Research & Publications


The Everlasing Love for Comparison: Reflections on EU and ASEAN Integration

By Yeo Lay Hwee, Director, EU Centre in Singapore & Senior Research Fellow, Singapore Institute of International Affairs

ASEAN and the EU have both seemed to hit a snag in their region-building processes as they confront new global challenges. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations drafted the 2007 ASEAN Charter amid high hopes that this would be the catalyst for a formal and legal framework for closer integration, particularly economic integration, and establish the mechanisms, institutions and processes for the Association to effectively take on the new challenges and strategic re-alignments of the 21st century. Critics aver the reality was closer to a safe re-hash of ASEAN’s principle of non-interference and consensus decision-making— a bark without bite so to speak— that effectively ground the process to a standstill. In the recent years, despite a rousing success in economic integration and successive enlargements, EU-fatigue appears to have set in, with Euro-scepticism on the upswing, reaching its apex in the rejection of the draft Constitution by the French and Dutch in 2005 and then the Reform Treaty (Lisbon Treaty) by the Irish public in 2008. In a critical and comprehensive discussion, Dr Yeo Lay Hwee examines if regional integration has reached its limits, via a historical review of the remarkably different raison d’êtres for the EU and ASEAN’s being in the first place, and how both groupings regionalisms have had to evolve to cope with common challenges, the post-Cold War international political economy, increasing globalisation and management of world order. She identifies the core problems and presents possible ways forward so that ASEAN and the EU can overcome their current setbacks. Amongst them, for the EU to close ranks and march ahead to a new constitution, it must close the perception gap between elites and the people, and reconsolidate and explain the emergent goals of further integration. Similarly, ASEAN can take a leaf from the lessons learnt. Chiefly, clarity in defining the benefits of deepening, and the need for political will to steer the grouping from confidence building to community building, where rules, institutions and supranational mechanisms could facilitate. The chapter was published in “The United States and Europe in a Changing World”, ed. Roger E Kanet, Dordrecht: Republic of Letters Publishing, 2009.