Regional integration is seen as a tactic to strengthen the position of States in the international arena. A historical example of regional integration is the European Union (EU) that is currently the strongest union in the world, in economic and political terms. A current example of an integration attempt is the recently constituted Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). The UNASUR is seen as an opportunity to achieve common goals, however it still has some weaknesses that keep it from evolving. To explain this, the key happenings of the EU will be analyzed and then, the different events of the emergence of the UNASUR to contrast them with the European ones.
In 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community was established to seek economic development for those countries that had been affected by the Second World War. The hidden objective -yet widely known- was to achieve a Franco-German integration that would allow the region to have a long lasting peace. This community had 6 founding members. When the treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, the European Economic Community was created with the objective of eliminating trade barriers between the signatory States.
A few years later, the European Council emerged as the setting in which heads of state and government would meet periodically to promote political integration. But the most important step taken by the Europeans towards a regional integration is the European Parliament that evolved from being an assembly, whose participants were appointed by the national parliaments of the member states, to become a truly representative institution that required universal suffrage from all the citizens of the Member States. This particular condition gave the European Parliament legitimacy and promoted integration among all the nations that are part of it. In other words, States were, up too certain extent, giving up their sovereignty to integrate.
In South America, the story has been quite different. This region is characterized by the creation of numerous organizations focused on integration that after a short period of time become obsolete, causing the emergence of a new somewhat improved version to replace the previous one. Therefore, we can see that the process of integration is a very disperse one, that could be considered as many processes happening simultaneously. Leaving States with multiple efforts in different areas but not with a single one that would give the expected outcome.
A similar institution to the European Coal And Steel Community and the European Economic Commission, is the Southern Common Market (Mercado Común del Sur- Mercosur). The Mercosur traces back to 1991, when Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay signed its Constitution Treaty. The aim was to integrate the markets of the member states to impulse economic growth and diminish social inequalities by the coordination of macro-economical policies. The Common Market Council is the organ with the obligation to manage the political integration and the fulfillment of the objectives of the Organization. Although, the Mercosur and the European institutions, both maintained the same objective, the Mercosur did not evolve into a more diverse organization with the capability of encompassing topics other than trade; instead, it has established a dynamic for the exchange of goods within the region without any substantive social integration. It has not enabled South America to place itself as a block with one trade policy towards the rest of the world.
Another attempt to integrate the region was the creation of the Andean Pact in 1969, known today as the Andean Community (Comunidad Andina de Naciones- CAN). The member states of the CAN are Ecuador, Bolivia, Perú and Colombia; Chile signed the treaty but it is no longer part of the CAN. The Members of this second organization are different than the ones of Mercosur and this shows the scattered efforts. The CAN’s foundation was based on geography and historic values, and by the early 90’s it looked for economic integration too, removing trade barriers among its members, repeating what Mercosur already did. A parallel institution to the CAN was created too, called the Andean Parliament (Andean Parliament, 2013). Unlike the European Parliament, the mission of the Andean Parliament is not to legislate, but to give advice and support to its members. Since the people of the member states elect the representatives at the parliament, its main objective is to look out for their interests in the integration process. Yet, this process does not require States to give up their sovereignty, making it completely different from the European one.
Now that we have seen a couple of examples of regional integration, we can analyze the process by which the UNASUR surfaces in a disperse integration setting and, sometimes, in presence of overlapping capabilities and reaching out to different organizations.
The UNASUR was established in 2008 to promote integration among its members to jointly tackle the challenges such as, social inequality, energy production, and migration. It can be said that the effort to integrate all states under a regional identity is a great ideal. However, the UNASUR still maintains one of the basic flaws of all previous regional entities that are trying to encompass too many responsibilities at the same time. At the moment of its establishment, twelve sectorial councils were created. These councils focus on energy, health, defense, development, economics, and education, among other topics. Nevertheless, the efficiency of these sectorial councils has to be questioned, taking into account the fact that the EU has different institutions that have similar capabilities and focus on similar topics. The European institutions were created through a long process that answered to different needs that the organization faced, after having a strong foundation. Having these councils working from the beginning of UNASUR, it calls the attention the lack institutional strength and the legitimacy issues the councils face.
UNASUR is still in the process of positioning itself as a global player, as well as a regional setting for the establishment of shared policies; however, the parallel integration processes are a setback to the organization because States cannot focus as much resources and efforts as they would wish. In order for UNASUR to become as strong as the European Union, member States must canalize their efforts once in for all in a single integration process that can encompass all of their interests.