as: the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), established to retain freedom from outside interference and broaden areas of cooperation; the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), established to ‘promote perpetual peace, everlasting amity and cooperation’ among states; the Declaration of ASEAN Concord, established ‘in the pursuit of political stability’, and the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ). [7] ASEAN Political integration can be characterised as one that fosters constructive dialogue and consultation on political issues of common interest, whilst making significant contributions to efforts towards confidence building and preventative diplomacy. [8]

In terms of approaches to political integration EU and ASEAN differ significantly. The former is based on a supranational government formalised organisation whereas the latter has no formal mechanism and relies on interstate cooperation and dialogue to administer each issue among member states. The political integration infrastructure within ASEAN is embryonic compared to the well-established EU system. In terms of political integration, the EU is far more integrated than ASEAN.

Economic and Financial Integration

There are 17 EU member states that have introduced the euro since 1999. [9] Some countries have chosen to adopt the euro whilst others are yet to meet the requirements for joining the single currency. [10] The central bank is responsible for setting interest rates and controlling the money supply of the euro. [11] The ECB has also established a number of projects with the aim of harmonising the way funds and securities are moved between countries of the EU. [12] The extent of EU integration is such that it is operated as a single market with common environmental, health and safety regulations for goods and services with few significant exceptions.

The extent of ASEAN economic and financial integration lies in its goal to become an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. [13] The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) has now been virtually established through the lowering of intraregional tariffs. [14] ASEAN intends to develop capital markets, liberalise financial services, liberalise capital accounts, and discuss ASEAN currency cooperation. ASEAN economic integration and cooperation is through dialogue at the annual ASEAN Economic Ministers Meetings (AEMM). [15] These methods have nonetheless resulted in successful economic development and growth within ASEAN [16] with notable exceptions being the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and the recent impact of the Global Financial Crisis.

In comparing EU and ASEAN levels of integration, the EU is far more economically and financially institutionalised, integrated and developed than ASEAN. Although each of these organisations has virtually established interstate free trade areas there are some minor hurdles that need to be overcome before they become fully integrated. ASEAN has established and continues to establish economic integration through group consensus and cooperation compared to the EU hierarchical approach through supranational institutions.

Societal Integration

Social integration within the EU has proven to be a challenging task. [17] The standard of living and working conditions among member states requires equalisation. Although there has been a rise in living standards in general, the gap between rich and poor is widening. [18] According to the EU web site, and encapsulated in the EU Social Model, there are numerous framework agreements, policies, legislation and discussions regarding all matter of social issues including: working conditions; maternity leave; part-time work; employee financial participation; employee consultation; the free movement of workers; job creation; social protection; health, hygiene and safety at work; equality between women and men; and anti-discrimination. [19] The aim of these agreements, policies, legislation and dialogue is to standardise the living and working conditions within the EU member states.

The ASEAN approach to societal integration remains a vision embedded in the ASEAN socio-cultural community plan of action. Aligned with ASEAN Vision 2020, ASEAN goals are similar to that of the EU in that ASEAN aspires to create a ‘community of cohesive, equitable and harmonious societies’. [20] The stratospherical nature of this vision and the vagaries of its key features suggest that ASEAN has a significant task ahead. Given the lack of real action and policy to date, combined with the sheer complexity of achieving such goals in light of the EU experience, ASEAN will have to make significant inroads in the next eight and half years to realise this vision. At present, the EU remains far more socially and culturally integrated than ASEAN.

Defence and Security Integration

The EU operates as a single entity with respect to foreign and security policy. [21] This arrangement gives EU members more influence than would have been possible if they were to act independently. [22] Member states are represented as one in major forums such as the ‘WTO and Middle East peace talks’ [23] . In terms of military integration and cooperation, member states are responsible for their own self-defence, however the EU has a limited military capability realised through the EU Common Security and Defence Policy. [24] Although NATO (which many EU members are also members) is a European Defence Force the EC sought to establish its own military capability. The catalyst was the 1999 Kosovo War and the agency that controls these forces is the European Defence Agency (EDA). Each nation is required to maintain a high readiness battle group of 1500 troops at short readiness on a rotation basis for security and defence related tasks. [25] According to D’Anieri (2010), the ‘EU rapid reaction force consists of 60,000 soldiers, for use in peacekeeping and related missions’. [26]

ASEAN does not operate a regional defence force, has no defence integration and generally cooperates on defence and security issues at a bilateral level only. [27] The ASEAN approach to security lies not in the use of formal mechanisms and institutions but through diplomacy. Regional security is based on the principles of mutual respect, non-interference, non-use of force and peaceful settlement of difference. ASEAN has used the ASEAN Regional Forum to further enhance regional security through confidence building measures, preventative diplomacy, and conflict resolution. [28] Furthermore, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM), the highest defence mechanism within ASEAN, aims to promote mutual trust and confidence through greater understanding of defence and security issues as well as enhancing transparency and openness. [29] Although Baylis et al (2008) notes that a ‘dispute mechanism exists’ [30] within ASEAN; it is not clear how effective this is, or the extent that member states are integrated in fulfilling its aims. Dialogue to date has focused on ways of addressing regional non-traditional security challenges and cooperation as well as the use of ASEAN military assets and capabilities for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). [31]

ASEAN progress beyond ‘soft dialogue’ has resulted in limited defence and security integration within the region compared to the EU. There are a number of bilateral arrangements and alliances, such as the Five Powers Defence Arrangement (FPDA), that exist among states. However, they are not all inclusive, which in itself has drawn critics of the ASEAN approach and way.


Regionalism within Europe and Southeast Asia, through the EU and ASEAN, has resulted in these organisations becoming two of the world’s most powerful economies. Although the EU level of integration across political, economic, societal, and security dimensions is well ahead of ASEAN, both organisations appear to benefit. The EU remains a supranational organisation above the member states, whereas ASEAN operates through co-decision making and consensus. ASEAN progress towards regional integration is based on small, informal and voluntary steps, which will become more binding and institutionalised in due course.