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Linking European Integration and Comparative Regionalism

Fredrik Söderbaum, Joint paper with Alberta Sbragia

Until recently the tendency within large parts of EU studies has been to consider the EU as a nascent, if unconventional, polity in its own right, thereby downplaying the possibilities for comparison with other regionalist projects (the 'n=1' problem). This is, however, a particular interpretation of the EU. A major problem in the study of comparative regionalism has been that other forms of regionalism have been characterized as loose and informal (e.g. Asia) or 'failed' (e.g. Africa), hence reflecting the prejudice that 'progress' in regionalism is often defined in terms of EU-style institutionalization. This paper emphasises that comparative regionalism and European integration can be mutually reinforcing. Illustrations taken from Africa and Asia are used to 'unpack' the rather conventional focus on pre-given supranational regional organizations and/or political institutions, as well as to problematize dominating distinctions such as: formality vs. informality, state regionalism vs. nonstate regionalization, and success vs. failure. Hence, there is scope for a more genuine cross-fertilization between regional debates if the scholarly community is able to start to think in more general conceptual and theoretical terms.

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