Promoting regional poles of prosperity and stability
The European Commission strongly believes that regional integration is an effective means of achieving prosperity, peace and security. This view is hardly surprising given the success of the European Union over the past 50 years. Regional integration can also benefit less developed areas of the world.
The economic benefits of integration are well documented – it can create larger markets and new trading opportunities, while increasing competition and lowering prices for consumers. There is also evidence that successful integration generates greater levels of domestic and foreign investment, along with improved security and stability.
Essentially, regional integration is a process by which groups of countries liberalise trade by developing free trade areas or customs unions. This creates a common market for goods, people, capital and services. More advanced models, such as the EU, have gone further by introducing a common currency, harmonising some national legislation and developing common policies.
Boosting development cooperation
Inspired by it own success, the EU has placed regional integration alongside trade as one of its priorities for development cooperation. The Commission’s work in this area is implemented through the use of regional programming documents, drafted in consultation with the relevant regional organisations.
The aim is to help developing regions implement their own regional integration agendas. The Commission follows this approach, in particular, with partner countries in the six African, Caribbean and Pacific regions it targets. It also supports regional integration processes in Latin America and Asia. Support is given for capacity building to strengthen regional systems and to set up various trade-related measures. For more, see the section on trade for development.
Long term, Commission support aims to increase intraregional trade and reinforce the integration process. Assistance can impact on a wide range of activities and issues at regional level, including the following:
- Strengthening regional macroeconomic stability and convergence. Capacity building programmes are helping to develop macroeconomic surveillance systems and monitor convergence targets. They are also being used to harmonise national statistics, fiscal systems and public finance legislation.
- Establishing free trade areas and customs unions. These structures help regions reap the benefit of economies of scale and push the conduct of trade to the top of the agenda. Activities include simplifying and harmonising national customs systems and procedures, finding ways to reduce customs clearance times, and making it easier for goods to move around, for example through the use of a computerised customs system. The development of customs infrastructures, such as one-stop border posts, can also make it easier to move goods across national borders.
- Creating synergies and support activities to increase intraregional trade. Encouraging countries to share sanitary and phytosanitary systems, technical standards and quality systems can have a positive impact on regional co-operation. Establishing regional regulatory frameworks and setting up bodies like regional accreditation offices all play a part in boosting trade between countries.
Where regional integration is more advanced, the Commission provides capacity building to regional organisations to help them develop a harmonised approach to establishing a common market in areas, such as competition, investment, public procurement, intellectual property rights, monetary co-operation and freedom of movement.