Regionalism, regional integration and international law

Research Project

This project will examine the phenomenon of regionalism in international law in historical, comparative and conceptual perspectives. Public international law is the law between states, and thus in a very simplistic way it can be said that regional integration through law is a sub-set of international law. The development of legal communities within the law of nations can be seen as a form of particularism, but also as a response to the challenges and constraints of the international legal order.

Regional integration has thus far generally been premised on economic integration, advancing towards further political union over time and including more are more issue areas along the way (also feasibly for economic reasons). This has resulted in the creation of the European Union, thus far the only truly supranational legal order, but also many other regional organisations that aim towards greater integration through trade and through law. Some scholars have described a ‘hierarchy of integration’, which despite being problematic in terms describes the various stages of integrated relationship possible for states. There are many factors that influence states in their decision to pursue, or reject, integration at a regional level. An important aspect to consider is sovereignty and how states conceive of their own sovereignty. The ideas that sovereignty can be lost, taken back, effectively pooled or gradually eroded can all influence states in their decision to pursue integration. They can also be instrumentalised by politics in order to undermine support for integration domestically. A focus on sovereignty may lead states to pursue issue led cooperation, through both soft law and also binding legal instruments, rather than true integration. A historical survey of the process of legal integration in various regions will provide insight into the motivation to pursue regionalism internationally, while at the same time pushing past the Eurocentric focus of Europe as a blueprint for integration. Indeed, only by comparing regional integrative efforts is it possible to gain insights into regional integration in international law in general; otherwise, one can only assess the factors that led a certain groups of states to pursue integration through law, whilst saying nothing about the phenomenon of regional integration through and in international law.

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