Events & News


The Regionalisation of the World. What does it mean for Asia?

Prof Dr Luk Van Langenhove, Director, United Nations University Institute for Comparative Regional Integration Studies

13 Jul 2010

LT 25, Block SS1, SS1-B2-01 Nanyang Technological University Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798

11:00 am – 12:35 pm


In a well-attended lecture, Prof Dr Van Langenhove proposed that multilateralism in the world has shifted to “Mode 2.0”. While, the world has moved from bipolarity (the Cold War) to unipolarity (US hegemony) and to multipolarity, new multilateral actors and multilateral playing fields have emerged (e.g. G20, G2). This gives rise to new concepts of multilateralism.

In “Mode 2.0”, multilateralism moves from closed to open systems. This is a networked multipolarity, marked by growing importance of non-state actors, increased policy domain inter-linkages, diversification of multilateral organisations, and growing space for citizen involvement. Nation states will need to cope with the new types of region-building emerging.

Three main scenarios from networked, “Multilateralism 2.0” could emerge. The first, suggested as the “Frankenstein” scenario, would be that once regions are created, they will develop a life of their own. But this new ‘creature’ could turn against its creator, such as when sub-national entities challenge federal entities. He cited the example of EU Member States not complying with EU-wide rules and being fined. The question is how far will this go? How will the new actors act vis-à-vis the state? In the “Pygmalion” scenario, states in regions ‘fall in love’ and try and cooperate as far as possible.

Until recently the principle of subsidiarity was one of the concepts used to deal with regionalism, particularly in the EU. Prof Dr Van Langenhove said there is a need for subsidiarity to progress to mutuality. In a possible third scenario, what is done at any level of governance should reinforce the other levels, for e.g., the sub-national regions should reinforce the national and supranational levels.

Apart from “Multilateralism 2.0”, the lecture compared the regionalisations of Europe and Asia. Prof Dr Van Langenhove remarked that only the EU he proposed has progressed to third generation regionalism because it has moved from the building of political processes, institutions and regional public goods (“2nd Generation” regionalism) and regional economic/trade agreements (“1st Generation”) to the debated concepts of the EU itself as a sovereign influence, “coping with sovereignty” and “becoming a global actor” (“3rd Generation”).

Still, there are aspects of the EU that are not fully integrated. For instance in the EU’s application of variable geometry, not all member states are part of the euro and Schengen zone. Furthermore, the EU’s ambitions to be a global actor remain to be seen. The United Nations is neither a state nor region. But more and more regions and agencies want to have a voice at the UN, including the EU. The EU is the biggest donor for UN Development Aid yet it still remains at “observer” status at the UN.

As for Asian regionalisation, Prof Dr Van Langenhove’s analysis was that scale, budget and institutions are important factors to this process. In terms of scale, sub-regional integration and sub-national regionalisation are needed to facilitate integration. Prof Dr Van Langenhove proffered that integration will be accompanied by devolution. China for instance has many cross-border ethnic groups and “these will shape the agenda in future”.

He also compared the budgets of the EU and other blocs for region-building. For the EU, 1% of its combined GDP is set aside for this (includes funding of institutions). But for other regions to match the EU percentage, ASEAN for instance would need to up its regionalisation budget by 1.5 times, the African Union by 10 times and MERCOSUR by 200 times. He asked if the integration budget of ASEAN was under funded.

To advance regionalisation in Asia, he said institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and particularly the ASEAN version of the EU’s COREPER, the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN (CPR) will be very important. The CPR has recently in July 2010 visited Europe and Brussels to gain firsthand experience of EU institutions and decision-making in a positive development.