The European Union: a response to globalization or a part of it?

Essay 2003 15 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: European Union


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The concepts
2.1 Globalization
2.2 Regionalism

3. The European Union: a brief overview

4. The European Union in the context of globalization and regionalism

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The world order of today, unlike 50 years ago, is dominated by two phenomena: globalization and regionalism. Although globalization is the “word on everyone’s lips”, there are around 170 regional agreements today - half of these concluded since 1990 - with the European Union as probably the best known and the most unique one of these agreements (Moore 2000, p.1).

Whereas some argue that regionalism is a threat to the efficiency created through globalization1), others regard it either as a mean to participate in the globalization process and therefore a part of it or the only “efficient response to the challenges of a continuously deepening polarization generated by the capitalist globalization process” (Ruggiero 1997, p.2; Moore 2000, p.3; Mittelman 1999, p.27; Amir 1999, p.54).

Whether regionalism contradicts globalization or complements it, depends heavily on the definition of both concepts as well as on the way a region acts within the framework of the global system (Hettne 1999, p.1).

In order to address the question, whether the European Union, as a regional project, is contributing or responding to globalization and with respect to Hettne’s above mentioned argument, the first chapter of this essay will set the framework for the following discussion by defining the two concepts – globalization and regionalism. Chapter three will give a brief overview of the European Union’s core policies and its framework as they are crucial to analysing the European Union’s role in the world system. Concluding from these two chapters the initial question will be addressed in chapter five, by an analysis of the policies of the European Union. A resume will be taken in the last chapter.

2. The concepts

Given the huge variety of concepts in both fields of concern, there is a need to define which approach is relevant to the following discussion. Various subjects (e.g. Political Science, Economics, Cultural Science and Social Science) deal with globalization and regionalism. For the purpose of this analysis, the focus will lie on the political and economic understanding of the concepts.

2.1 Globalization

The definitions for globalization vary from very broad descriptions to narrow concepts that address only the economic production structure. In general globalization refers to flows, be it money, goods or information. A very lose definition given by Mittelman (1999, p.25) states that globalization is simply “the compression of the time and space aspects of social relations”. Keohane and Nye (2000, p.3) are more precise by saying that globalization is a process of deepening of linkages and interdependence between states and non-state actors, whereby these linkages are thick as compared to earlier periods where they have been thin.2) Furthermore, globalization can be regarded “as an integrative process” (Mittelman, cited in Hettne 1999, p.3). Two major economic dimensions of globalization are the organization of production (including trade and the division of labour) and the structure of the financial system (Hettne 1999, p.5). In this regard, characteristics of globalization that are subject to this analysis are the internationalization of production, the international division of labour, the internationalization of financial markets and the internationalization of the state, whereby internationalization shall be understood as an equivalent to Keohane & Nye’s thick linkages.

The Neo-liberal view that "the world market eliminates or supplants political action – that is, the ideology of rule by the world market" (Beck 2000, p. 9), will only be addressed shortly in this essay, as this concept is too much focused on one aspect and does therefore not suit very well the analysis of the role of globalization in the context of regionalism.

2.2 Regionalism

In order to define regionalism it is helpful to explain it in the context of related concepts: region, regionalization and the theories of regionalism.

A region, in the context of this essay, will be derived from Hettne (1999, p. 1), as a “group of countries with a more or less explicitly shared political project.”3)

Regionalization "refers to the growth of societal integration within a region and the often undirected processes of social and economic interaction" (Hurrell 1995, p. 334). Those processes (such as private trade and capital flows) can be understood as patterns of economic transactions within an identified geographical space, which lead to increasing regional economic interdependence and regionalised patterns of economic transactions (Hveem 2000, p. 72; Spindler 2002, p. 6).

Regionalism “represents the body of ideas, values and concrete objectives that are aimed at creating, maintaining or modifying the provision of security, wealth and other goals within a particular region” (Söderbaum 2003, p. 3). A different way of looking at recent regionalism in the 1990s is offered by Mittelman (1999, p. 27), who describes it in a more abstract way as the “concentration of political and economic power competing in the global economy, with multiple inter-regional and intra-regional flows”. As this essay’s focus is on the European Union of today Mittelman’s approach is more accurate, although Söderbaum’s can be applied in conjunction with Mittelman’s approach when analysing the European Union’s policy (Söderbaum’s idea serves here as the basis for the actual policy analysis, whereas Mittelman’s definition will be applied when looking at the effects of these policies).

There are several theories of regionalism of which only some will be used as a basis for this essay.4)


1) Both, Moore and Ruggiero, were former Director General of the WTO. It is therefore not surprising that they strongly advocate the multilateral approach as opposed to the regional approach which they describe as “second-best” solution.

2) Thin, as described by Keohane & Nye (2000, p.3), refers to linkages used by a limited group and only affecting a limited group, whereas thick“involves many relationships that are intensive as well as extensive long-distance flows that are large and continuous, affecting the lives of many people”.

3) A political project does not exclude that the project can be purely economic, for instance a free trade area. The term political project does here refer to the idea that the project is established through political means (e.g. presidents bargaining over and signing a treaty).

4) The Liberal Institutionalism approach, which incorporates functionalist and institutionalist theories, are not suitable, because they are mainly concerned with the inner process of regions. Liberal Regional Economic Integration focuses on economic aspects of regionalism and is therefore too narrow for the purpose of this analysis. Amin’s approach within the framework of New Regionalism will not be addressed, because it refers to the developing world, which is not subject to this essay. For a more detailed critique see Söderbaum’s “Rethinking the New Regionalism”.


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University of Cape Town
European Union Political Economy International Relations



Title: The European Union: a response to globalization or a part of it?