Events & News


Do Regional Organisations Travel? The Diffusion of European Institutions and Policies to ASEAN

Dr Anja Jetschke, Margarete-von-Wrangell Fellow, University of Freiburg

7 September 2010

CIT Auditorium, Computer Centre Level 2, NUS


With the tremendous growth of regional organizations, a systematic analysis of this regional integration processes seems to be more and more important. In the particular case of ASEAN and the EU the current dominant approach in the research field of Comparative Regionalism is to view them as entirely different and independent in terms of their institutional design and their evolution. In contrast Dr. Anja Jetschke emphatically advocates the Diffusion theory – which states that policy makers copy successful innovations in structure or activities – and argues, that ASEAN ever since its establishment in 1967 has selectively taken over institutions and policies from Europe. On her research seminar she was able to demonstrate her argument with the example of the ASEAN Charter and to defend her thesis in a stimulating discussion with the seminar participants.

Dr. Jetschke set two goals of her presentation: 1) to show that transfers between regions are a regular pattern in the evolution of regional organizations and 2) to discuss the implications of this pattern, which differ in terms of institutional effectiveness.

Her first objective was illustrated by a comparative table of major treaty events in Europe and Southeast Asia. She pointed out to the timing of the events, often close to each other, and the overlaps and similarity in contents. Among the ten listed events, her most detailed example was that of the similarity between the Helsinki Accord, which was established in August 1975 and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and ASEAN Concord, both of which were established in February 1976. The aim of the Helsinki Accord was to achieve peace and security in Europe and to bridge the divide between the Eastern and Western blocs in Europe through adherence to a set of norms such as respect for territorial integrity, non-intervention, resolution of conflicts through peaceful means. Likewise the TAC and ASEAN Concord are basically treaties with the focus on non-interference, territorial integrity and further contain the same language with regards to cooperation in security, economic and social and cultural areas.

Dr. Jetschke then used the example of the ASEAN Charter to further illustrate her thesis on diffusion. She found similarities in comparing again the timing for the drafting of the EU Constitution and the ASEAN Charter but at the same time reiterated that the similarities in the two are not to be taken as functional equivalences, but only superficial similarities.

But since these accumulations of similar decisions for institutions and policies between the EU and ASEAN still need to be explained, Dr. Jetschke proposed to choose the Diffusion theory over three other approaches, because they have certain deficiencies. The first one of these is the ‘Globalization’ approach, which assumes states and regional organizations to be independent and views regionalization as an outcome of conflicting forces. Similar decisions by all governments are here traced back to the single force of globalization, which accounts for this approach to be underdetermined. The second approach embraces the theories of Rational Design of International Institutions, Regional Integration and Constructivism. Similarities in decision making are viewed as adaption to similar structural problems, culture or regime type.  Since the variables vary, the problem of these approaches is to solely emphasize the differences and not the similarities of regional organizations. Though the third approach, the ‘Hegemonic Power’ approach, understands states and regional organizations as interdependent units, Dr. Jetschke nevertheless rejected the approach. Here, the expected outcome of similarities are explained by the coordinated activities of great world powers, like most importantly the US. One well-known representative of this theory, Peter J. Katzenstein, consequently explains dissimilarities between Asia and Europe with different strategies of the US patrimony, but fails to explain similarities between regional organizations.

Being aware of these deficiencies of common approaches towards regional organizations, Dr. Jetschke finds the Diffusion theory an apt instrument to analyze similarities between policies and institutions of regional organizations. She draws upon the definition of Diffusion by Howard Aldrich of 1979 “Diffusion is a process through which successful innovations in structure or activities are being copied throughout a population.” The basic idea is that “Given changing norms and uncertainty about which policies are most effective, policy makers copy the policies that they see experts promoting and leading countries to embrace”.

Since Dr. Jetschke personally experienced in several interviews she conducted, that ASEAN member states’ policy makers would deny any kind of influence from the EU due to the negative connotation of the word ‘copy’, she made clear, that ‘diffusion’ is a much broader term and can be classified into three categories. The first one is ‘Rational Learning’, which is internal-driven – in this case ASEAN-driven – and is basically a rational process, where governments screen their environment for solutions to their problems after policy failure. The second category of ‘Social Learning’ is also prompted by policy failure and a functional demand, but here institutions and policies are being actively promoted by external actors – in this case the EU. In the third category of diffusion ‘Mimicking’, a functional demand cannot be found, but a taking over of policies and institutions is still happening for the purpose of conferring legitimacy.

In the attempt to explain the reasons behind the ASEAN Charter, Dr. Jetschke noted that the scope condition of policy failure can be found in at least three events: 1) the late and insufficient handling of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 2) the inactiveness during the East Timor crisis of 1999 and 3) the broadly criticized admission of Myanmar to ASEAN. Since there was no systematic search for solutions after these events of policy failure, Dr. Jetschke ruled out the category of Rational Learning for the decision making around the ASEAN Charter. But she considered the two remaining categories to fit, since the ASEAN-EU Programme for Regional Integration Support (APRIS), which was carried out by the EU starting 2003, indicates an EU-driven case of Social Learning. The category of Mimicking is also fitting, seeing the Asian crisis in the 1990’s not only as a policy failure, but also a challenge to ASEAN’s legitimacy.

In the future Dr. Jetschke wants to develop this argument systematically, through more comparisons and systematic data collection. The practical implications of her research project lie in the possibility to tell, whether taken over institutions and policies will take root or fail. According to her, patterns that are driven by mimicry are likely to be inefficient and not take root. For instance she states that the ASEAN Charter is not likely to fundamentally change ASEAN, but also sees a chance that it will develop a life of its own.