1 Pathways to Legitimacy? The Future of Global and Regional Governance

Pathways to Legitimacy? The Future of Global and Regional Governance
CSGR/GARNET Conference
University of Warwick, 17-19 September 2007
Bart Gaens and Juha Jokela
Network for European Studies
University of Helsinki
Interregional relations and legitimacy in global governance:
The case of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)
DRAFT PAPER – Not for quotation; comments welcome
The European Union (EU) occupies a central position in contemporary discussions of global
governance and legitimacy. To some, the EU constitutes a model for, or a benchmark case of,
the institution-building related to processes of regionalisation and/or globalisation. Others
have granted it a sui generis status and emphasised its distinct features in comparison to other
regional and global organisations. Given the variation in approaches, analysts (and policymakers) seem to agree that the EU is not a state or a traditional international organisation.
Accordingly, it is difficult to capture its legitimacy within the conventional state-centric
approaches to politics and world politics. This makes the EU a particularly interesting topic
for the analysis of legitimacy and regional and global governance. A recent and related
development is the emergence of interregional relations. Relations among different regions of
the world based on formal or informal arrangements between regional groupings, gears our
attention towards legitimacy of the EU and other regional actors in the global context.
The EU’s legitimacy debate has two interrelated dimensions. First, and foremost, questions
related to EU’s internal legitimacy – the democratic control over the EU’s supranational
institutions – constitutes one of the key political and analytical debates of the European
integration process. Second, the EU’s increasing role in world politics has highlighted the
external dimension of the EU’s legitimacy. Arguably and partly due to its internal
developments related to its legitimacy, the EU has been often seen as a way to make
regulation beyond the state more legitimate. On the other hand, and internally, the legitimacy
of the EU as an international actor has been questioned.
The general aim of this paper is to explore how the debate on legitimacy within the EU
impacts its external relations, and to what extent these relations feed back into the EU’s
internal developments and legitimacy debate. The paper will first identify and discuss sources
of legitimacy in the EU’s legitimacy debate. The text will subsequently examine the AsiaEurope Meeting (ASEM), a top-level yet informal dialogue forum created in 1996 with a
view to advancing interregional rapprochement between Europe and Asia in the political,
economic and cultural fields. Instead of measuring legitimacy, the paper’s purpose is to
evaluate how the EU’s legitimacy debates have been reflected in ASEM process. This will be
done by discussing three key sources of legitimacy present in the EU debates in relation to
ASEM, namely (i) democratic control; (ii) performance and (iii) identity. The impact of
ASEM on the EU is also addressed.
1. Legitimacy and the EU governance
The starting point of any analysis of legitimacy […] has to be an acknowledgement of its complexity,
and of the full range of factors – rules, normative beliefs, actions and procedures – that contribute to
making political authority rightful (Beetham and Lord 1998: 5).
In this section we will discuss the concept of legitimacy in relation to the EU and its external
relations. We will take the work of Beetham and Lord (1998) and Lord (2005) as our starting
point. We will limit our discussion to liberal democratic notions of legitimacy, in which ideas
of rightful authority are closely tied up to accountability. 1 Since such notion requires that
‘decisions can only be legitimate if they are made on behalf of the public…’ (Lord 2005; see
also, Beetham and Lord 1998: 6). In our analysis, legitimacy will be approached by three key
aspects: (i) the acquisition and exercise of power according to democratic values, (ii) the
performance of the system of governance and (iii) popular identification with the system
(Beetham 1991, see also Lord 2005: 114).
Institutions can be said to be legitimate when their right to make collectively binding
decisions is acknowledged by their policy addressees (Lord 2005: 113). As the EU
institutions have acquired a more authoritative and autonomous role, their legitimacy has
been subject to an intense political and analytical debate. Most noticeably, analysts and
policy-makers have suggested that there exists a “legitimacy crisis” or a “legitimacy deficit”
in the EU. These arguments build on an argued lack of democratic control mechanisms over
the EU institutions (the so-called “democratic deficit” argument) and a general lack of public
support for the EU and its institutions (see Burgess 2002: 468). These quintessentially
normative concerns relate to the politico-moral principles underpinning western political
though. Accordingly, the debate on EU’s development and legitimacy largely draws from
liberal democratic ideas of legitimacy.
The EU’s increasing importance in world politics and its distinct features as an international
actor – it is not a state and not an international organisation – has also geared scholarly
attention to the EU’s legitimacy as an international actor. As Vogt suggests,
Europe – the EU, its member states, as well as other European states and regional organisations –
constitutes a very powerful actor in this process [globalisation]. The legitimacy and therefore the
influence of this actor in the eyes of the others, as well as European citizens themselves, is dependent
on the nature of its international activities and the values that inform them. (Vogt 2006: 5)
For many, and partly due to the internal legitimacy debate, the EU has represented a pathway
to legitimacy in regional and global governance. That is, although its legitimacy has been
questioned, the surrounding debate as well as the proposed reforms to increase democratic
control over its key institutions, has been seen as an exemplar of a way forward in promoting
liberal democratic notions of legitimacy when it comes to regulation beyond the state.
Consequently, scholars have been increasingly interested in examining justification of the
EU’s external relations and its international actorness. These aspects have been addressed
within explicitly normative frameworks (Lucarelli & Manners 2006; Meyers and Vogt 2006).
Significantly, scholars have also highlighted the link between external and internal
developments (Lucarelli & Manners 2006; Lord 2005). What, then, are the defining
characteristics of the EU’s legitimacy, or, indeed, the suggested lack of it?
The liberal democratic notions of legitimacy can be, of course, contested and they are not necessarily accepted
as such in Asian countries and regional institutions, for instance. However, this paper focuses on EU’s
legitimacy and its contextually and culturally specific criteria.
1.1 Democratic control and accountability
EU institutions’ legitimacy has been predominantly approached within an international
organisation frame, in which the legitimacy is mostly derived from ideas of an international
system based on sovereign states and international organisations constituted by the states.
Accordingly, the legitimacy of an international organisation is based on the recognition of
states and other legitimate actors. This type of legitimacy is often described as indirect in so
far that the legitimacy of such organisations draw from its member states and their officials
rather than directly from the people (Wallace 1993: 95-99). Accordingly, the EU institutions
can be seen legitimate as long as they are controlled by the liberal democratic member states. 2
A constitutional view of legitimacy takes the central ideas of liberal democracy and
accountability further and emphasises the EU’s state-like character. The constitutional
approach highlights legal and procedural aspects of legitimacy. Here the delimitation of
political authority – its scope, duration, mode of appointment and dismissal, et cetera – by
means of a written constitution, which is enforced by independent courts, is central. Another
crucial feature of the constitutional approach is the public as the only valid source of political
authority. From this idea derives the principle of electoral authorisation of government, and
the criteria of representation, accountability and so forth (Beetham and Lord 1998: 5-6). It is
within these two approaches of legitimacy in the EU in which the arguments of a democratic
deficit are mostly put forward. These arguments suggest that in several policy areas the
member states have pooled and delegated their powers in and to EU’s supranational
institutions. Consequently, political decisions are no longer made exclusively by national
parliaments or governments legitimated through elections by their people, but increasingly
‘by Commission officials, by complex expert networks or by ministers negotiating complex
deals behind closed doors’ (Wagner 2007: 1).
Because the decision-making procedures differ significantly in different policy fields, it is
true that the legitimacy and accountability of the EU system is hard to decipher. Whereas in
some areas such as the Common Market, the most autonomous EU institutions – namely the
Commission, the European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank – have a
substantial role, in other fields, such as foreign policy and defence, the member states remain
firmly in power. Due the increasing direct powers of the EU institutions as well as issues
related to transparency in intergovernmental decision making, the EU’s legitimacy based on
indirect democratic control of the member states, is rendered deeply suspect. Concurrently,
calls for direct democratic control over the EU institutions have gained force.
Also in the field of the EU’s external relations, the decision-making procedures differ
significantly across matters as diverse as development aid, trade, international monetary, and
environmental agreements, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and European
Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Importantly, and until recently, EU’s external relations
have largely avoided the questions and concerns raised in the democratic deficit debate.
According to Wagner, for two reasons (2007: 1). First, due to the intergovernmental decisionmaking of the CFSP and ESDP, it has been argued that there is simply no democratic deficit
Although the concept of legitimacy has a universal character, the normative bases of legitimacy of a state’s
political system are diverse (Beetham and Lord 1998: 3-5). Accordingly, a state with an authoritarian regime
can be viewed as a legitimate actor within the international organisation view. However, and in the EU context,
a political system based on liberal democracy is one of the key requirements for membership. Hence the EU’s
rightful authority as an international organisation is closely connected to the liberal democratic notions of
as in the fields where supranational institutions have a more autonomous role. Second,
observers have noted that there is a long and eminent tradition to measure foreign, security
and defence politics against a lower standard of democratic accountability in western
democracies, because these “high politics” fields require a larger degree of secrecy, flexibility
and special expertise than other policies. However, both claims can be seen flawed. First, the
CFSP and ESDP have led to the transfer of state powers to the EU level because of the
increasing institutional and political pressure to participate within these EU policies. This, in
turn, opens up the question of democratic control over these policies (Wagner 2007: 1, 4-6).
Second, it is a mistake to exaggerate the differences in the politics of legitimacy across
external policies of the EU since if ‘the public does not make fine-grained distinctions
between types of Union policy, it may be enough for a decision to be made in “Europe’s
name” for it to be implicated in the Union’s legitimacy, even when member states retain high
levels of control’ (Lord 2005: 118, emphasis added). Third, as Hanna Ojanen suggests, the
EU developments represents an unforeseen possibility to “low-politicise” security and
defence questions (Ojanen 2002). “Low-politicisation” would enable increasing transparency
and enhance constitutional features of legitimacy such as direct democratic control and
accountability. Furthermore, the number of legitimate actors or stakeholders in the policy
process expands beyond the formal state or EU institutions and officials. Members
representing business, civil society and media, for instance, are given more attention.
1.2 Performance
As Maull suggests, political legitimacy for governmental actions can be established through
success (1999: 5). In the EU context, this line of argument is clearly present in functionalist
theories of European integration. In the early David Mitrany version of functionalism, the
expert cooperation across borders to solve a growing set of common issues, would shift the
loyalty of beneficiaries in favour of supranational institutions, thereby making cooperation
even more efficient and beneficial (see Schmitter 2004: 56-57). More recently, the EU’s
performance as a source of legitimacy has been particularly visible in debates related to
economic globalisation. It has been argued that EU is better equipped to deal with the
challenges of globalising era than its member states. Notably, this logic is increasingly
adopted also other policy fields such as environment, energy, immigration and defence.
Accordingly, claims that seek to legitimate EU’s external relations often explicitly build on
the performance as a source of legitimacy.
Lord notes that at least three reasons seem to be central in the claims suggesting that EU
policies can achieve more than uncoordinated national policies (2005: 118). First, a decision
to make international policy through the EU may offer benefits of scale. Second, there may
be gains of removing inconsistencies between national policies in terms of avoiding
duplication and bringing in stability. Third, the EU might provide added value by bringing
different international policies within a same institutional decision-making structures,
although the different institutional means are used in policy-making. For instance, security
policy can be approached more easily broadly, when military and defence issues are brought
together with trade and sustainable development issues in the coordination of EU’s external
relations. Performance as a source of legitimacy is often linked to regionalisation and
interregional regions more broadly. It is argued that these processes should provide states and
individuals added value in relation to existing bi- and multilateral arrangements. EU’s and
other regional actors’ performance is, however, deeply affected by their institutional set-up
and member states political will. It is argued, for example, that the complex character of the
EU’s decision-making procedures cancel out at least some of the gains from using them to
solve collective action problems in external policies (Lord 2005: 119). Whereas the so-called
‘expectations – capabilities gap’ identified by Hill (1993) has questioned the credibility of the
CFSP, EU’s policy in WTO has been characterised by inconsistency and complex internal
interest politics (Lord 2005: 119). Moreover, EU’s ability to deliver as the world’s largest
development aid donor has been refuted. Accordingly, the institutional reforms of the EU are
also related to the question of its performance.
Although EU’s performance is closely related to its public support, its link with a so-called
technocratic view of legitimacy is also important to note. This view suggests that the public
good is better realised by professionals holding special knowledge or expertise than by
elected politicians. Significantly, the key decision-makers’ autonomy from everyday politics
has been seen as strength in economic and fiscal policies, for instance.3 Furthermore, as
Beetham and Lord points out, it has been suggested that due to the type and character of the
EU decision-making, it is most appropriate to be left for the professionals and experts.
Relatedly, it has been argued that technocrats loyal to the EU can better serve the common
good of all the people of the EU that nationally biased member state officials. (see, Beetham
and Lord 1998: 16-19). Although many writers have highlighted the technocratic or
processional impact in the European integration and EU decision-making process, the growth
of professionalism and EU bureaucracy alone does not make EU institutions legitimate
(Beetham and Lord 1998: 17). Indeed, quite the opposite. Many see the de-politicisation and
strengthening of bureaucratic autonomy as a serious problem for electoral and parliamentary
control over policy-making.
1.3 Identity
The legitimacy debate is furthermore closely related to the identity of the EU in several ways.
First, a degree of common identity (public identification with the EU and its institutions) is
seen as a requirement to increase direct democratic control over the EU, which, in turn,
would make it more accountable. Relatedly, the lack of identification (i.e. common identity)
of the European public with the EU institutions – reflected, for instance, in the low turnout in
European elections – is seen as hindering attempts to increase direct democratic control over
EU institutions. Second, a common identity has considerable practical value as source of
legitimacy. As Lord notes, any policy is likely to be interpreted legitimate when it is
collectively viewed as “our” policy rather than a policy of “the other” imposed upon us (Lord
2005:119). Third, and crucially, the legitimacy of any institution or system of governance is,
in the end, a question of identity. As Beetham and Lord argue (1998: 2), the authority and
scope of EU institutions is a subject of considerable political controversy in many member
states. This reflects very different political identities underpinning the conditions for effective
and accountable governance.4 The deep divisions in the Constitutional Treaty reform serve as
a good exemplar of the diversity of political identities in the EU context.
The autonomy of the European Central Bank from political control of the member states and even other EU
institutions serves as an example of an institution with a global reach, which legitimacy draws from the
technocratic frame.
Significantly, these essentially normative concerns are also reflected in the “analytical disputes between
political scientists: about what kind of political phenomenon the EU is, or is on the way to becoming; about
whether there is a ‘legitimacy deficit’, and, if so, wherein it lies and how far it matters” (Beetham and Lord
1998: 2).
Questions of identity – the EU’s self-image and the degree of shared “we-feeling” in its
external relations – have also been addressed in relation to the EU’s external relations and
international actorness. Because the construction of identity/ies is closely tied to a set of
clearly articulated shared norms and values, the analysis of EU’s international identity has
explicitly addressed normative questions. These are often tied to the EU’s aim to expand
liberal democracy beyond the boundaries of the EU, and the eastern enlargement is often
pointed out as the example of this objective. Promoting democracy is not, however, a new
phenomenon in the EU’s external relations. As Lucarelli notes, Francois Duchene’s wellknown image of the EC as a civilian power has been powerful since the 1970s. According to
Duchene, the EC is an international actor that spreads civilian and democratic standards of
governance on the basis of an ‘ethics of responsibility’ which is usually associated with home
affairs (Duchene 1973 cited in Lucarelli 2006: 6). Duchene’s ideas run high in the current era
of globalisation. It has been suggested that the disappearance of barriers between internal and
external politics makes political decision-makers responsible for all those affected by their
decisions (Habermas 1998) and the EU has been seen better equipped than others to assume
such responsibility (Lucarelli 2006: 6). Consequently, the EU has been seen as a bench-mark
case of, or model for, negotiating legitimacy in regional and global governance. On the other
hand, the democratic features and accountability of the EU institutions in particular in the
field of external relations have been put under closer scrutiny.
The idea of the EU as a civilian power – in which EU’s identity is often constructed in
opposition to a military power – have been developed further by Ian Manners (2002). He
proposes a collective identity for the EU as a ‘normative power’. For Manners, EU’s
international identity is based on three elements: (i) its origins in an explicit rejection of
nationalism; (ii) its unique character as a “hybrid polity”; and (iii) the development of a key
set of values clearly articulated in successive Treaties (Bretherton & Vogler 2006: 42; see
also Manners 2002: 240). Manners also identifies five core values – peace, liberty,
democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights – and four subsidiary values – social
solidarity, anti-discrimination, sustainable development and good governance – as
contributing to EU’s international identity. ‘It is in projecting these values, and in promoting
the establishment of related norms for the governance of international behaviour, the EU
might be said to exercise normative power’ (Bretherton & Vogler 2006: 42). The EU’s
legitimacy as a normative power has been linked to its ability to perform external policies and
enhance its core values regionally and globally. Lucarelli and Manners suggest that ‘The EU
experiences legitimacy and credibility crises when the Union does not perform the foreign
policy its member states and citizens expect it to perform’ (Lucarelli and Manners 2006:
211). They argue that in these cases, regardless of the complexity of the EU foreign policy
decision-making system, any inaction which implies stepping back from the EU’s proclaimed
principles and values is often perceived as representing a challenge to the EU’s identity and
legitimacy. Thus the rapid development of EU’s military capabilities particularly in crisis
management can be seen to complement rather than undermine EU’s identity as a normative
Authors focusing on the EU external identity and participation in world politics have also
highlighted the impact of the external dimension on the EU’s internal developments such as
its internal legitimacy and democratic control. For instance, Lucarelli and Manners argue that
‘two huge current challenges to the EU – connecting the Union to its citizens and developing
its international presence – are deeply interlinked’ (Lucarelli and Manners 2006: 211). That
is, the EU’s internal identity and its legitimacy are partially constituted by its external
policies and participation in world politics. Accordingly, it is analytically interesting to
examine how this participation feeds back into EU politics and policies, and the EU’s
(internal) identity, which is closely related to the debate over its legitimacy. In terms of
liberal democratic notions of legitimacy consequences can be positive or negative.
1.4 Interregional relations
As the foreign policy and external role of the European Union have increasingly become the
focus of academic research, at present particular attention is paid to the relations with other
regions in the context of “new interregionalism”, or the interlinkage of regions as distinct
actors ‘with a distinct identity, actor capability, legitimacy, and structure of decision-making’
(Hettne 1997: 228). Policy-makers, state and non-state actors, as well as academics are
engaged in a debate on the weight of interregional relations within global governance, on
their importance for the EU as a global actor, and on the role of values and identities for
regional community-building processes. Accordingly, interregionalism constitutes a
particularly fruitful field to address questions related to legitimacy and regional and global
governance. In addition, interregional constructions often include non-state actors from civil
society or the private sector, leading to “transregionalism”.5 As such interregionalism also
relates to transparency or openness to its deliberative procedures, as well as to the democratic
credentials or accountability of institutions with policy-making and shaping ambitions.
Against this background the position of the East Asian region is of special interest. The
importance of Asia is widely acknowledged in the regional strategy papers of the EU and its
member states. “Asia” is seen as “a crucial partner for the EU, whether economically,
politically or culturally” (European Commission External Relations 2003). Asia’s
demographic size, economic rise, political and security environment, and delicate regional
power balance present opportunities and interests, but also contain risks and threats for
Europe. The general perception appears to be that the EU is as yet not as engaged in the
region as it should be. As a recent Belgian policy note for Asia (Federal Public Service
Foreign Affairs of Belgium 2006) pointed out, the general feeling is that the EU has not
succeeded in taking full advantage of the potential of relations with Asia. Furthermore, the
foreign and security policy for Asia is seen as lacking coherence and focus, not in the least
because the region, in the words of one MEP, is regarded as “a powder keg from a security
point of view, a baby elephant economically speaking and mainly a source of concern from
the point of view of human rights”. This lack of perceived success or failure to implement a
comprehensive strategy for Asia is also entrenched in the legitimacy debate, as it relates to
the three key sources of legitimacy outline above.
2. Methodological framework and research design
The methodological framework of this article builds on interregionalism and new
institutionalism. Interregionalism represents the interaction of one region with another.
Interregionalism is often seen as a ‘double regional project’. That is, it responds to the need to
pool an ever greater amount of resources in the face of other regional and global dynamics
On the other hand, it has been understood as a process of increasing regionalisation, in which
the existing regions produce the formation of new ones (Gilson 2005: 309; see also Hettne et.
Aggarwal and Fogarty (2004, 5) have applied the term “transregionalism” to denote a more diffuse type of
interregionalism, such as cross-regional agreements whereby neither of the two regions acts as a grouping (for
example, APEC). The authors distinguish two other types of interregional constructions: pure interregionalism
(two formally organized counterpart regions) and hybrid interregionalism (one customs union interacting with a
set of countries that is not a formally organized grouping).
al. 1999). Accordingly, interregionalism is linked to global governance (and its impact on
global and regional processes can be positive and negative).
The ways to comprehend the distinctness of a region-to-region framework are increasingly
attracting scholarly attention. Whereas some have favoured a broadly institutional approaches
and/or policy analysis (Rüland 2005), others have highlighted questions related to identity
such as position of “self and “other” (Gilson 2005). Latter are closely related to
constructivist and poststructuralist understanding of foreign policy. Methodologically this
article will combine both. The interest in institutions in relation interregionalism and
legitimacy emerge from the need to understand construction of institutions and their
limitations and opportunities in ASEM process. In line with new institutionalism, we define
institutions as an established and persistent pattern of behaviour (Goodin 1996: 21).
Moreover, institution is social and constructed through social interaction (Checkel 2001: 52).
In addition to formal political structures and organisations, institutions comprise rules,
informal structures, norms, beliefs and values, routines and conventions, and ideas about
institutions (Peters 1999). Significantly, the values and principles underpinning the
institutions are closely interrelated – or perhaps more correctly interwoven – with the identity
of the regional actors. Thus, a broad focus on institutions is useful when analysing legitimacy
in interregional relations. Moreover, and as suggest notions of legitimacy are normative and
closely related to the identity of the actor which legitimacy we are addressing.
Instead of measuring legitimacy, this article attempts to evaluate how EU’s legitimacy
debates have been reflected in ASEM process. The empirical analysis is based on assessment
of cooperation frameworks, strategy papers, external relations communication, and
documents and speeches related to ASEM.
3. The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)
The creation of ASEM’s was above all symbolically important. The inaugural summit in
Bangkok, held in March 1996, signified for many the highly promising start of an
interregional partnership between equals, based in the first place on economic interests. More
specifically for the EU, ASEM offered a very broad and wide-ranging policy instrument to
contribute to the implementation of an equally comprehensive Asia Strategy. ASEM emerged
as a novel but, importantly, not an exclusive instrument to achieve this aim of strengthening
dialogue and cooperation with Asia. For the EU, ASEM offered a comprehensive,
multidimensional and multilevel framework which could effectively complement and support
the existing bilateral and regional co-operation agreements, while simultaneously
streamlining and enhancing multilateral cooperation. Moreover, it could allow interaction and
dialogue to be expanded thematically to the political and social/cultural fields, and to promote
the construction of a loosely defined “Asia” as a region. 6 Until 2006 ASEM encompassed the
member states of the EU and the European Commission, and the ASEAN countries in
The term “Asia” as it is used in the EU context has shown a high degree of fluidity. The New Asia Strategy
(1994) had made a distinction between the eight countries of East Asia, ten countries of Southeast Asia, and
eight countries of South Asia, but was heavily focused on the booming economies of Southeast Asia and Japan.
The revised Asia Strategy of 2001 on the other hand, took a much broader approach and illustrated the increased
emphasis on Asian diversity and heterogeneity. The document also included Australasia in the definition of
Asia, and targeted “the countries stretching from Afghanistan in the west to Japan in the east, and from China in
the north to New-Zealand in the south, plus all points in between” (European Commission 2001). The “Asia”
that functions as the EU’s counterpart within ASEM can more narrowly be defined as East Asia, now
comprising countries from South, Southeast, and Northeast Asia. India and Pakistan are part of the Northeast
Asian coordination mechanism. Central Asia however has always been dealt with separately.
addition to China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. The decision to enlarge ASEM to a
partnership of 45 members by including India, Pakistan, Mongolia and the ASEAN
Secretariat was certainly the most striking outcome of the ASEM6 Summit held in Helsinki
in September 2006. The ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Hamburg (28-29 May 2007)
for the first time gathered 43 partner states, as well as the EU External Relations
Commissioner, the EU’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy
(CFSP), and the Secretary-General of ASEAN.7
ASEM was a Singaporean initiative, and one of its further underlying motivations was to
rekindle the troubled relation between the EU and ASEAN, which has been regarded as the
origin of interregional group-to-group interaction (the first ASEAN-EC9 ministerial
conference took place in 1978, Regelsberger 1990, 5). ASEM, on the other hand, is seen as a
prime example of a new type of interregional relations. “New interregionalism” emerged in
the 1990s as a post-Cold War product, and appears in a great variety of guises. In the
typology developed by Hänggi (2006), interregional relations in the broad sense includes
interaction between two regional organizations (for example, EU-ASEAN), but can also refer
to relationships between a regional organization and a much looser affiliated group (for
example, EU-Asian ASEM), between a regional organization or group and a third country
(for example, EU-China), between two regional groupings (for example, “East Asia” and
“Latin America” in FEALAC), or between states, groups of states and regional organizations
from more than two regions (for example, APEC). Interregionalism is often not limited to
trade and economy but also includes political and security dialogue as well as cultural
interaction. Even though the EU functions as the hub of a large number of interregional
arrangements, other regions as well have instigated interregional dialogues and thereby
gained in “actorness” (Söderbaum and Van Langenhove 2005, 251).
3.1 ASEM and democratic accountability
ASEM was devised as a process of informal dialogue with a focus on consensus and nonbinding agreements, rather than as an international organization or a negotiation/cooperation
framework with a focus on agendas and procedures. ASEM’s informal approach and its
dialogue-behind-closed-doors allow it to address areas which are thought of as “sensitive”,
facilitating a deeper awareness of “mutual” positions and constraints and leading to
smoothened interaction in other fora (Santer, 1998). At the same time however it is clear that
this focus “on the participating personalities and their mutual understanding rather than on
agendas and procedures” (European Parliament - Committee on Foreign Affairs, Security and
Defence Policy 1999) complicates transparency and evokes questions related to
accountability. In the words of Rüland (2001: 28), the ASEM dialogue receives very little
feedback by and from the grassroots represented by national parliaments or civil society. The
utter lack of democratic transparency therefore undermines the legitimacy of inter- and
transregional fora such as ASEM. The following sections will examine transparency and
accountability within ASEM from a two-fold perspective, relating to (a) governance and (b)
stakeholder involvement.
3.1.1 Governance accountability and ASEM’s “missing democratic dimension”
According to Teija Tiilikainen (2008), ASEM as one instrument in the overall EU-Asia
relations assumes an increasingly rare position in comparison to other structures of
The formal celebration of accession will only take place at the next summit in China in 2008.
interregional cooperation, when seen in the light of the EU’s continuous process of
integration. ASEM can be labelled a region-to-region intergovernmental structure. The
ASEM process places prime emphasis on a state-to-state approach, and intergovernmental
initiatives form the core of the cooperation. At the same time ASEM constitutes at least partly
an interregional dialogue. It takes the existence of distinct “Asian” and “European” regions as
a starting point, and also policy coordination and caucuses ahead of summits and meetings
take place on a regional basis. ASEM’s ambiguous character is obvious in the fact that the
EU is represented by the sum of the member states, not through collective representation by
the European Community as such (normally representing the union in formal external
relations). Also the role of the European Commission is different, as it participates as an
independent actor rather than in its capacity of representative of Pillar I matters relating to
trade and development. Nonetheless, the EU members’ policies are bound by the common
positions according to the provisions of the CFSP.
The exclusion of the direct control of the European Parliament is one element which in
particular highlights ASEM’s position within the EU’s External Relations (Tiilikainen 2008).
As cooperation in ASEM is based on “peer pressure and a sense of legal obligation” (Forster
1999, 754) rather than legal means, the approval for collective agreements by the European
Parliament is not needed, thereby effectively sidelining the EP. Nevertheless, the European
Parliament aims to exert influence on the ASEM process by debating ASEM-related
documents issued by the European Commission and by analyzing summit conclusions. The
European Parliament has in the first place called for “a clear role” in the ASEM process,
which provides for involvement in negotiations and discussions, and consultation on their
results (European Parliament 1998, 2000, 2001), as it regards parliamentary cooperation as
the cornerstone of political dialogue (European Parliament - Committee on Foreign Affairs,
Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy 2001). Second, the EP has aimed to
promote the establishment of a Social Forum which could address the negative impact of
globalization, and has supported a stronger civil society dialogue. A resolution from 2001
(European Parliament 2001) for example emphasized that “the main aim to be pursued under
the political "pillar" must be to invest the ASEM with the democratic dimension that is
missing at present, by ensuring that the process is transparent, by opening it up to
participation by elected assemblies and by taking full account of the demands of civil
society”, while calling for a social forum to be set up in which such demands can be freely
expressed. In the third place, as an active advocate for human rights, democracy and rule of
law, the EP has called for clear commitments to these principles in the ASEM dialogue, and
has also demanded the exclusion of any state that does not respect these.
Parliaments from Asian and European countries have sought to enhance their participation by
creating their own network, the Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership or ASEP in the
sidelines of ASEM. The Asian and European parliaments have organized parallel meetings
with the ASEM summits on four occasions.8 They have grown into a recognized player in the
wider Asia-Europe interaction, even though their role and impact on ASEM has remained
limited. Until ASEM6 in Helsinki for example, ASEP was not even allowed to provide direct
input to the summit. The fact that the Helsinki Summit provided the chance for the ASEP
chairman to directly address the summit, is a sign of the increased recognition of rightful
parliamentary involvement.
ASEP meetings have been held in Strasbourg (1996), Manila (2002), Hue (2004) and Helsinki (2006).
Also the holding of the first ASEM Labour and Employment Ministers’ Conference, held in
Potsdam prior to the Helsinki Summit, was the crystallization of this increased emphasis on
the social dimension of globalization by the EP and the trade unions. The social
consequences of economic growth came to the fore as an issue for discussion already at
ASEM4 in Copenhagen. The issue was brought up again at ASEM5, where the ministers of
ASEM countries were tasked with developing cooperation in social development, labour and
employment, education and training, public health and environment. ASEM6 constituted an
important first step towards the realization of a social dimension in the Asia-Europe dialogue.
Given the nature of the interregional dialogue, parliamentary involvement in ASEM remains
limited. However, the EP does have more influence on pillar I (trade and development
related) issues. Recently the Parliament opposed the channelling of funds to ASEM in order
to support regional integration through an ASEM Dialogue Facility, the Asia-Europe
Foundation (ASEF) and the Trans-Eurasia information Network (TEIN3). The European
Parliament (2007) argued that these initiatives aiming to enhance “regional integration” as
they were not primarily geared toward the eradication of poverty. In particular the EP
criticized ASEF’s stated objective to “facilitate dissemination of information and sharing of
resources and to enhance public awareness of ASEM/ASEF” as being incompatible with the
main objective of the legal instrument for development cooperation with third countries (the
Development Cooperation Instrument, DCI). The parliament thereby acknowledges ASEM
primarily an intergovernmental forum, and has also supported the creation of a secretariat
(and de facto transforming ASEM into a quasi-international organization).
3.1.2 Stakeholder accountability
ASEM started out as a highly exclusive dialogue forum of informal nature. The ASEM
summits were seen as high-level gatherings bringing together the Heads of State or
Government in Asia and Europe. Even though the main aim was to get to know each other
and increase mutual awareness, the input of ideas and initiatives would mainly flow from top
to bottom or horizontally, but not from bottom to top. While contacts at all levels were
deemed important, civil society was not acknowledged as an active actor and contributor to
the top, official level. The Asia-Europe Cooperation Framework 2000 encouraged dialogue
between the peoples of the two regions and among all sectors of society and identified civil
society as a “prime actor” in the process, together with the government and business
community. This signified the first time that civil society was named as a key stakeholder.
As pointed out by Higgott (2000, 41), ASEM includes an increasing number of actors with a
heterogeneity of interests in a growing complexity of policy fields, who all endeavour to
reach some form of policy consensus. The involvement of non-state actors and a bottom-up
approach therefore seem vital elements at the core of ASEM, but not all of the stakeholders
and actors involved in ASEM are directly linked to the process. In addition to Parliaments,
also trade unions, NGOs and the different civil society actors only have indirect means of
access to the official ASEM process at their disposal. This not only leads to lower visibility
and awareness of ASEM in the partner countries, but also raises questions concerning
accountability. Business community
In fact only business interests are formally represented as part of the process in the form of
the Asia-Europe Business Forum (AEBF). The aim of the Asia-Europe Business Forum
(AEBF) was to promote private-sector activities, business-government links, and business
partnerships through dialogue and exchange. The AEBF’s twofold approach of networking
and idea-producing can certainly be evaluated as highly successful in the forum’s first years.
At present however the active participation and interest of the business community in the
ASEM process is waning due to the limited impact of AEBF recommendations. Nevertheless,
the forum’s ambiguous and non-transparent nature continues to be the focus of debate. The
AEBF is considered private sector, as it consists of business leaders and managers of
transnational companies, in addition to government officials. Yet at the same time it functions
as a fully integrated part of the formal ASEM structure, as the forum has a formal
institutionalized role within key ASEM bodies such as the Senior Officials Meeting Of Trade
and Investment (SOMTI) and the Investment Experts Groups (IEG). According to the critical
view, large corporations active in AEBF promote a narrow, corporate agenda and have
political power through their privileged status in the ASEM process and their tie-in with the
government (see for example Hoedeman 2002). The European Commission’s active role in
the AEBF and its view of the Forum as part of the Commission’s internal decision-making
process, while at the same time considering it “a private sector body”, was also addressed in
the European Parliament.9 Civil society
Even though a wide-ranging dialogue between a growing number of stakeholder groups now
takes place alongside the ASEM summit, not all stakeholder groups have acquired a formal
channel to provide input and voice concerns. Some civil society groups have, however,
independently, through their own activities and networking, striven to raise awareness of
ASEM and the Asia-Europe dialogue. The Asia-Europe People’s Forum, the Asia-Europe
Trade Forum, and the Asia-Europe Young Decision-makers Conference have all become part
of the “wider Asia-Europe partnership”, yet these processes have developed outside the
official ASEM and reach only a relatively limited number of people. The Asia-Europe
people’s Forum (AEPF) brings together a large group of different civil society organizations
ranging from small local activist groups to international NGOs. Despite the limited contacts
with the official level, it is important to note that AEPF has succeeded in increasing
horizontal networking between non-governmental organizations in Asia and Europe, both
between the two regions as well as within them. For example, AEPF6 in Helsinki 2006 was
the largest civil society event ever organized in Finland and it brought together many Finnish
actors for the first time to cooperate at an international level. The Helsinki Summit and the
efforts of the Finnish EU Presidency to facilitate civil society input do form an example of a
successful impact by a European host nation on the ASEM agenda, increasing the
expectations for ASEM7 to further enhance ASEM’s legitimacy. ASEM6 has sought to
improve the grassroots-level feedback by providing better opportunities for the different
stakeholder groups to channel their ideas and recommendations into the official process.
Events bringing together the different groups were organized in parallel with or just prior to
the Helsinki Summit. The [email protected] Symposium gathered business leaders, scholars,
members of parliaments, and representatives of civil society groups and NGOs to debate the
future of the ASEM process. In addition the AEPF held its own meeting, to which host
country Finland contributed substantial financial resources. Furthermore the different groups
had the opportunity to convey their recommendations and messages to the summit through
more direct channels. Representatives of AEBF and, for the first time, ASEP addressed the
See the Written Question P-1959/01 to the Commission by Caroline Lucas in the European Parliament.
Official Journal 364E, 20/12/2001 p. 0231-0231.
summit directly, and the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) as well as the Asia-Europe
Young Decision-Makers Conference were allowed to address the Finnish host of ASEM6 and
convey their opinions to the summit indirectly. The Helsinki Summit has arguably enhanced
ASEM’s “human face” and made a contribution to narrowing the “demographic deficit”.
While much remains to be done, this at least sets a new benchmark with the next summit in
China in mind. Media
ASEM is a forum that aims to bring together the peoples of Asia and Europe, and relations
with the general public, the largest group of stakeholders, is therefore of vital importance.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that while the summits attract a fair amount of attention,
public awareness of ASEM’s raison d’être, goals and activities remains low. This lack of
visibility is rooted in the first place in a highly limited media attention. European interest in
Asia as a regional entity has remained limited in the first place because “Asia” is only
emerging as a regional actor, whereas relations between the EU and individual Asian
countries or ASEAN have achieved a much higher degree of acquaintance. In addition,
national bilateral relations to Asian countries may be regarded as more interesting, and easier
to cover than issues related to the complex entity of the EU. It goes without saying that the
absence of the United States from ASEM is a major reason for lower media interest. It is
furthermore obvious that ASEM’s basic approach of confidence-building and confidentiality
a priori places a limit on the amount of public and media exposure. The agenda is very broad,
and does not lead to negotiations or groundbreaking agreements. The “informal, open and
frank” dialogue conducted behind closed doors does not yield any sensational news or stories.
Discussion at the meetings has often remained superficial and the common statements have
remained declaratory. In addition, the initiatives at the intergovernmental level either have a
relatively low profile, or the ASEM partners themselves do not sufficiently advertise or sell
these activities and projects to the media and public. All these factors do not render ASEM a
very attractive topic in the eyes of the media, and only exacerbate ASEM’s image as an
obscure and non-transparent forum.
It goes without saying that media attention in the host country is greater due to the increased
visibility, and the direct impact on the host city. Finland’s leading newspaper, the Helsingin
Sanomat published no fewer than 75 articles directly related to the Helsinki summit between
28 August and 13 September 2006. Interestingly, the security measures in the run-up to the
summit and the clash between the police and a relatively small number of anti-ASEM
protesters attracted most media attention. The cordon imposed by the security forces,
preventing the Smash ASEM! demonstration was a particularly hot topic and led to an
extensive discussion on the use of force by the police.10. The media also focused on Human
Rights, not only with respect to Burma/Myanmar but also to China, whose support for
continued use of the death penalty and the restriction of freedom of speech were heavily
criticized. ASEM furthermore provided fodder for stories on faits divers in the so-called
“human interest” sphere, ranging from the culinary to the personal. Actual content-related
articles that appeared in the Helsingin Sanomat before and during the summit were
proportionally not that numerous. The outcomes of the summit were considered minor
achievements (Helsingin Sanomat 12/09/2006) and only mentioned in passing. Only the
The Smash ASEM! gathering managed to attract 300 protesters on 9 September, supposedly taking their cue
from the “news about peasants and sweatshop workers rioting all around China almost on a daily basis” and
promising “music and action” (Smash ASEM! Pamphlet). 130 demonstrators were taken into custody, of which
86 will face trial over their participation in the riots.
agreement to cooperate on climate issues and the ASEM Declaration on Climate Change
received attention. The fairly high number of articles on the side events and bilateral
meetings such as the EU-South Korea and EU-China gatherings, also underscores the keener
interest that other long-standing EU-Asia relations tend to generate (see Saltmarsh 2004: 2).
Recently institutional endeavours have been made to make ASEM-related activities public
and appeal to the media. The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) for example organized an
Editors’ Roundtable, attended by approximately thirty editors and journalists, in the sidelines
of the Helsinki Summit, and a series of Asia-Europe Journalists’ Seminars in order to raise
awareness among Asian and European journalists. In addition the Helsinki Summit decided
to implement a public communication strategy to disseminate results of summits, meetings
and initiatives. And finally, a more focused agenda is also seen as a tool to affect visibility. A
focus on relevant topics within clearly demarcated policy areas, for example climate change
and energy security, should make ASEM more visible and “sellable” to the media.
3.2 Performance or output legitimacy
As pointed out by Maull (1999, 5) political legitimacy for governmental actions can be
established through success. If ASEM is successful in tackling “common challenges” such as
climate change and the effects of globalization by formulating “joint responses” (as was the
slogan for ASEM6), then the media or the electorate will not call the forum’s existence (and
its utilization of considerable amounts of tax money for organizing the summit for example)
into question. Output legitimacy therefore depends on institutional efficiency and
effectiveness. Academic reviews of ASEM’s performance during its past decade often take a
highly critical perspective. According to many scholarly analyses, ASEM has been unable to
play any significant role in contributing to global governance (Maull and Okfen 2006), and at
present is seen as a forum of decreasing importance (Camroux 2006). The principle of
informality as well as the coexistence of two different cooperation cultures obstruct real
progress in cooperation (Loewen 2007). ASEM’s performance is rated as “poor” (Roloff
2006, 18), as it has been unable to fulfill a rationalizing and agenda-setting role toward key
multilateral processes such as the UN or the WTO (Dent 2005). As a result, arguments have
been made for a bolder, more focused, institutionalized and democratic ASEM which could
be developed into a “multilateral utility” (Rüland 2000; 2005).
The criticism however, neglects to take into account that interregional cooperation has not yet
turned into a key element of international relations. One of the earliest works on the
phenomenon of interregionalism (Edwards and Regelsberger 1990) already pointed out that
interregional relations fill the gap between traditional bilateralism and universalism. Seen as
the EC/EU’s “natural answer” to managing global interdependence and a result of the
EC/EU’s “internal logic”, interregional group-to-group relations have been regarded as a new
and important diplomatic tool in the emerging multipolar system, and have even been
referred to as a “landmark on the way to a new world order” (H.D. Genscher, quoted in
Regelsberger 1990: 13). However, at present as well the overall evaluation has been that it
offers additional means to manage international politics rather than functioning as a key
element. Interregionalism stabilizes the network of international relations but does not replace
bilateral or multilateral cooperation (Regelsberger 1990: 9-14).
Also ASEM’s interregionalism merely aimed to function as a complementary instrument to
existing multilateral and bilateral frameworks, setting the level of ambition relatively low and
giving rise to the perceived awareness of low output. ASEM would serve as “a political
catalyst for achieving mutual understanding and enhanced awareness through dialogue”,
rather than as a substitute for other bilateral and multilateral fora linking Asia and Europe
(European Commission 1997). Given its informal character, ASEM, then, should be seen as a
complementary tool to identify obstacles to market access and identify trade barriers in the
bilateral arena, to discuss convergence on global trade and investment rules, or to facilitate
negotiations in the WTO or the OECD. ASEM was in the first place seen as a facilitator of
trade and investment, but also an intensification of high-level political dialogue was regarded
as equally important, reflecting the European agenda for ASEM. Awareness had arisen that
the European commerce-based opportunist approach to Asia had to be replaced by a more
balanced strategic view also covering political and security issues (The Economist
02/03/1996). In the political arena, ASEM was expected to create a convergence of views on
security and development issues and in the fight against poverty, disease and international
crime (European Commission 1996). The EU therefore also aimed to enhance security and
stability and balance the power relations by promoting interaction between the different
actors in the region, in particular with the involvement of China in mind. As a non-military
power, the EU could furthermore achieve results in the area of conflict prevention and “soft
Since 1996 ASEM has offered the EU one channel to strengthen its relations with Asian
countries in order to pursue economic interests, conduct a dialogue on political and securityrelated issues, and foster the commitment of regional players to effective multilateral
solutions. But has ASEM lived up to the expectations in the EU, and has it served as a useful
instrument for implementing the strategy for the entire Asian region? It is obvious that
ASEM’s impact has remained limited, simply because of its nature and character. While
ASEM holds great potential in contributing to multilateralism and promoting soft-security
approaches, it does not directly enhance the EU’s political presence in the region. Nor does
ASEM dispose of the legally binding instruments to directly strengthen the EU’s economic
presence in Asia. ASEM is not a forum for development cooperation that could address the
root causes of poverty. Other multilateral and bilateral structures are much better placed to
achieve clear results in these fields. It is therefore clear that, because of its present structure
and approach, ASEM has had a limited impact in implementing the EU’s Asia strategy. For
policymakers, however, ASEM’s value is uncontested. Interregional relations with the EU
have promoted region-building in Asia. The process has bestowed a key role to the ASEAN
grouping as regional integrator and stabilizer, while allowing the EU to present itself as a
possible example of integration to emulate. ASEM allows the EU to conduct a constructive
dialogue with Asian countries on human rights and good governance, and achieve results
through intergovernmental or track-two initiatives. Furthermore, ASEM lays the groundwork
for building alliances in order to address global challenges in result-oriented fora such as the
UN, the EU-ASEAN framework or the ARF.
3.3 Identity
The creation of the identity of self and other constitutes one of the core elements of a
common European foreign policy (see Knodt and Princen 2003, 3). A common European is
forged by juxtaposing “we Europeans” and “the others”, and by presenting “the others”
anonymously as a challenge or threat. Regional blocks are described as separate cultural
entities which, following the Huntington scenario, are hostile toward other “civilizations”.
This depiction of regional bodies as compact civilizations, for example “Christian Europe” or
an Asia with distinct “Asian values” is the result of a political exploitation of regionalism
(Telo 2006, 124). Europe’s new recognition of Asia’s importance in the 1994 Asia Strategy
went hand in hand with the perception of a weak knowledge about Asia and a lack of cultural
exchange. This absence of “mutual” awareness was regarded as an obstacle in developing a
coherent foreign policy for the entire region.
Throughout much of the 1990s, at least until the Asian Financial Crisis of 1998, the idea of a
homogeneous yet different region was predominant. Prevailing European views on Asia were
characterized by the tendency to regard the region as a cultural entity with distinct values,
juxtaposing it with a “European civilization”. Asia as an entity was seen in the first place as a
challenge or a threat. A European parliamentary document from 1997 on the relations
between the EU and ASEAN offers a good example of this notion. For the EU to achieve
progress in strengthening its economic position in Asia, one precondition had to be taken into
account, namely that “Asia is not a region like others – neither in political nor in cultural
terms – and that precisely for this reason a shared inspiration of civilization and cultural
osmosis is lacking between Europe and Asia” (European Economic and Social Committee
1996, 2-3). The document thereafter explicitly refers to Huntington’s argument on the
cultural causes of current and future conflicts between different “civilizations”, pointing out
that “it is plausible to state that Asia provides one of the most probable scenarios for a clash
of cultures”. Asian countries have undergone a cultural revival generated by economic
growth “but this revival is rooted in a great cultural tradition specific to the region, different
from and independent of western culture”. Asian countries advocate an “Asian model” based
on particular values and cultural specificity different than the Euro-American one. In order to
make political dialogue and economic cooperation succeed it is thus vital to increase
knowledge of “European civilization” in Asia, both in terms of image as well as with regard
to intellectual and artistic works.
After the Asian Financial Crisis, however, the “Asian model” lost most of its credibility, and
ethnic and religious conflict in the region enhanced views of Asia as highly diverse. The
updated Asia Strategy of 2001, entitled “Europe and Asia: A Strategic Framework for
Enhanced Partnerships” symbolizes the perception that there is no homogeneous Asian
region with which to forge a single partnership. The document acknowledged “the sheer
diversity of Asia, and the scale of the economic, political and cultural differences between
and within the different constituent parts of the region as a whole” (European Commission
2001). Views of Asian diversity and lack of integration serve to reinforce the idea of Europe,
defined as the European Union, as an integrated community and a model of regionalism. The
EU believes that the European institutional model is a framework that can be exported and
that it can have a positive influence on region-building in Asia. As the European Parliament’s
Committee on Foreign Affairs, Security and Defence Policy (1999) phrased it:
It should be remembered that the ASEM Process is a cross-cultural exercise and that its
participants on the Asian side are much more diverse than the European Union. It is, in fact,
already an achievement that ASEM has brought all these countries together. In contrast to Europe,
Asia has very few regional organisations and ASEM can be seen to play a constructive role in
promoting dialogue in particular between China and its neighbours.
In this context, the EU sees itself as an “external federator”, shaping regionalism through
interregional contacts and contributing to local identity-building in a heterogeneous group of
Asian countries (Rüland 2002, 8). Europe’s treatment of the East Asian region as a separate
dialogue partner within ASEM has already forced the Asian ASEM partners to consult
internally, coordinate on diverse and occasionally sensitive issues, and build consensus ahead
of meetings with their European counterparts. The formation of the ASEAN Plus Three in
1997 can at least partially be seen as a result of that process, as interregional interaction with
the EU has sharpened regional identities, and, according to Gilson (2004, 73),
interregionalism has led to regionalism. In order to live up to the perceived need to become a
global actor, the EU applies the principle of interregional relations as the main vehicle to
spread its own integration experiences in the world (see Söderbaum et al. 2005, 371). In the
words of EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson (2005):
Europe needs to build a stronger, more dynamic relationship both with the countries of Asia individually and
bilaterally, but also with the Asian region. A stronger “Euro-Asian space” is not only desirable in itself – we
are, after all, at either ends of the same land mass. But in spearheading this relationship in the twenty first
century, the European Union can demonstrate that it is able to respond to a demand for “more Europe”, a
demand I have heard with heartening clarity from many of my Asian interlocuters.
From a European viewpoint, recent developments indicate that the EU has achieved some
success in promoting its own integration experiences as a paradigm in Asia, in the first place
through ASEAN. On the occasion of ASEAN’s fortieth anniversary the grouping’s Foreign
Ministers proposed the celebration of 8 August as ASEAN Day, emulating the designation of
9 May as the EU’s Europe Day (Financial Times 03/08/2007). The EU provided assistance
for the drafting of the ASEAN Charter in 2006 and 2007, after members of the Eminent
Persons Group and the High Level Task Force in charge of drafting the document visited
Brussels, Berlin and Nuremburg.11 A first, albeit modest, mini-constitution is expected to be
signed in November 2007. The draft charter furthermore includes a provision for the creation
of a Human Rights monitoring body for the region. This regional human rights mechanism is
to promote and protect human rights, drawing inspiration from “international law on human
rights, universally recognized human rights, and regional and national laws, policies and
practices consistent with international law”12. Even though the international legal procedures
for protecting human rights are still weak, ASEAN’s intention to create the Human Rights
Commission reflects global developments such as the strengthening of the United Nations
(see Sjursen 2003, 49) but can at least partly also be seen as a success for the EU as a
normative power.
At the same time the construction of a European self-identity has also affected the
interregional dialogue. Meeting an “Asia” through ASEM promotes a shared “we-feeling”
within the EU member states. As noted above, ASEM is a region-to-region intergovernmental
construction with an ambivalent nature, balancing between a clear state-to-state and a regionto-region approach. On the one hand, it is clear that the Union certainly does not always
present itself as a unitary actor.13 ASEM rather highlights the roles of the national
governments, offering the different member states the opportunity to utilize the bilateral
space in summits or other meetings to promote national interests. In addition, not all EU
member states share the same level of interest in East Asia. For example, France, Germany
and the UK place emphasis on the role of ASEM in Asia, in part because of their pre-existing
bilateral interests in the region, whereas Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Greece tend to
See the Joint Statement of the 16th EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, Nuremburg 15 March 2007.
Draft agreement on the establishment of the ASEAN Human Rights Commission.
In 1996 France and the UK applied for individual membership, separate from that of the EU, of the ASEAN
Regional Forum (ARF), citing their status as nuclear powers as justification (European Voice 5/9/96). In 2000
before the Seoul ASEM3 Summit, the UK and Germany decided to establish diplomatic links with North Korea,
which was strongly criticized by France and the European Commission (European Report 20/10/2000). The
ASEM4 Summit in Copenhagen (2002) was marked by internal EU divisions over policies toward Iraq, with
Spain, Italy and the UK strongly supporting the US policy, in contrast to France and Belgium (European Report
29/9/2002). Ahead of the ASEM5 Summit in Hanoi in 2004, the UK was leading calls to exclude Burma,
whereas France argued that because Burma is part of ASEAN it would be difficult to exclude it. France
expressed difficulties “to accept that the Union imposes obligations on its partners about their presence at
summits” (European Voice 2/9/2004). At the same ASEM5 Summit China lobbied to lift the EU’s ban on
selling weapons to China. France and Germany supported a review of the ban, whereas Sweden, Denmark, the
Netherlands and the UK criticized the plan to end the embargo (European Voice 7/10/2004; European report
prioritize human rights considerations or, on the whole, show little interest in ASEM at all
(see also Forster 2000, 797). On the other hand, ASEM coordinates takes places along the
lines of the general EU mechanisms. The EU and its member states thus claim exclusive
representation of “Europe”, excluding states such as Switzerland and Norway from
membership. The EU furthermore effectively insists on special treatment given its advanced
integration process, requiring automatic membership of its new member states (see European
Commission 1997; 2000). According to the ASEM rules for enlargement however, a
candidate state should first receive the approval of the partners in its own region and only
then can all the partners in consensus decide on its participation. This justified the European
opposition against Burmese admission to the partnership. At the same time however it insists
membership of the EU should automatically lead to participation in the ASEM partnership.
Lastly, the construction of identity in external relations is closely related to a set of clearly
articulated shared norms and values. “Soft diplomacy” and the export of important values and
principles underlying the EU’s own integration such as rule of law, democratic institutions,
and a respect for human rights are of particular salience in relations with Asia. These
principles were made explicit in the 1973 Copenhagen declaration on “European identity”
(Manners 2006, 34), and it was not until the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which came
into force in 1993, that human rights and democratic principles were adopted as a key part of
the EU’s external policies. The export of values which were deemed important to the EU,
became the cornerstone of a new agenda after the Maastricht Treaty increased the EU’s
political actorness. The growing influence of the European Parliament in particular led to
“conditionality” and the respect for human rights to take centre stage, also in relations with
ASEAN. Values of democracy, rule of law and Human Rights are now explicitly included in
the cooperation dialogue. This has given rise to the inclusion of clauses related to these fields
in so-called comprehensive, third-generation cooperation agreements with third countries.
Since 1993 the European Commission has used the essential element provision as a standard
tool in bilateral treaties (Reiterer 2006, 233). This clause was already included in the
cooperation agreements with South-Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Future agreements
with ASEAN should include an “essential element” clause (respect for fundamental human
rights and democratic principles as laid down in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights),
linking good governance and development cooperation.
Despite being a forum for informal dialogue, ASEM has provided the EU with a test-case to
“perform the foreign policy its citizens expect it to perform” (Lucarelli and Manners 2006:
211) and to stick to its proclaimed values and principles. All in all, the EU has made only
minimal progress in promoting Asian commitment to international human rights tools. In the
run-up to the ASEM5 Summit in Vietnam (2004) respect for human rights and the principle
of non-intervention came to the fore with the controversy surrounding Burma/Myanmar’s
joining of ASEM, after having become a member of ASEAN in 1997. Treatment of
Burma/Myanmar engaged ASEM in membership crisis, and after the European Union
cancelled two finance and economy ministerial meetings in July and September 2004, it was
considered a major accomplishment that the Hanoi summit took place at all. Pressured by the
Asian side, and hoping to achieve progress through constructive engagement, the EU has
allowed a visa-ban exception to lower-ranking Burmese government representatives.
Especially the EP has criticized the EU’s decision to allow Burma/Myanmar to participate in
ASEM, albeit at a lower level. It accused the EU of taking half-hearted sanctions and letting
the regime off the hook to secure the interests of a few member states. France, one of the
driving forces behind Europe’s rapprochement with Asia on the basis of an interregional
dialogue in the mid-19990s, has high business interests in Burma/Myanmar. France claims
credit for the strengthening of Euro-Asian ties, not only because of their important role in
launching ASEM, but also for effectively projecting the “French” method of constructive
engagement onto the EU stage, dealing with sensitive topics through informal and nonconfrontational dialogue-seeking (see Dorient 2002, 176-177). At the same time this has
resulted in a heated debate on the lack of consistency in projecting “European” values
through the EU’s foreign policy. The most recent summit in Helsinki, however, was marked
by a moderate degree of success of the “constructive dialogue method” in increasing Asian
regional pressure on Burma/Myanmar. After ten years the ASEM process seems to have
developed into a dialogue which can, although slowly and in a limited way, raise even
controversial themes on the agenda. At the same time however, the focus on
Burma/Myanmar eclipses human rights violations in other ASEM member countries. NGOs
for example incessantly urge the EU to address the human rights situation in China within the
ASEM context. Yet, as the economic and political stakes are so much higher than in the case
of Burma/Myanmar, this dialogue has been conducted separately through bilateral
This paper has suggested that the EU constitutes a particularly interesting topic for the
analysis of legitimacy and regional and global governance. It is often argued to be more than
a traditional international organisation, but less than a state. As such, it has potential to
challenge the conventional understandings of legitimacy in politics and world politics. The
emergence of interregional relations is often mentioned as a topical example. Relations
among different regions of the world based on formal or informal arrangements between
regional groupings, which include states but also other types of actors, gear our attention
towards the legitimacy of the EU and other novel types of regional actors in the global
context. Interestingly, and as the discussion on the EU’s legitimacy and the argued lack of it
demonstrates, the EU debate largely takes place within the conventional views of legitimacy
in western political tradition. In doing so, the sources of the EU’s legitimacy are closely
linked to those of the liberal democratic state. The ideas of democratic control and
accountability, performance and a degree of common identity are central in the debate.
The general aim of this paper was to explore how the debate on legitimacy within the EU
impacts its external relations, and to what extent these relations feed back into the EU’s
internal developments and legitimacy debate. An analysis of three sources of legitimacy in
relation to ASEM suggest, first, that cautious steps have been made towards narrowing the
“demographic deficit” within interregional relations. The Asia-Europe Meeting as a prime
example of “new interregionalism” combines elements of group-to-group as well as
intergovernmental interaction. Policy coordination and caucuses ahead of summits and
meetings take place on a regional basis, and intra-European coordination follows the normal
EU channels, implying that EU members’ policies are bound by the common positions
according to the provisions of the CFSP. At the same time however ASEM places prime
emphasis on intergovernmental dialogue and joint initiatives. Mainly due to the absence of an
integrated Asian regional partner, supranational EU institutions do not play a clear role in the
process, and the EU is represented by the sum of the member states whereas the Commission
takes up a coordinating and steering role, together with the Presidency. Cooperation is only
based on peer pressure, and all ASEM initiatives are self-sponsored by member states without
EU-budgetary implications. The European Parliament is excluded from direct control. Since
ASEM’s inception, the European Parliament has demand “a clear role” in the process in order
to fill in the process’s “missing democratic dimension”. In addition, the forum’s bias towards
economic interests and business is obvious in the position of the AEBF, which has a
privileged, direct avenue for input in the process and forms a fully integrated part of the
formal ASEM structure. Having said that, the most recent summit in Helsinki contributed
towards increasing ASEM’s accountability vis-à-vis its stakeholder groups. The Asia-Europe
Parliamentary Partnership obtained increased recognition of rightful parliamentary
involvement in the process, and Civil Society representatives such as the Asia-Europe
People’s Forum (AEPF) held a successful parallel gathering and were allowed to convey their
opinions to the summit indirectly. While efforts are being made to increase public awareness
of ASEM, the appeal to the media and visibility among the public remains a challenge, in the
first place due to the forum’s nature.
Second, the same informal and consensus-building philosophy at the heart of ASEM also
limits its performance. ASEM’s soft institutionalization prevents it from becoming an
“efficient and effective” tool for global governance. It cannot be denied that ASEM has
achieved some success in increasing the EU’s presence and performance in Asia in a number
of fields, compared to the mid-1990s. Nevertheless, the new type of interregional relations as
it arose in the 1990s is still in its infancy. Interregionalism only functions as an additional
means to manage international relations, placing obvious limits to the leverage of “output
performance” as a source of legitimacy. Thirdly, ASEM as a process of socialization has not
only led to a higher degree of coordination and arguably a burgeoning community-building
process among the Asian partners, but it has also allowed the EU to strengthen its selfidentity and cultivate a “we-feeling” through internal coordination and by presenting the
EU’s own integration experiences as a paradigm for emulation in Southeast Asia. However,
ASEM’s constructive engagement approach has led to allegations that the EU fails to pursue
a consistent policy in promoting values and principles underlying its own integration such as
a respect for human rights. At the same time, given the legacy of Europe-Asia relations, any
other approach may have obstructed progress altogether. One of the EU’s main
accomplishments through ASEM may indeed be that “Asia” has learned that “Europe” does
not aim to “preach” but rather that it is willing to go through a constructive exchange of
different perspectives and concerns. For the time being, then, interregional arrangements such
as ASEM retain an ambiguous character from the perspective of legitimacy, functioning only
as a complementary element within global governance.
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