Is the European Union a model for regionalism?

Regionalism is the practice of coordinating social, economic or political activities with a geographical region comprising of several states. The European Union is considered as one of the most successful models of regionalism, tying 28 states together on political, economic and security matters. Despite its successes, this essay shall demonstrate that it is not a successful model for regionalism, evident by the crises it faces.

Perhaps the most successful principle of the EU is its economic practices. By practising free trade amongst members, the EU reaps the benefits of comparative advantage. David Ricardo’s work mentions that trade is beneficial for all if it is free trade focusing on comparative advantage. The right-wing Adam Smith also notes how the cost of production falls due to specialisation enabled by free trade. This is effectively ensured by EU’s policy of freedom of movement of labour, capital, goods and services. This has indeed made trade easier in the region and boosted economic growth. Truly, the UK sees over 40% of its exports to the EU. Such a regional bloc also enjoys external benefits as the bloc is regarded as one market, allowing for better negotiating abilities when discussing trade agreements between other states, as shown by the average of 3%> tariffs between the US and the EU. This has acted as a model for other economic blocs to emerge, such as ASEAN and APEC.

Whether the economic practices are worth modelling is indeed worth disputing. This is especially because the EU promotes that members adopts its single currency- the Euro. Those in the Eurozone see common monetary policy made by the ECB. Though the lack of common fiscal policy led to the Eurozone crisis of 2009. Indeed, due to the common interest rate for loans, based on Germany’s economy, irresponsible economies such as Greece see the ability to borrow extraordinary amounts which they have no means of repaying. This is what led to Greece defaulting on its debt, but as the region is so financially interconnected, the calamity of Greece spread throughout Europe as banks all over Europe had to be bailed out. Realist would therefore condemn monetary unison as they would postulate that such crises are inevitable due to the selfish nature of states. This therefore makes the EU’s principle of economic regionalism unattractive to model.

Perhaps then it could be said that the EU’s political principle is worth modelling. Indeed, the EU exercises great political interconnectedness through its various institutions such as the European Council, made up of 28 heads of states, who act to give overall political direction. This is an intergovernmental institution of the EU. The EU also exemplifies supranationalism as demonstrated by the European Commission, where the commissioners act on behalf of all member states. This is said to be incredibly useful to model, as such political cooperation allows collective decisions to be made over collective issues, such as the refugee crisis. This allows the cosmopolitan view of global politics to better manifest, as key policies such as human rights are better protected- illustrated by the ECHR, an act of the EU implemented on member states.

Though the political ambitions are strongly controversial and many support the view that it should not be modelled. This is a view echoed by realists who view that state sovereignty is fundamental. The ability for the EU to govern the policies of member states restricts the state to be sovereign. Indeed, due to EU policy about freedom of movement, the UK cannot restrict immigration although there is strong support for it to do so. Lack of sovereignty has led to the increase in anti-EU sentiments across Europe as illustrated by Brexit and the popularity of the National Front in France. Due to the negative implication of EU’s political unison, it should not be modelled therefore.

It is suggested that the EU should be a model to regionalism due to its security implications. As liberals suggest, and the EU exemplifies, cooperation and great interdependence leads to a harmonic world order. The security principle was the primary goal in founding the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, which later was renamed the EU in 1993. Since its founding, Germany’s third rise was supressed and conflict between the great powers that often engaged in conflict, France, Britain and Germany, was prevented. Though Ferguson argues that the EU is what allowed Germany to rise; now Germany is Europe’s largest economy due to the benefits of the fixed currency. Yet, as the EU helps keep peace between states it can be regarded as a model to regionalism.

Although it is evident that the EU has in fact failed to keep the region free from conflict and has failed to effectively respond to conflict. This is best exemplified by the fact that the ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s were not properly addressed by the EU, despite being at its doorstep. Such apathy is explained by realists as being because of the lack of self-interest in helping those that were being ethnically cleansed. The lack of effective action was also seen when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine- a state waiting to join the EU.  Instead in Kosovo, the European states engaged with NATO to resolve the matter. Due to these failings, it is evident that the EU does not effectively address security concerns, and so is an inadequate model to regionalism for the principle of security.

In summary, the EU has great successes in its economic, political and security aspect. Overall, it has united states in a way that has never been seen before. In a sense, in pioneered regionalism for the modern era. Thus, many regard it as being the most successful regional unison. It is indeed the most developed out of the regional bodies at present. However, its numerous failures due to its political, economic and security principles means that it is not a model to exemplify.

Abdul Khan


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