CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1During the 1990s and 2000s, [1] the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) [2] experienced considerable upheaval linked with the integration of new member states that were profoundly different to the old member states, the original founders of these regional unions. [3] These rounds of enlargements represented the most significant challenges that these regional unions had yet had to meet in terms of internal cohesion. They are likewise the reasons for which these unions have simultaneously and paradoxically been seen as success stories, [4] but also as imposing limits on the principles and dynamics originally espoused by the member states. The enlargements of the EU and the ASEAN have functioned as key stages in the reaffirmation of the founding principles of these unions; furthermore, they have helped to reorient, and at times to block, a number of collective choices. In other words, within both the EU and the ASEAN, the new member states have helped to stabilise each regional entity through the completion of a historical and territorial process of unification. At the same time, however, they have considerably reduced the scope of certain previously developed policies. Such an assertion refers to the problem of collective action, measured by the issues surrounding the relationships between the regional identity that each union embodies and the interests of its new member states. The question is whether as a result of these enlargements the power of each regional entity increases, or whether the member states themselves come out stronger. In this article I examine the “strength” and “weakness” of these two components – the union and its member states – as seen through their interrelationships. These labels of “strength” and “weakness” belong to a reflection on the “return of the state”, [5] an expression often used to analyse the “new member” countries in each region.

2With both the last EU and ASEAN enlargements, I hypothesize that it was in the candidates’ best interest to reduce the collective capacities of their respective regional union, by adopting three stances that consisted of: 1/ reaffirming the union’s founding principles in order to better portray themselves as equals with the older member states; 2/ limiting any hegemonic attempt by the older members while simultaneously enforcing their right to object, so as to minimise any possibility of increasing the weight of the constraints; and 3/ curbing, as far as possible, certain pre-enlargement policies relating to any collective capacity for action. Consequently, my second hypothesis argues that this was how the new member states were able to assert themselves as strong partners, not only by gaining clear international visibility, but also by contesting the rules to which they had agreed to adhere.

3In order to validate my hypotheses, I shall first outline the theoretical framework relative to the concepts of “strength” and “weakness”. These labels refer to the various forms of consistency regarding public action and societal cohesion. The reader will then be in a position to understand the actions taken by states in order to turn their weakness into an asset. Despite being “weak” from an institutional and economic point of view, the new member states in each region can nevertheless be “strong” – a point proven by their ability to withstand or even block any hegemonic attempts made by one of their older partners. This explains why if we look more closely at the resistance shown by the new members, we can see that it in fact reaffirms their regional union’s operating principles and ensures its long-lasting stability.

4Before presenting the theoretical framework structuring this article, let me explain why it is useful to compare the Eastern European and Southeast Asian cases. The first reason is historical. All the countries involved – with the exception of Thailand – have at one time or another been wiped off regional maps as a result of foreign occupation. This is key to understanding the new – post-colonial or post-Communist – states’ resistance to any external pressure. The second reason is geographical. It refers to the fact that these new member states are territorially very similar; for this reason, it should be noted that in achieving political integration, these enlargements have also ensured the territorial unity of regions once torn apart by war. The third reason is economic. It is based on the fact all the new member states of each regional entity have reported “lags” in development that have caused considerable intra-regional imbalances. [6] For example, when the EU included only fifteen member countries (in other words, before May 2004), the top 10% of the combined population living in the richest regions were less than three times richer than the bottom 10% living in the poorest regions. Following the expansion of the EU, the top 10% of the population living in the richest regions are now six times richer than the 10% living in the poorest regions. [7] When the ASEAN only included six member states, Singapore’s GDP was ten times greater than that of Thailand. With the accession of new members, it grew to be 30 times greater; ten years later, Singapore’s GDP is now 40 times greater than Thailand’s. [8] Thus, although it can be said that the poorest countries have begun to catch up, the gap between them and the richest countries has also widened, due to the latter’s stronger growth. This does not mean that the expression “new member countries” encompasses a homogeneous reality in the case of either the EU or the ASEAN. In the case of Eastern Europe, historical distinctions have to be made between those countries that were part of well-developed empires and others that did not experience the rule of law, such as the Balkan states. [9] Other differences, this time of an economic nature, have already divided certain countries into separate subgroups: East Central Europe (including Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) has differentiated itself from the Balkan countries (with which Hungary now tends to be associated) and even from the Baltic States. The same can be said for Vietnam, which has established itself as one of the world’s leading rice exporters and begun to catch up economically, with a GDP per capita of 790 USD, whilst the three other Mekong countries show significant lags in development, with GDP per capita below 550 USD. Lastly, and still with regard to territorial disparity but now on a sub-national scale, in the case of both the EU and the ASEAN it can be noted that growth has been concentrated in urban centres, at the cost of worsening imbalances in their surrounding areas. With the exception of Poland, where this phenomenon is less pronounced due a diverse urban network, growth has occurred in the capital and rarely in smaller towns.

Strength and weakness of states and regions

5As a result of their economic profiles, their historical heritage and their weaker institutional development, all of which condemn them to depend greatly on older member states, new member states are frequently labelled as “weak”. This term relates to an established theoretical concept, that of “strong states” and “weak states”, [10] which in these cases refers to three dimensions: public action, internal dependency, and external resilience. I will look at the first two of these dimensions now and address the dimension of resilience [11] later on in this article.

Coherence of public action and dependency

6Strong is the state whose central elites are able to unify public policy thanks to well-adapted institutions. They render public action cohesive, and consequently everyone plays by the same rules. Such an assertion refers to the neo-institutionalist approach, according to which institutions guarantee the stability of the playing field by ensuring player satisfaction through the repetition of expected actions, depending on the benefits gained over time. [12] This is due to the fact that these rules offer reliable proof that they are sustainable and, furthermore, legitimate. As such, only the cohesion of public action, via fiscal, military and development policies, allows a central state to ensure equitable redistribution for its subjects, which in return guarantees the legitimacy of the central state. In creating channels of communication with their own society, the elites provide the necessary incentives for participating in collective action. The state’s strength thus comes from policies that are socially accepted because they are both effective (in securing the centre’s income) and fair (as regards the peripheries). At the same time, it limits the potentially opportunistic capacities of its own regional, ethnic and economic elements, each of which reflect a particular interest. Conversely, a weak state is one that is not highly institutionalised and is consequently prone to public resources being controlled by clans. [13] It allows centrifugal forces to develop by concentrating on a particular group – the familial or ethnic clan – or by exhausting the periphery’s resources for the sole benefit of the centre. For Amitav Acharya, “‘weak’ state structures” are characterised by the “lack of congruence between ethnic groups and territorial boundaries”. [14] These two trends lead to the segmentation of society and the cutting loose of groups not directly linked to the centre. They can likewise become incentives for the peripheries to seek another protector.

7On this basis, how should Communist states be labelled? If one considers their capacity to use the threat of violence to prevent the burgeoning of any alternative solution to the domination of the Communist party, then they are surely “strong”. The USSR in particular ensured this by violently repressing any insubordination by the populations living in Sovietstyle countries. Domestic secret police forces were their “enforcers”. However, these states were weak if one considers that in the end, by 1989 (but also previously during the national uprisings), [15] no one could be found to defend this type of regime. This is proof – as shown by a number of studies – that the retreat into the private sphere had long prevailed over any form of public commitment, due to the disappointments accumulated by numerous segments of the population, beginning with the “grey” members of the Communist parties, but also including intellectuals. The same can be said of the countries of Southeast Asia who, after the Second World War, developed “import substitution industrialisation” (ISI) policies. Such policies required a very tight state centralisation, backed by a vast bureaucracy and the close control of social organisations, in order to better target public investment in favoured sectors, particularly industry. As several authors have demonstrated, the crises of the early 1960s revealed the main weaknesses of this model. The hold that political elites, in collaboration with the bureaucracy, exercised over state-owned companies led to the formation of loopholes, conducive to massive misappropriation of resources for the sole benefit of the ruling clan’s affiliates. [16] Exacerbated by corruption, the results were disastrous as regards imbalances in the balance of payments. This led to lower redistribution and, consequently, the dissatisfaction of large sections of society, including the military, which saw its budget slashed. [17] In both cases, the legal order could appear “strong” but the legitimate order was not.

8Moreover, weakness refers to the dependency of the state. In the East European and Southeast Asian cases, dependency is measured by the industrial and financial links that multinationals have with states. Mark Beeson concludes that Southeast Asian states are mere fictions, as multinationals dominate public policy. [18] It is the business community – Chinese, but also Japanese and American primarily – that determines the legal frameworks within which they operate. Other works emphasize the importance of “big families”. [19] As regards Eastern Europe, emphasis is primarily placed on the dependencies of the industrial and banking sectors. For the East Central European countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia), foreign ownership of the automotive industry is greater than 90% (93.1%, 93.2%, 90.8% and 97.3% respectively); in the manufacturing sector, though it may stand at only 45.2% in Poland, foreign ownership accounts for 60.3% of the sector in Hungary and 68.5% in Slovakia. [20] Lastly, in the banking sector, two types of dependency exist. Dependency is very high for all the countries, as foreign ownership accounts for 70.9% of the sector in Poland, 85.8% in the Czech Republic, 90.7% in Hungary and 95.6% in Slovakia. By comparison, this dependency does not exceed 15% in the “old” member states. Furthermore, this dependency stems from historical links with old Western empires, either territorially adjacent or nearly so. The Baltic States are hugely dominated by Swedish banks: before 2008, two Swedish banks – Hansapank and SEB – controlled 74.6% of Estonian banks. The East Central European banking systems are controlled by Austrian and German banks (as well as French banks, to a certain extent). Since 1997, the Bulgarian financial system has depended on a currency board under which the lev was first fixed at parity with the Deutschmark, and then the euro. In both cases these financial and sectorial dependencies brought with them a major weakness, namely a lack of innovation as a result of the failure to outsource research, which remains the almost exclusive prerogative of foreign investors. In none of the ten new member countries does research and development spending exceed 1% of the national GDP, whereas in the West, it averages 2.6%; the EU has set its 27 members a target of 3% of GDP. In Poland, where the car industry is the driving economic force, there are only thirteen research centres, as the large majority of them are found in the West. [21] In the case of Southeast Asia, the figures concerning innovation are even lower. Research and development spending as a percentage of GDP stands at 0.2% in Malaysia, 0.3% in Thailand, 0.4% in Vietnam and 1.1% in Singapore. [22]

Strength and weakness of regions

9As demonstrated above with regard to states, I shall here argue that strong regional entities are those which are able to make their common policies cohesive by securing the support of their member states for these policies; weak regional entities are those which are unable to exact even the slightest degree of compliance from their members, due to a lack of binding rules. Whilst it is easy to agree that a strong state greatly benefits from being part of a strong regional entity, it is more of a challenge to show that a weak state can benefit just as much from inclusion in a strong regional entity as from inclusion in a weak regional entity. How is this the case? Let us first look at strong states. It is all the more in their interest to delegate part of their sovereignty, given that cooperating with other member states of the same nature, they will have even more to gain. The reason for this is because they find themselves in a better position to impose their own standards (e.g., for production, control and redistribution). Furthermore, it is in their interest to give their own region increased powers, solely in order to ensure that other members respect the conditions of strength. The hegemonic capacity of the stronger countries is increased, subsequently resulting in their recognition as regional leaders. Conversely, it is not in the interest of strong states to unite within an organisation that has insufficient binding powers over its members, even to limit the opportunism of weaker members. This is why, in the European context, the principle of compliance is very restrictive towards candidate countries whose economic performance is weaker, even if not much weaker, than the member state average. In contrast, we can agree that it is hardly in the interest of weak states to promote a strong regional entity if what they get in return are requirements that are particularly stringent with regard to their own capacities. On the other hand, it is far more in their interest to support a weak regional entity, given that this would leave them free to conduct their own policies as they wish, or free to prevent the emergence of a regional leader, all the while benefitting from the existence of the regional community. In this case, the weak can also be called strong.

10Nevertheless, this behaviour cannot be reduced to the “free rider” perspective. A rapid analysis might lead to this conclusion, in view of the fact that the new member states of the EU have proved much less concerned with respecting compliance once they are members, or feel that they can with little risk block the decision-making system if by any chance they feel that this conditionality is too costly. In the case of Southeast Asia, a similar analysis could argue that “small” countries have no aim other than limiting attempts to impose more rules or to integrate civil societies. (Thailand and Malaysia are in direct opposition to the “new” members on this score.) In reality, in both regions, this kind of behaviour is untenable. Even if less conditionality is possible, concerns about negotiating its benefits are decisive. New members – both European and Asian – need investors, whether from Singapore or Malaysia, France or Germany (not to mention the maintaining of structural fund budgets). Alliances must be formed with old members in order to negotiate these benefits. As regards the primacy of informal relationships among Asian states, it is coupled with the worry of losing face: something that would undoubtedly arise [23] should too obvious a “free rider” role approach be taken. Even Myanmar’s extreme position has proved to lack credibility over the long term and this explains its recent development, in addition to the economic constraints that burden the country. It has no place in a union that makes solidarity one of its pillars, and this applies to both the EU as well as the ASEAN. The Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) programme that the ASEAN established based on the European structural funds model, and which targets underdeveloped countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam), attests to this. Solidarity is the decisive argument against the Olsonian position. If supranational institutions are not founded solely on self-interest, it is because there are other elements at play, starting with expectations, representations and values. [24] It is these imagined constructions that form the basis of collective action.

Enlargements and the resilience of new members

11Regarding collective action, my hypothesis is that the sign of a successful enlargement process is not necessarily its growth, but rather the capacity building of member states. It is the resilience of the states that matters. Yet, and this is my second hypothesis, far from weakening the regional entities, the newest member states have reaffirmed the founding principles of each region. Such is the paradox of the European and Asian enlargements: they enabled the integration of countries with lags in their development – countries which did not share the same recent historical experiences as older members – but at the same time also resulted in the strong reaffirmation of both region’s principles.

The attraction of integration

12Let us consider the overlap of interests between countries and their region on which the enlargements were based. It was of course in the interest of the countries of Central Europe to rule out any possibility of returning under Russian influence, so as to better ensure their democratic functioning – already largely confirmed during the 1990s – as well as to benefit from European funds. This applies to the countries of Asia as well: their fundamental interests were seeing their national sovereignty safeguarded, gaining admission to the international community and benefiting from trade agreements, which would later sanction their accession to the WTO. [25] This type of “functionalist” argument is largely confirmed by empirical data. [26] Several studies show the link between regional integration and the growth of intra-regional trade for both regions. [27] The same argument also applies to each regional entity insofar as it was a matter of completing territorial integration, likely to make the geographical space and political union more congruent. By integrating the ten countries formerly under Soviet control, the EU brought an end to the division – as much political as territorial – resulting from the Yalta agreements. Furthermore, it enabled the EU to transfer the pressure exerted by migratory flows on Germany by moving the Eastern border further east to Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. Similarly, by integrating the Mekong riparian countries, not only did the ASEAN integrate the countries that had provoked its creation – this time by making peace the common bond – it also clearly created a Southeast Asia distinct from its two large neighbours, India to the west and China to the north. In the same way that the creation of the ASEAN in 1967 marked a successful end to the conflicts between Malaysia and Singapore, similarly the enlargements of the 1990s helped to bring about peace in the Indochinese sub-continent, even if Thailand and Cambodia have since experienced frequent, but very localised, conflicts. [28] In both cases, it can be noted that territorial integration led to the development of infrastructure policies, notably for transport, a precursor to increases in trade.

The fight against hegemony

13It is not only in a “weak” state’s interest to gain strength by becoming part of the supranational region, but also to limit as much as possible any claims to hegemony made by other partners. In the same way, as we have seen, it is in the interest of a weak state to reduce the extent of the region’s imposition of conditionality upon it; just as it is in its interest to limit the hegemonic power of any partner state that could compel it to adopt policies that are contrary to its views, force it to involve unwanted partners (NGOs or civil societies, for example) in the region’s domestic affairs, or even to legitimise public policies that were adopted without it. This is why in each region, those players that had previously been hegemonic have been strongly challenged by the new member countries. In Europe, the “Franco-German alliance” has been the object of bitter criticism, a mixture of reproaches linked to the past and to the defence of a social equilibrium considered inappropriate. In Asia, questions have been raised over Thailand’s claims to democracy translated in terms of a “constructive engagement” at the regional level. [29] In both cases, beyond condemning the alleged arrogance of these hegemonic states – arrogance for which Germany and Singapore have been directly reproached – it is the wish to be treated as equals with older members that has prevailed for the countries that were not part of laying down the region’s founding rules: the rules of which they now consider themselves to be the best guarantors, or at the very least for which they claim equal responsibility. Consequently, the exclusion of certain democratic elements from the political game can act as an alibi in the discourse of new members, who criticise the ignorance of the old members with regard to them. In addition, there is deep resentment towards the old members in response to the contempt with which they treat the new members, accused of still “lagging behind”. Required to regionalise public action or even to involve civil society representatives in social or environmental policies, the new members of the European Union have reacted strongly by denouncing the rules for not only having been drawn up without them, but also for reflecting other traditions of historical development. [30] The rigour of the European principles has therefore been identified as a factor aggravating the weakness of new members. [31] As regards the ASEAN, the height of paradox was reached when the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, reproached ASEAN members for not respecting the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country, whilst the very same Hun Sen had orchestrated a coup just two months before Cambodia’s planned accession to the ASEAN in 1997, in order to overthrow his challenger who had been victorious at the polls. [32] Later, in 2006, the Myanmar junta recycled the same argument when the ASEAN, in response to (notably Western) criticism of its support of a dictatorship, requested that it forgo its turn to take up the presidency of the regional association. The junta took umbrage at the non-compliance with collective principles. In this sense, the new members have been able to assume, easily and without compunction, the status of defenders of the principles of each region.

14For these different reasons, once completed, enlargements for both regional entities have resulted in a decreased capacity for collective action and, notably, a marked tendency towards “social dumping”. Many examples of this phenomenon can be identified, in particular concerning economic and social development; here, I shall only mention the element that has been the object of identical policies in both regions: namely special economic zones. The tax relief measures introduced in order to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) have given rise in both regions to a “race to the bottom” intended solely to promote barely regulated capitalism. [33] In this context, the old members of each region have found nothing wrong with the policy, quite the contrary, whether it is the more developed ASEAN countries – associated with Chinese or Indian investors – that have invested heavily in the Mekong zone, or Western investors in Central European countries. The latter have invested in regions that enjoy large tax relief measures, further supported for the most part by programmes financed with European funds, without this obvious distortion of competition creating a commotion at the Commission in Brussels. In both cases, we find the same features of development that has been poorly integrated at the regional level: low salaries, minimal, if not non-existent industrial relations, limited local development and low participation in regional – and especially global – value chains. [34]

15What conclusions can be drawn? Firstly, the partial delegation of sovereignty at the core of any accession to a supranational entity does not necessarily entail an increase in the conditionality at the disposal of the latter: quite the contrary. Hence the assertion that weak regional entities can play into the hands of weak states and to some extent become the guarantor of domestic balance that is authoritarian in nature. This latter aspect aside, this observation might equally be made of new European member countries. They have gained considerable international visibility through their inclusion in the EU, with in addition, the opportunity of diverting European funding to support non-development-related objectives, which serve the interests of particular groups. The defence of historical singularity, justified by the facts, can therefore lead them to exempt themselves from establishing supervisory authorities that are detrimental to democratic stability. Several studies have shown that the formalism of the adoption of the EU’s body of law (“acquis communautaire”) has corresponded to systematic attempts by new member states to restrict the scope of any further strengthening of collective constraint, in the event of a renegotiation of the content of the community’s rules. [35] Lastly, other studies have shown that the use of structural funds at the local level strengthens the power of organised crime, notably in Bulgaria and Romania. [36] It would clearly be wrong to associate this solely with new member countries, as some old members are frequently criticised for this as well.

16Another conclusion could give rise to an even more negative assessment of the latest enlargements, ultimately determining that they have weakened democratic development. For Donald Weatherbee, “Myanmar’s ASEAN membership, rather than an asset, has become a cancer eating away at the ASEAN’s credibility in the community of democratic nations”. [37] For several EU observers, the last two enlargements have diluted the spirit of the institutions and, worse, strengthened extremist tendencies in certain countries, always on the basis of national sovereignty. As regards economic developments, it has been suggested in a number of places that the new members have, in each region, been fertile grounds for the expansion of the least regulated and most political forms of capitalism, thus increasing inequality and tension within the integrated market. On both sides there are institutional deficits inherited from previous eras, all bearing the hallmark of largely Soviet-style forms of Communism (or Chinese in the case of Cambodia), but also lags in economic performance when compared to the older member countries, which are exacerbated by the constraints of economic globalisation. Civil societies continue to be notably absent from current processes. In this respect, it would appear that the enlargements have not necessarily fostered the growth of regional integration, even if, as we saw earlier, trade itself has grown. Yet, and this is the paradox mentioned earlier, this has not in the least prevented these new members from reaffirming the principles of their respective supranational bodies.

Reworking the EU and ASEAN principles

17Economic reasons are insufficient to account for the establishment of supranational rules. [38] This applies to the EU as well as the ASEAN. These two regional organisations were created from a desire to respond to external threats, illustrated in both cases by the fear of Communism and of the hegemonic hold wielded by the major world powers. Both organisations shared the conviction that only regional integration (although how far nations should pursue integration was always the key question) could guarantee peace for the benefit of all. In Europe during the 1950s, there were two reasons why it was urgent to build a common supranational organisation: to destroy the competition to dominate German industrial resources, which had contributed to the outbreak of both world wars; and to stand up to the Soviet giant which had secured control of the eastern part of the European continent. The same attitude – and perhaps the same fear – was to be found in Southeast Asia where in 1967, after several failed previous attempts, building a regional entity to stand up to the “major Communist powers” (the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, China) was attempted. [39] It was the fear of Communism, therefore, that motivated the emergence of both regional entities. As Douglas Webber writes, “anti-Communism provided a sense of common identity to states that were otherwise so diverse that they were collectively referred to as the ‘Balkans’ of Asia. They joined forces primarily for ‘political objectives, stability and security’”. [40] There is no doubt, however, that in the Asian case, other domestic considerations were involved. It thus appears evident that the ASEAN was also able to emerge thanks to the end of the conflicts between Malaysia and Indonesia, an end facilitated by Suharto’s overthrow in 1966: [41] hence the original “post-conflict” regional reconciliation process based on the intangible principle of national sovereignty.

18In any event, the fear of Communism acted as a catalyst for national emergence in both cases. [42] Economic and social objectives were only subsequently established, in quite similar terms in both regions. It is necessary to review the grounds for both declarations to appreciate just how little difference there exists between the stated objectives, at least in their wording. In the declaration of 18 April 1951, the six European founding states of the Coal and Steel Treaty declared that they aimed at “reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions or islands, including rural areas”. In the 1967 Bangkok Declaration, the five founding members of the ASEAN affirmed that one of the goals of the organisation was to “accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of South-East Asian Nations”.

19Nevertheless, the similarities appear to end there. Indeed, if we look at the principles of the two regional entities, everything seems to separate them. The founding principles of democracy, market economy and respect for the diversity of minorities, which act as ex ante criteria for EU membership, run contrary to the ASEAN’s principles of national sovereignty, which implies non-interference in the internal affairs of a member country, as well as effective cooperation among members and consensus-building. Mark Beeson groups them into six directives: 1/ mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations; 2/ the right of every state to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion; 3/ non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; 4/ settlement of differences or disputes in a peaceful manner; 5/ renunciation of the threat or use of force; and 6/ effective cooperation. [43] The resulting consequences are “path dependencies” which determine the nature of the relationships between states themselves, between states and their region, between each region and its members and lastly, between the region and the global community. For example, if the principle of non-interference prohibits any ASEAN member from interfering in any way in the course of a neighbour’s domestic affairs, the same applies to the ASEAN organisation itself. In other words, the supranational level does not have any power of conditionality to coerce a restive member state. The significant delegation of member state sovereignty to the EU, which authorises the latter to exercise political control over its members and even more so over its candidate countries, has therefore no equivalent in the ASEAN, insofar as the principle of non-interference has consistently been reaffirmed. This explains why, on the one hand the EU is able to lay down binding rules for all of its member countries, in particular regional common development policies; and why, on the other, the ASEAN member or candidate countries call upon the founding principles in order to avoid external control, or even to exercise a veto that is detrimental to collective action. As Etel Solingen writes, “Decisions are hard to reach when any participant can wield veto power. According to this view, the institution’s evolutionary pace is deliberately held back by the lowest common denominator”. [44] It is this which ultimately allows the ASEAN to maintain inequitable and even dictatorial policies in place and safe from criticism. In this respect, the EU’s rules guarantee democracy, while those of the AESEAN ensure authoritarian regimes. These two concepts of collective identity are thus fundamentally opposed.

Identities of supranational regions and state interests

20The European Community’s principles are rooted in representing a shared identity, which is highlighted here by two factors in particular. The first is its durability in history, despite the bloody conflicts that have torn the continent apart in past centuries. The willingness to avoid any new conflict between Germany and France was the main reason for creating the European Community, and the desire to avoid war is one of the main traits of this shared identity. [45] Several authors, from a number of Eurobarometer surveys, talk of the “we feeling”, characteristic of deep European integration. Accordingly, national identification comes first in the preferences of Europeans, with EU identification coming in second. [46] A feeling of convergence is discernible and interpretable from a growing standardisation of the rules, even if the authors also note the dichotomy between the growing “we feeling” and a deepening identity crisis across the Union. The different “no” votes expressed on several occasions during various public consultations (Constitutional Treaty, Lisbon Treaty) are the clearest manifestation of this. Rather than conclude that there is a clear split between the two types of identity – national and European – several observers have described an overlapping or intertwining of the different forms of identification, and even the construction of a representation in response to globalisation. [47] That said, in a literature review of work published during the last ten years which focused on the feeling of being European and, consequently, on the legitimacy of the EU, Sophie Duchesne emphasises the variety of positions according to country, age and social capital. From recent studies based principally on qualitative surveys and no longer on Eurostat data, it emerges that European integration has not structured the representations of the EU citizens in such a way as to legitimise itself, either through votes or sentiments. [48]

21My second observation concerns the period of preparation for the enlargements. In spite of all the brief manifestations of refusal that took place throughout Europe, the 1990s reaffirmed the permanence of a culture shared from East to West. This is what the East European elites declared by designating “the return to Europe” as the basis for their resistance to Soviet-style totalitarianism. [49] Barbara Lippert suggests this also when she considers that enlargement to include the former Communist countries was the moral duty of the EU, in light of the unfairness of the order imposed following the Yalta conference, with which Western Europe was content for a long time. [50] Many studies conducted after 2004 have shown that new members, in particular Poland, had the highest levels of satisfaction towards the EU [51] (or in any event, levels that were a lot higher than those reported in Western Europe, notably in France). [52] An important historical marker, this similarity of shared representations and practices has furthermore acted as a spatial marker of the difference between new members and countries located further to the East, such as Ukraine or Belarus. The claim by these two countries to a community with a European identity at one point during the 2000s was demolished by highly illiberal behaviour and undemocratic practices. [53]

22The same sharing of a collective identity cannot be seen in Southeast Asia. This can be explained by the fact that, even before the colonial period, the region cannot be said to have existed as such, even if several authors have endeavoured to make the case for it. Empires and countries existed, but it was systems of domination that most thrived, which were not necessarily marked by centralised and geographically defined states, but more so by links of suzerainty. [54] The relationship between centre and periphery was regarded as a relationship between patron and client within an organisation called “Mandala”. [55] This obliged vassals to pay a tribute (in money, men or land) in exchange for the protection that the suzerain owed its vassal, on the basis of relationships that were more personal than strictly formalised. Once present in Southeast Asia – at first partially and then, from the nineteenth century on, throughout the region – colonial occupiers did everything to prevent the development of even the slightest sense of regional identity, without however managing to garner the colonised populations’ support for the empire. All colonisers were preoccupied with their own “civilising missions”, whether they were English, Dutch [56] or French. [57] Japan could have claimed a similar mission in 1942 when it expelled the colonial occupiers and thus “liberated” the countries of Southeast Asia. However, the sole purpose of its imperialist strategy of creating a “co-prosperity sphere” in Asia was to create second-class vassal states, with Japan established as the model to follow. [58] The first wave of newly independent states after 1945 also did not succeed in imposing an identity, either initially as separatist, and then driven by the ideal of non-alignment under the leadership of Indonesia (contested by Malaysia as well as by the Philippines and Thailand). Nor was an identity comprehensively established under first the American flag and then the Communist banner either. [59] After the Second World War, the Vietnamese looked to create a Communist identity limited to the Mekong countries, but to no avail. Conversely, but only briefly, anti-Communism managed to fulfil this role; however this sentiment was only shared by the ASEAN founders, as stated earlier. The question is whether the ASEAN can now be a catalyst for regional identity.

Asian values

23We must now assess these famous “Asian values” that many political leaders in the region tout in order to better distinguish themselves from their Western counterparts, whom they accuse of being self-interested individualists. According to their disciples, Asian values include: respect for family traditions, collective effort and selflessness, patience and discretion. These are all qualities that are reaffirmed in the ASEAN principles, which call for the primacy of informal ties and for a consensus to be reached in all collective decision-making. It is this primacy of informal ties that prevents disputes from noisily taking place in the public arena, [60] thus ensuring that the parties concerned avoid losing face. The “Asian way” thus completely contradicts the “American way of life” or Westernisation more generally.

24These allegedly shared values can seem very ambiguous insofar as the emphasis on respect and solidarity does not stem from any specific tradition; quite the contrary. [61] They seem only to reflect the interests of the ruling classes who are more concerned with maintaining their inequitable domination; this is why these values are often seen as a smokescreen that poorly masks the negligence and passivity of the dictatorial elites. As Lee Jones writes, “ASEAN was founded in order to help defend the prevailing social order”. [62] Thanks to this widely held point of view, several authors have concluded that the Asian association has played a significant role in the failure to provide solutions to the major challenges concerning the environment, public health, terrorism and integrated regional development. [63] In contrast, others such as Alan Dupont have argued that what ensures the stability of regional security is the conviction shared by every ASEAN member that the states are interdependent and that their destiny is in their own hands. [64] In this context, the “Asian way” can finally be boiled down to something the populations can recognise: a feeling that puts an end to the humiliation of colonialism and the power of the major players in this space, which has alternately been considered as the backyard of China, the USA, the USSR or India. Hence many posit that the “Asian way” or Asian values – regardless of the content we give them – attest to the capacity of actors to take their destiny into their own hands. Herein lies the novelty of the ASEAN: it offers the means to declare hostility towards colonialism. The ASEAN was created to guarantee the sovereignty of formerly colonised peoples, which stems as much from self-interest as shared values. It seems that the same can be said for the EU’s new members, whose resistance to any growth in regional conditionality is clear, but who nevertheless have found in the very values of national sovereignty the motivation for collective action – as much yesterday in overthrowing Communist dictatorships as today in vindicating the presence of “small states” in the new Union.

25The different values and identities specific to each region are reflected in radically different approaches as regards the interests of the actors. In contrast to the sharing of experiences between states and societies on one hand, and between different states in the same regional community (as the EU is trying to implement) on the other, in the ASEAN there exists a deep division between the ruling elites and societies within the same country, which can be found all across the Asian region. In what type of regional integration do such dynamics result? Running counter to single-market Europe, which is highly integrated due to the abolition of internal borders and to the external protection offered by a whole series of rules and standards which are restrictive for non-member countries, is what Richard Higgott calls “regulatory regionalism”. This involves alliance building and considers monetary union as something that should mark the culmination (and not the beginning, as with the EU) of a dynamic of very gradual adjustment of the different member countries. From this difference at rule level – rule of law or of use, formal or informal – follows a notable distinction as regards legal regimes. The first is defined in terms of the rule of law; the second, in terms of the rule by law. [65] The two terms designate radically different forms of institutional architecture, which is a matter beyond the scope of this article. [66]


27* *

28In conclusion, there are four different reasons why comparing the EU and the ASEAN is a fruitful endeavour when they are viewed from the perspective of their “new members”. The first reason is historical. I briefly suggested above that “big push” Soviet-style policies and import substitution industrialisation were largely comparable, not only because of their levels of public investment but also because of the political economies implicated. They demonstrate very close relationships between the political elites, the bureaucracy, the military, and business (be it public or private). The second reason is economic. Both regions have implemented regional development policies: through the cohesion policy in the EU and, in a more circumscribed way, through the IAI in the ASEAN. Aside from their significant differences, notably in terms of budgets, it is worth noting that both regions have articulated strategies based on similar principles; namely competitiveness, regional connectivity and the community of social groups, notably the poorest. This is the (third) reason why the dimension of regional identity is shared by both regions. Although different in terms of precedence – strong in the European case, almost non-existent in the Asian case – these identities are nevertheless in both cases constructs that each enlargement has helped to reformulate. In this respect, finally – and even if the blocking capacities of certain historical dynamics have been emphasised – the “new members” have not weakened their regional entity. By reaffirming the principles of the EU or the ASEAN respectively, they have re-legitimised the collective enterprise.

29I have highlighted the importance of the “strength” and “weakness” categories to understand the resistance capabilities of new member states, otherwise known as their levels of “resilience”. Although the ASEAN is considered weak when it leaves undemocratic regimes alone to operate as they like, or when it proves unable to provide solutions to collective problems, it must be considered strong insofar as it ensures the stability of the regimes concerned and manages certain conflicts (such as those of Cambodia and of East Timor). [67] Furthermore, the ASEAN has managed to establish itself as a negotiating partner with the “major powers” [68] by creating configurations that include some and exclude others: although the ASEAN +3 (APT) includes Japan, China, and South Korea, the ASEAN +1 only includes India (but not China) and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) still does not include China. In the same way, and conversely, there are many examples that show that European states can be said to be strong due to their ability to promote a supranational entity which boasts powerful prerogatives; however, they can also be said to be weak, considering their inability (or lack of political will) to implement the controls which would ensure collective stability in certain areas. Although the EU is in a position to closely monitor compliance with shared rules, it nevertheless continues to emphasise areas where European regulation clashes with issues of national sovereignty. Energy is the clearest example: Poland’s position towards the exploitation of its shale gas resources is noteworthy. Here the question of resilience is very much at play; in other words, the state’s capacity ultimately not to relinquish what it deems to be its fundamental attributes. Consequently, these are attributes that strengthen, in the case of new member countries, the systematic claim to the respect of the principle of national sovereignty, which has been rode roughshod over in the past.

30An observation such as this points us toward a future comparison of the Europeanisation and Aseanisation processes. Such a comparison should be undertaken with an emphasis on the dual process of, on the one hand, the adoption of rules – both formal and/or informal – according to particular state profiles, in order to better assess the resilience of local actors; and on the other hand, the production of a common identity by the regional entities, thanks to the policies collectively implemented in order to reduce disputes. We could therefore hypothesise that if there is such a thing as “Aseanisation”, it denotes a community of cooperation, but one that operates without any binding power over its members. In this regard, every component in this process would be “Aseanised”, a process which Acharya believes helps to create a regional identity, and which Weatherbee, on the contrary, believes to be a scheme advantageous to the dictatorial political elites.

31Lastly, in addition to the already important reflections on the ability to transfer from one organisational system to another, [69] or on the extension of one model to another (which remains very problematic for some), [70] such a comparison would be useful in identifying the points where these two regional organisations converge, in order to better envision the development of a model likely to be adopted by other as yet unorganised regional entities throughout the world. Such an attempt could provide answers to the questions regarding the level of regulation required, by considering the issues that all countries are now facing, notably in terms of climate change, energy supply and the stabilisation of ethnic conflicts.


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In the 1990s and the 2000s, the enlargement of both the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the EU have meant considerable changes within these regional organisations. In both cases, the new member states were considered to be states who were lagging behind in terms of development, often described as ‘weak states’. However, far from being marginalised, new member states were paradoxically able to reinforce their sovereignty. In this context, this article argues that new member states were able to limit the hegemony exerted by old member states by insisting on shared regional values and identities. Thereby, they transformed their initial ‘weakness’ into ‘strength’.

François Bafoil
Sociologist François Bafoil, is Senior Research Fellow at the French Centre for International Studies and Research (CERI) – a joint research unit supervised by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Sciences Po. He is responsible for the research network Coesionet which focuses on territorial cohesion and energy ( His publications include: Capitalismes émergents. Économies politiques comparées, Europe de l’Est et Asie du Sud-Est (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2012); Central and Eastern Europe. Europeanization and Social Change (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Europe centrale et oriental: Mondialisation, européanisation et changement social (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2006; Chinese translation: Beijing: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences [CASS], 2010); and (edited) La Pologne (Paris: Fayard, 2007). An expert in East European Communism and forms of development in post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe, he is currently working on a comparative study of forms of regional integration and energy issues in Central Europe and the Greater Mekong Subregion (CERI, Sciences Po, 56 rue Jacob, 75006 Paris, France).
Translated from French by 
Michael O’Mahony
Uploaded on on 03/03/2014
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