Editor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author and editor-in-chief Iva Kopraleva.
The processes of regional integration are becoming increasingly important in today’s interdependent world. The different regions, taking into account their own idiosyncrasies, create a variety of organisational structures in order to address the challenges of globalisation. Nevertheless, scholars who focus their research on regionalism have noticed striking similarities between very different at first glance organizations. To illustrate this point we will compare the European Union (EU) and Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur; in English – Southern Common Market) – one of regional organization in South America composed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The EU and Mercosur are both regional organizations located in Europe and South America respectively. Arguably the most important difference between the two, apart from their location, is that the former is a lot more supranational and a lot less intergovernmental than the latter. In other words, the member states of the EU have given prerogatives to European institutions which are not under their direct control. Example of such an institution is the European Parliament which is directly and democratically elected by the citizens of the member states ever since 1979. Moreover, the European Commission, which is the executive organ of the European Union, can also be considered a supranational institution. Its members are nominated by the member states but once selected they have the freedom to act independently. Even the Council of the EU (the second legislative body of the Union), which is considered intergovernmental because it is composed from the ministers of the member states, needs a qualified majority to make decisions instead of a unanimous agreement in an increasing number of policy spheres. This is important because a lot of the EU legislative acts which these institutions agree upon are binding for all member states, regardless of the way their representatives voted during the Council sessions.
On the other hand, Mercosur’s institutions function in a very different way. The Common Market Council, which is the highest decision-making authority of the organisation, is composed by the ministers of Foreign Affairs and Economy of all the member states. Every decision taken by this institution needs to be unanimous in order to be implemented. TheCommon Market Group is the executive body. Its primary task is to implement the decisions taken by the Council. The Group is also coordinated by the ministers of Foreign Affairs of the member states and for this reason is an intergovernmental body. The Trade Commission is the third decision-making body of the organization. It is once again composed by representatives of each member state. Its role is to review Mercosur’s external tariff when necessary and to solve trade disputes whenever they arise. Therefore, we can conclude that all three of Mercosur’s decision-making institutions are intergovernmental.
From everything said so far it appears that the EU and Mercosur do not have much in common except for the fact that they are both regional organizations. Nevertheless, there are some interesting similarities between the two. First of all, Mercosur created its own Parliament which started functioning in 2007. The first parliamentary representatives were nominated by the member states but then the election of Mercosur MPs was merged with the general elections in some countries. The first simultaneous popular election of the Mercosur parliament will be held in 2015. It is important to note that the main difference between the European Parliament and the one of Mercosur is that the latter cannot take binding decisions. Nevertheless, it is interesting that two organisations which are so different from each other both incorporate in their institutional structure a popularly elected Parliament.
Another interesting similarity between the EU and Mercosur is that they both implement a Regional Policy with the objective to finance the least developed countries and regions in those countries and to create cohesion between the member states. In both cases this is done by creating Regional Policy Funds which are distributed between the member states. There are a lot of differences between the two Regional Policies. The amount money which is distributed in the EU is a lot greater. Moreover, once again the Union has a lot more supranational approach to the Policy than Mercosur. Nevertheless, the objectives of both Policies are strikingly similar. They both strive to create structural convergence, to foster competitiveness and to promote cohesion.
In conclusion, despite the fact that the EU and Mercosur are very different there are certain similarities between them which need to be addressed and, hopefully, successfully explained. At this time probably the most convincing theoretical explanation comes from the scholars who argue that regional integration can be diffused. The main rationale behind this theory is that regional organizations do not exist in a vacuum. They influence each other, learn from each other and, sometimes, copy each other. Different causal mechanisms are identified in order to explain the exact way in which these interactions occur. It is important to note, however, that as long as the EU is viewed as a successful and legitimate organisation and as an important economic centre, its practices and institutional structures are more likely to be diffused and to have influence on other regional organisations.
Image source: www.eubrasil.eu