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Comparison Of The Eu And Asean Regional System Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 5404 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, stated: “The EU and ASEAN are two successful examples of regional integration in the world […] ASEAN’s integration is advancing. It is developing its institutions and organise experience”. [1] Today’s new regionalism intends to provide solutions to developmental problems, but many believe that these problems are also the source of many internal conflicts. This new regionalism is based on territorial size and economies of scale as the traditional one, but it also explains new fears from the new century. [2] The European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are seen as examples, because both of them are part of the regionalism approach. [3] 

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Some academics consider the EU as a ‘world model in miniature’ or even as a blueprint for other regions, [4] while others believe that this model can be transferred to areas such as the ASEAN. Thus, the European Commission (EC) has stated that the EU supports those regions that want ‘to emulate us’. [5] However, many non-Europeans have insisted on how difficult it is to transfer the European model, because of the disparities in their history and socio-cultural background, their values and ideas, rule of law, [6] degree of institutionalization, objectives and praxis, and so on. [7] 

Despite these differences, there are some commonalities; for instance, both regions emphasize integrity and respect of national sovereignty. Although, they differ in level and channels, the European region applies the subsidiarity concept, while the Asian area believes in the principle of non-interference. In addition, both regions must tackle the new concept of security, like growth, stability, poverty alleviation, uncontrolled migration flows, energy, climate change, etc., based on their “historical development, systemic geopolitical and economic constraints, and finally their domestic organisation and consensus”. [8] For this reason, the analysis of issues, such as the uncontrolled flows of migrations in ASEAN and the EU, would increase our understanding of the different measures adopted in many areas as well as the features of their integration.

At this initial point, some questions arise: how can we compare the different regionalization processes? To what extent is it interesting to compare these two regions? Is new regionalism an opportunity to solve social problems? Thus, the goal of this research is to understand their commonalities and divergences of these two regions based on two episodes at sea involving immigrants. These episodes are not referred to the political or economical field as they used to be; by contrast, they are based on immigration policy. I chose this example because it also reflects degrees of integration, relation with social policies, human rights, and international law. It is not only a good example to understand their different integration processes, but it is also a polemic situation for both regions.

This study is divided into five sections. The first section will introduce the theoretical framework in which this study is supported. The second one will examine selected cases about immigration problems in the area of the Mediterranean coast within the EU area. The third section will explain the problems involved with the Burmese refugees in the South East coast within the ASEAN framework. The fourth part will compare both integration processes. These cases will help to exemplify the differences and similarities of both regions, and at the same time, they will allow us to explore how effective are regional systems to benefit or protect their population. Finally, the conclusion will open doors for further research and improvement in the systems.

2. Theoretical framework

Different theoretical approaches have been applied for this kind of studies. On one hand, realist, constructivist and liberal approaches have been applied for the study of the role of ideas and interests. [9] For instance, the constructivist approach states that “in heterogeneous and newly formed regional groupings interregionalism may stimulate regional identity-building”. [10] The realist approach, however, “highlights power and balances as essential characteristics of inter- and transregional relations” [11] . On the other hand, in the last two decades new theoretical approaches have been developed, namely globalisation and regionalisation. [12] 

Globalization is part of a process of internalization, and it is related to governance, since it implies the need to find alternatives for sustainable development, efficient and transparent government, as well as civic participation. Moreover, it has respected the rule of law and a system of rights. [13] Many scholars understand it as a reform of the international system since the end of the Cold War, [14] a phenomenon which in some way undermines the power of the states and their territorial dimension. Some governments are reluctant to reduce the impact of globalization to protect their territorial control. Regionalism is thus one of the best formulas, [15] because “Some issues can best be handled at the regional level among states that are heavily involved in overlapping interests”. [16] Although the traditional economic model, through its dialogue and cooperation [17] in economy, trade [18] and binding arrangements [19] among States, has favoured regionalism as a means of stabilizing the area, some scholars have emphasized a series of differences which are significant for the development of this paper:

Old regionalism

New regionalism

Formed in a bipolar Cold War system

Formed in a multipolar world

Created from above (superpower intervention)

Spontaneous process from the regions. Need of cooperation to tackle new global challenges

Inward oriented and protectionist in economic terms

Open, compatible with an interdependent world economy

Specific objectives

Comprehensive, multidimensional process

Concerned with relations among nation states

Global structural transformation, non-state actors are active and operating at several levels.

Harmonization of trade policies leading to deeper economic integration, with political integration as a possible future result.

Transformation of a region from relative heterogeneity to increased homogeneity in regard to: culture, security, economic policies and political regimes.

Source: Own elaboration (based on Björn Hettne, ‘Globalization, the new regionalism, and East Asia’)

The New regionalism expanded the regional framework beyond European borders. Today, ASEAN has become the second most advanced regional system, [20] and its general purposes are: (1) to secure peace; (2) to provide external security; (3) to carry out economic tasks; (4) to address environmental issues; and (5) to secure human rights. [21] Brian Dai argued that the EU is the best example to demonstrate that “regional integration is the best solution to regional peace and security as well as bringing common welfare to the population”. [22] 

European integration: the case of immigrants at sea and their rights

The EU is the oldest regional system; although it is still changing, not only in structure, but also deepening its policies, it is a unique supranational institutional entity with specific characteristics: (1) collective memory of the devastation of WW II; (2) overcrowded region in terms of population and the number of states; (3) similar political system; (4) alike social welfare systems; and (5) relatively similar culture and religion. [23] 

In 2004, the Hague programme, called ‘Strengthening Freedom, Security and Justice in the EU’, was adopted; it is based on one of the main objectives of the EU: to create an area of freedom, security and justice. It adopted “common legislative instruments and improvement of coordination of national policies, practical cooperation, and regular information exchange between Member States (MSs) and the Commission”. [24] In this context, it is important to clarify the definition of illegal immigration given by the Commission: “it includes third-country nationals who enter the territory of a MS illegally by land, sea and air”. [25] 

MSs accepted to create a common immigration policy at EU level. The Commission’s proposals had become EU legislation; in 2005 a debate was re-launched with the ‘Green Paper on an EU approach to managing economic migration’; later that year, a ‘Policy Plan on Legal Migration’ was adopted listing the actions and legislative initiatives. In September 2007, the Commission presented the ‘Third Annual Report on Migration and Integration’, which monitors the process of admission and integration of third-country immigrants in the EU. [26] 

The EU developed a Global Approach to migration which supports general principles such as subsidiarity, solidarity, human rights, fundamental freedoms, access to asylum, and Geneva Convention, [27] thourgh which foster cooperation with third countries, particularly in the Mediterranean. This approach is within the European Neighbourhood Policy framework through bilateral dialogues. However, the approach and adoption of those general principles sought to be endured by strong political committeemen, particularly because resources should be mobilised to fight smuggling and trafficking networks, and protect the immigrants asking for asylum. [28] 

There are some cases described below in which immigrants have been found in waters of the Mediterranean sea. Initially, they were not rescued because of MSs’ national interests. Additionally, many other cases have been reported during recent years. [29] 

The first case took place in May 2007: an Italian news agency informed that 27 men coming from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Niger, Senegal and Togo asked for help to a Maltese trawler’s tuna fish pen, Budafel. The ship-owner did not provide assistance to the immigrants. In the meantime, Maltese and Libyan authorities were engaged in diplomatic dialogues to clarify who had to take responsibility for the immigrants; the Italian Coastguard was notified about the incident and took the responsibility for them. [30] 

The second case also was in May 2007: 26 people were recued by the Spanish tug Monfalco. This boat was between Libya and Malta waters. The ship-owner did not have space on board for all the immigrants, but Maltese authorities refused to allow the people to disembark. The Spanish government thus made the decision to bring them to Spain. They claimed that they could be “possible applicants who appear to have come from the Ivory Coast, a country at war”. [31] However, this humanitarian argument is not always used by the Spanish government, as was the case of the two ships Marine I and Happy Day.

In both cases, Maltese authorities did not rescue the immigrants or arrange a safety place. Although there always is another side of the coin and Maltese officials declared and provided documents to defend themselves from these accusations. Despite this fact, Maltese authorities knew that Libya had not ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention, thus their practices towards immigrants or asylum seekers did not respect their rights. For this reason, Malta government violated art. 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), art. 33 of the Geneva Convention, art. 3 of the UN Convention against Torture and art. 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, Malta authorities also infringed the International Maritime Legislation, which is related to the non refoulement principle. [32] 

These incidents prompted the Council to discuss a system of sharing responsibilities (COREPER). [33] In May 2008, COREPER drafted Return Directive, which stated that MSs were not obliged to assist the immigrants without legal costs. It was adopted by the European Parliament (EP) and Council at the end of the year, covering common standards and procedures for returning illegal immigrants. [34] The same year, the Joint Operation Nautilus was launched, which enhanced the control in Mediterranean borders. [35] 

By contrast, the EP did not share the same opinion and declared that MSs should respect the International Law on Human Rights, Asylum and Refugee Law, and ECHR, and that new legislation should be passes to fill the holes in the current law, [36] especially on the the rescue and detention operations of the immigrants. [37] 

4. ASEAN integration

ASEAN integration started with abstract ideas, asymmetric national interests and competing for hegemony and born within a communist threat period. [38] Its members wanted to establish a new period outside the Cold War paradigm. The ASEAN was not created to solve conflicts among members, but rather to become a forum based on the non-interference principle where members could discuss issues not related with sensitive matters. [39] 

In this context, a new concept appears to support the economic integration, Confucian capitalism, but after the financial crisis in 1997 it lost supporters. [40] However, the economic integration originally was not the aim, a growing global competition forced ASEAN should pay more attention to these issues. [41] After the Free Trade Area (AFTA) was created, their cooperation has been deeper and covers service, finance, investment and monetary sectors. [42] Some scholars agree that ASEAN+3 process is even a more important and complex cooperation than ASEAN itself. [43] In 1998, during the 6th ASEAN Summit, the ‘Hanoi Plan of Action’ (HPA) was adopted promoting social development. The same year, ASEAN ministers on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication established the ‘Action Plan on Social Safety Nets’ in Jakarta. [44] 

During the 3rd Meeting of ASEAN, Maung Htay, ASEAN Director-General of Immigration Department, stated that an improvement of the cooperation on immigration issues was required and accepted the idea of creating an Ad hoc High Level Experts Group on immigration issues organized in the Philippines 2000. In addition, Htay also declared that ASEAN Vision 2020 and HPA will contribute to conduct this matter. [45] Steps forward were undertaken when, during the 6th Meeting, a work programme was launched entailing practical initiatives and measures, and also the Plan of Action established in the Philippines 2000. [46] Moreover, in October 2007, during the 6th ASEAN People’s Assembly (APA), the question of Myanmar and human rights was tackled, and the implications of the Human Rights Body in the ASEAN Charter, were discussed. [47] 

The situation of refugees and human rights are of concern, especially the Karen or Karenni, a Muslim ethnic group in Burma. Thailand shares about 2000 km of border with Burma with a great flow of refugees, [48] and around 140.000 refugees live in nine camps in Thailand, [49] a situation shared by countries like Malaysia, Bangladesh and India. The subhuman conditions of these refugees is complicated, because new generations have been born in the camps and they are forbidden to leave, [50] and suffer harasment and abuses from smugglers, detention, discrimination. [51] The Thai government, however, pays no attention to international organizations and wants to send them back to Myanmar, allowing no more boats to disembark on its coasts. [52] The main problem is that neither Thailand nor other asylum countries for Burmese refugees had not signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or the 1967 Protocol. [53] To them, refugees are illegal immigrants. [54] 

ASEAN has a policy of ‘constructive engagement’, but it is more complex since it has semi-supporters as China and India, interested in its natural resources. ASEAN members failed to tackle this question in March 2009, [55] and in the Bali Process in Indonesia. The issue was not discussed at the plenary session or in the concluding statement. [56] The Working Group for ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism remind the Myanmar Government that it should respect the fundamental rights of its citizens. It also recalls that its entrance in 1997 compromised a long-term plan towards democratization. In fact, Myanmar has to achieve the ASEAN Vision 2010 as well, in which its Working Group declared, “a peaceful and stable Southeast Asia, where the causes for conflict have been eliminated through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law”. [57] 


This comparison is based on Börzell’s model [58] in which similarities and differences in regard to values and identity, institutional design, nature of rules, domestic level actors, and conflicts among them are identified. This section will discuss the differences which are subdivided into five components: ideas, institutionalization, domestic level, political field, and economic field. The cases we saw above illustrate these disparities and similitudes and this comparison should shed some light to better understand the reactions, mechanisms, channels, behaviours, further steps, etc.


Despite controversial opinions, the EU and ASEAN have several similarities, which have been pointed out by Underhill. [59] But in spite of these similarities, Park and Kim [60] added that both regions have a sense of Community and experienced similar difficulties during the current financial crisis, while some academics would rather suggest that the “ASEAN Economic Community is an idea inspired by the EEC and expressed in similar wording”. [61] 

Both regions had to tackle similar security issues which raise new challenges. A holistic approach is required in order to face these new matters, and particularly to enhance immigration law and cooperation. The differences can be observed in the following figure (Franck et al., pp. 306-307):



European Union


After WW II, ideas generated by politicians

Today politicians + intellectuals + society

Project based on idealistic concepts from intellectuals

France and Germany alliance

China and Japan still working

Germany recognized its war crimes

Japan did not recognized them: reluctant to join ASEAN+3, proposals ASEAN+6

Horrors of WW II, origin of the integration in Europe

Members do not have a common history

Clear concept of Europe 27 [62] 

Unclear concept of Asia: lack of clearly defined borders, common culture and religion

Western values: democracy, respect of universal human rights, rule of law. They are codified and legally-binding

Asian identity, Asian family, Asian Values: community, capitalism, and relativism Decoded and not legally-binding

Identity based on 50 years of integration

Asianism based on Sino-center world, protectionist tendencies, for centuries

Cleavages based on social welfare between west and east are decreasing. There are not latent conflicts

Strong cleavages based on ideology maintain latent conflicts between north and south

EU is a contiguous landmass

It is an enormous archipelago: difficulties for contacts, transport, mobility, etc.

Source: Own elaboration based on the following authors: Kim, Berkofsky, Park & Kim, Rüland, Franck, Defraigne, Moriamé et al.




High level institutionalization

Low level institutionalization

Common institutions built on treaties and rule of law.

E.g. OSCE, Council, ECHR, etc.

No common institutions built on voluntary commitments and weaker tradition of law. E.g. APEC, ASEM, ASF

Democratic structure precondition for integration

Network-style: interpersonal and informal relations

US supported integration & multilateralism

US did/do not support integration, preference of bilateralism

Philosophy: more complex issues, deeper institutionalization

Philosophy: informal contacts and negotiations

Alliances between official and civilian actors

Civilian organizations started to be involve


formal and informal practices should coexist as well as strict and flexible tools

Source: Own elaboration based on the following authors: Dong & Heidul, Cuyvers, Berkofsky, Park & Kim, Franck, Defraigne, Moriamé et al.

Domestic Level



Strong normative principles

Need a set of normative principles, e.g. Myanmar is not only about HR

Mix of Supranational and Intergovernmental structure: Commission (propose), Council and EP (pass or reject), and MS implement or sanction.

Intergovernmental structure

Decision-making process: unanimity, co-decision, assent, consultation

Decision-making process: consensus and unanimity

Harmonisation with strict legal basis

Building harmonization, not legal basis



Charter adopted 2007: propose framework and legal foundation, restructure mechanisms and improve decision-making process. Strengthen institutions. [63] 

Source: Own elaboration based on the following authors: Underhill, Laursen, Franck, Defraigne, Moriamé et al.

Political field



Far from a single political actor, but some consistency

High level of fragmentation

MS pool sovereignty in some areas = EU disposes deeper and more powerful mechanism of solidarity

MS reluctant to pool sovereignty = national approach = less mechanism

European Structural Funds

Sub-regional cooperation, e.g. Informal and facilitated by ADB, who supplies technical, administrative and logistical support

Fixed exchange rate system on macro-economic solidarity. E.g. wealthier countries support weaker

Floating exchange rate system on macro-economic solidarity. E.g. contribution to erode social attainments

Free movement of goods, services, people, labour, etc.

Not free movement: goods, labour, etc.

Social policies and cooperation: European Social Fund.

Subsidiarity principle

Lisbon Treaty sets up a social agenda, but not concrete progress

National approach, far away from the development of social policies.

Some actions:

– 1998, Hanoi Plan Action: poverty reduction

– 1998, Action Plan on Social Safety Nets

Source: Own elaboration based on the following authors: Underhill, Laursen, Park & Kim, Ruelan, and Cuyvers.

Economic field



Monetary Union

Single market unclear notion, especially for business and consumers

Transparent and accountable financial and banking system

Need to create transparent and accountable financial and banking system

EU relies on its own institutions

Need to rely on non-ASEAN institutions, e.g. 1992, ADB assisted Greater Mekong Sub-region for economic cooperation

Successful EMU: needs political willingness

EU is the only successful single market

AFTA is still unclear, deadline 2010.

AEC is far away from the EU single market, e.g. it does not have common external tariff policy to create customs union.

It has two main preconditions: high level of economic integration and independent judicial institutions

Custom Union, no need of border inspection

Need border inspection, restrictions.

European Monetary Union 1999: weak mechanism due to the monetarist mandate of the ECB

Chiang Mai Initiative [64] of ASEAN+3: creation of a network of bilateral swap arrangements

Exchange rate fixed and stable influences financial integration

Exchange rate volatility, e.g. during financial crisis caused more economic problems, reduced economic growth.

Source: Own elaboration based on the following authors: Laursen, Dong & Heidul, Plummer, Underhill, Berkofsky, and European Policy Center.


As we have seen along the paper, regional organisations are important for the international system and embrace a multilateral approach, which tries to solve problems with different means other than military solutions. Regionalism is a good formula to provid


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