ASEAN Regionalism: Lesson Learned from European Union

*this piece is published in The Jakarta Post Op-ed page titled “ASEAN Integration: A long way to go” on August 2, 2011*

Following the success of 44th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the leaders of the ten member states need to question their counterparts within ASEAN about what are the goals of integration and to what extent the concept of integration is fueled?

One of the considerable facts should not be overlooked by the ASEAN countries is the case of European Union, the leading regional organization of states, which is currently challenged by its most promising realm, the economy.

As the already-painstakingly Greece new bailout package agreed by the leaders in European Union several weeks ago, now there is a strong indication that Rome will join its shrinking neighbor together with the in-queue Portugal, Spain and Ireland. In 2010, Brussels aided Greece with EU500 billion to safeguard the crisis which many believed started on the subprime mortgage failure in the United
States in 2008. The conundrum of financial hardship is; thus, remain unresolved in both United States which now undergo difficult battle over national budget debt ceiling and the Eurozone highlighted in Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland.

One year after the bailout and EU12 billion later, however, Prime Minister George Papandreou has failed to resuscitate the Hellenic Republic which now dealing with, as NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman puts it, Clash of Generations wherein the youth today begrudgingly bear the responsibility bestowed upon them from the current elders in power. Consequently, the arguable clash between generations can also be seen as the seed that ignited political unrest in Greece recently.
Shifting the focus of attention to the capital of European regionalism, it’s quite obvious for observers that numerous EU member states signify the reluctance or perhaps dilemma of whether they agree to support their collapsing co-members. Only France’s Sarkozy and German’s Angela Merkel who were seem eager enough to defend the cohesiveness of the regionalism.

In order to understand the lesson here, we have to look deeper and comprehend that though Greece is the one facing real sense of crisis both economy and politically, it is actually, the European economy identity as a single currency which challenged with real threat. With Italy predicted to submerge to the ‘shrinking club’ Euro supremacy will shaken undoubtedly.
Rather different from its advanced partner regional organisation, ASEAN, the regional arrangement established in 1967 for Southeast Asian countries, is fueling to achieve a goal, a rather too optimistic, that is escalating the level of integration by 2015 in the realm of security, culture and economy. Considering achieving regional integration on the basis of culture is
acceptable for the citizens of Southeast Asian states. Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN Secretary General, successfully play his role as the caretaker of the umbrella organization who play the major role in the integration process.
As for the educational field, the seeds of regional identity somehow only grapple in the higher educational institutions such as universities who now slowly moving toward an agreeable mechanism of regional credit transfer system called ACTS (ASEAN Credit Transfer System). However, the agreed
method, just like any other ASEAN regional documents, remains known only to those directly involved.

From the economy binoculars, the ASEAN member states are diverse in enjoying the piece of the pie with Singapore and Brunei leading the per capita income with USD 62,100 and 51,600 respectively leaving Lao with only USD 986. Also, taking into account the homogenous economy with majority driven by foreign direct investments and local consumption, neighboring countries are competitors to each other’s instead of complementing the products and commodity. The region also now exposed in free-trade agreements with China which brings fear towards the local small businesses who have to compete
against the world’s giant.
Thus, the goal seems even more unrealistic if the current domestic tension in Thailand, Cambodia-Thailand dispute over Preah Vihear temple, the horizontal conflicts in the Philippines with the radical Moro, and Malaysia superficial political freedom are seriously considered. While the current leader of the group of ten, Indonesia, with leading GDP and influence still occupy with backyards problems such as poverty, corruption, and religious-related violence. Seemingly those insufficient, several of ASEAN
member states are also involved in disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea with the predicted next global power, China.
Politically, ASEAN does not possess the prerequisite for a cohesive regional integration as European Union did. Having the ASEAN principle of no-intervention policy approach equipped with lack of political will and commitment from the member states, the regional arrangement seem to be far from its target for integration. This message is indirectly shown from Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Opening Statement of the 44th quoted “We must make ASEAN matter to our people”  given and justifying the fact that in its 44 years of existence, ASEAN is still the meals of political agenda instead of the sense of belonging of its more than 300 million populations.

Consequently, the ASEAN identity campaign which highlighted the governments struggle to align with the goal to have an integrated region is either hard to measure from the 300 millions of its population or simply far from harboring in the heart of the people in the respective countries who identify their sense of belongings with the name of their country instead of using the regional spect as the fellow Europeans do.
With actually, no regional identity at stake, ASEAN must honestly willing to accept the fact that even its role model of regional arrangement, the European Union, facing a halt of integration process on the core regional cloth, the economy. By saying that, I mean that ASEAN should reconsider to pursue its goal of reaching an integrated region by having ASEAN Community in 2015.

Heru Prama Yuda

Works at Office of International Affairs Universitas Gadjah Mada

Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Alumni to the United States


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