We are experiencing an unprecedented systemic crisis. The collapse of the global financial markets has triggered a crisis that transcends the financial and banking sector and impacts on the real economy. It has also convergence with other crises: energy, food and climate. These current crises have their roots in a model of overproduction and over-consumption; exacerbated by an aggressive expansion of corporate free trade policies and an unsustainable exploitation of natural and energy resources. They mark the failure of the neoliberal development model. Could people-centred regional integration offer a solution? 

“Well regional integration of course as a strategy is not new. It's been around in different continents throughout the world for several decades now. However, the crisis puts it back at the centre of the agenda” (Brid Brennan, Transnational Institute, The Netherlands).  

PART 1 - Why are the regions relevant in a context of global crises?

The arguments are diverse but compelling:

A. No country can face the crises on its own

B. Regional Integration: Breaking the dependence from global markets

C. Alternative Regional integration: towards a different development model
D. People-Centred regional integration: much more than economic cooperation

A No country can face the crises on its own 

Probably the starting point is to mention the effect that there are quite a number of issues in Africa and even throughout the world, that no single country will be able to solve on its own without the support of its neighbours, or without the support of other countries. And therefore, it is necessary and critical, to set in motion a process at the regional level that will bring about the complementarities of different countries within the same region (Ranga Machemedze, SEATINI, Zimbawe),

I think regional integration, in my opinion, is the only viable response from the South to the global crisis that is gripping the whole world today. Why is it so? Because we are weak countries. If we are divided we become even weaker. (Demba Dembele, African Forum on Alternatives, Senegal).  

A lot of these crises actually have cross-borders impacts and it can't be dealt with by just one country alone. That's why there is a need for regional corporation among the governments and as well as among the peoples (Yap Swee Seng, FORUM-ASIA, Thailand).  

Regional integration is essential in this project, and that’s why we propose that this is an opportunity for Latin America. Because there is no possibility that a country can save on its own in this worldwide disaster (Juan Gonzalez, CTA, Argentina)

The weaknesses and strengths of each country can be complemented by the other and neighbouring countries have more stake in peace and prosperity and growing together. Regional integration is important and is something we can look at as an alternative, as a possible solution (Meena Menon, Focus on the Global South, India)

If we are together we can face up to a challenge, to a problem, to a difficulty more effectively than if we... each one of us tries to deal with this problem. But the way the Union is set up, the way it has evolved over years suffers from what is known as "fragile legitimacy". People are less and less identified with the Union, with the objectives of the Union. (Marika Frangakis, Nicos Poulantzas Institute and EuroMemo Group, Greece).

In light of the global economic crisis, not only social movements, but even many governments, agreed in stating that the alternative is regional integration. To overcome the crisis, countries and societies that are close have to mutually support each other (Enrique Daza, Hemispheric Social Alliance, Colombia).

Changing this neo-liberal paradigm, this productivist development model, based solely on the export of our natural resources, can not be done country by country  (Maria Elena Saludas, ATTAC, Argentina).

If they do not want to see themselves subordinated to the solutions to the crisis imposed by major powers, I think the only way is to build integrated blocks of countries that, while under different rules, can gain enough leverage to enter the global stage in more fair way. (Héctor de la Cueva, RMALC, Mexico)

B Regional Integration: Breaking the dependence from global markets  

I think now it is quite imperative for us to think about regional integration being countries that are specialising in exporting primary products, with the current global crisis, prices are definitely going to fall. We can see that it is very very necessary to have our own integration where we depend on the regional markets that are more or less harmonious to what we are producing and how we are living (Lodwick Chizarura, SEATINI, Zimbawe).  

the lesson is not to fall for export-oriented industralisation in which we are looking at first world markets. What we need is to create more of a collective arrangements where we depend on one another markets at the regional level and at the same time help one another develop, not according to the neoliberal free market model but having genuine economic cooperation. This is the time for real regionalism to emerge (Walden Bello, Member of Parliament, Philippines).  

Regional integration is actually very important for African countries to be able to deal with the current crisis. as economies, they are fragmented internally. They are also fragmented regionally, so they are totally dependent on what happens in the world. They are integrated in the world in a very wrong way. So the only way they can actually get themselves out of this crisis is to discover their ability to cohere internally and increase their strength with other countries in the region. (Tette Hormeku, TWN Africa, Ghana).

we believe in an integration that promotes complementarities and reciprocity, which would reduce the asymmetries between our countries ... an effort of collective action among countries in Latin America can contribute to create greater autonomy of the continent in relation to what is now the dependence on exports and imports. (Nalu Farias, World March of Women, Brazil)


C Alternative Regional integration: towards a different development model

Well, the concept of regional integration was at first really quiet progressive and the idea behind it, like the idea behind the Association for South-East Asian nations, was to create a regional block that will be protected by high tariffs and that would then create a regional market that would sustain regional industrialization. However in the late 80s-1990 what happened was that the regional concept was hijacked by neoliberalism. This is now the situation where we're at and what we really need at this point is to re-capture the idea of regional integration, re-capture it as a mechanism of raising living standards, promoting our industries, protecting our industries, protecting our agriculture and having a good division of labour within our regions in order to be able to get our regions and the different countries and communities within it to move towards sustainable development (Walden Bello).

There are two kinds of regional integration. The first integration that we see is that I explained as a failed model is the "open integration process" of regional integration. But we need a different and alternative integration where countries can be of help to each other. In ASEAN right now, the integration is about a convergence to promote the market economy in the region itself . I think now, with these two crises..we've learned that new forms of exchange and production can take place so that small and medium industries can be given priority over big corporations. So we need a new kind of interaction, a new kind of trading practices, whereby it is you're promoting a new kind of economic development, a development where people matter (Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament, Malaysia).

regional integration should be one, which allows us to increase our capacity, to produce the things that we need to meet our imperatives, to work together from different communities across countries, to build our solidarity around ourselves.  Regional integration should therefore be a way to transform the way we live today, the way we produce today and the way we consume today in Africa (Tette Hormeku).

to reorientate our production towards our own domestic needs. I am talking about the regional perspective. Not looking at just one country, but a group of countries.  And that will make more sense and stabilise production and consumption within the region (Lodwick Chizarura).  

We can see the current reality of the region: large areas of soybean production, a few agricultural products, and at the same time, more and more mining exploitations in the mountain regions. This is the map, this is the picture of the region today. A productivist model that condemns us to export few commodities, raw materials and natural resource.

This is the situation that I think: either we solve it all together as peoples of the continent  impacted by the same system, or each one in their own countries and regions, we will not be able to solve.  (Graciela Rodríguez, Instituto Equit/IGTN, Brazil).  

I believe that from the more institutional and governmental side of Mercosur they should ask themselves that question:  what is the development model we want for the region? and start betting on the real, true and sustainable productive complementation. (Natalia Carrau, REDES/Amigos de la Tierra, Uruguay).

And, especially a development model that radically changes what we have today, which is a model of economic development based on the market, favouring the capital, and not only that but causing a major disaster in the vast resources of the region. We, instead, support a model of development and integration where the attention is centred again in human beings. (Roberto Colman, Sindicato de Trabajadores de la ANDE/Coordinadora Soberanía Energética, Paraguay).  

To talk about this new development model has to do with sovereignty, sovereignty over our territory, our resources and energy sovereignty, a model that ensures food sovereignty. (Juan Gonzalez).  

Obviously it has to be a model that is not based on the commodification, that is not based on the plunder of nature, that is not based on agricultural exports, that is not based in the export of mineral products. Instead, we want a development model oriented towards the internal and regional markets, oriented to meet the population's basic needs, and which driving force is raising the standard of living of people. (Enrique Daza).  

D People-Centred regional integration: much more than economic cooperation  

I think there has been an over emphasis in the debate in social movements and political debate at large the last decades on the national and the global arenas. We have under-utilised the local and the regional. It doesn’t automatically mean that the regional provides solutions. We have a very negative model in the European Union, which is a very advanced model of regional cooperation, but it has been top down and it’s been economy centred (Thomas Wallgren, Philosopher/Social Activist, Finland).  

For an integration process to be successful it requires a change of economic model and this change involves changing the values, involves changing the economic logic of integration, as well as the ideological and cultural logic, and making it a logical closest to the lives of people. (Enrique Daza).  

Perhaps what we should do is try to break some of the  preconceptions related to the integration that have to do basically with the idea that integration is only trade or commodities exchange ... in reality, if we speak for example about endogenous development, of local developments, perhaps we should think of another idea of integration based on the integration of cultures, of technologies, the development of local products.  (Pablo Bertinat, Cono Sur Sustentable, Argentina).  

I think the problems now and in the past is that a lot of the governments' regional integration are very much driven by economic interest and market interest. In that kind of development, a lot of times the interests of the people are being left out. If you look at the three pillars of the ASEAN regional integration, the political-security pillar, the economic pillar and the social-cultural pillar....the most well planned and well implemented pillar is the economic pillar. (Yap Swee Seng).

But the question that we ask ourselves is "What kind of a regional integration do we need? So this is what we're saying "it has to be people driven" and not corporate led or led by the desire to make money or the desire to make profits. So we need to engage in this process of an alternative regional integration mechanism, where we can also talk not only about the sub-region, at the sub-African level, but to also link it up continent-wide and then link with other regions, especially the so called "South-South Cooperation". (Ranga Machemedze)

We want a SADC region that is for the people.  A SADC regional integration that talks about development for the poor of the poorest. We want a SADC region, which will sit down and say, look there are EPAs coming up, what do we do as SADC?  (Pezo Mateo-Phiri (Southern Africa People’s Solidarity Network SAPSN, Zambia)

we believe that Mercosur, should be a social Mercosur. Not only economic integration but also social, that serves the development of countries and improves the condition of life and where everyone can access the benefits so often neglected, such as health, education, employment, social security ... which are fundamental for people to develop.  (Narciso Castillo, Central Nacional de Trabajadores, Paraguay)

It must be an integration that is based on absolutely different principles than the ones promoted by free trade treaties signed to date. That is an integration based on complementarity rather than competition, an integration that respects the sovereign decisions of the countries without hindering the integration processes. (Hector de la Cueva)

regional integration is not only a solution to the crisis, is the construction of a new society. We struggle for an integration from the people, for the people and by the people. An integration that not only fosters new models of production, but that recovers a much broader and more integrative cosmovision.  (Francisca Rodríguez, ANAMURI/CLOC,Chile)

PART 2 – What issues are best dealt with at regional level?

But we believe that several key areas cannot be dealt with at the national level. These would include areas like policy for the environment, policy for the use of natural resources, policy on water, the question of food. But also the question of new institutions for regional finance. These would be the building blocks, in a sense, of a different model of development (Brid Brennan).  

we should have, to begin with, productive sectors that relate to each other and compliment each other across countries. So countries should get together to find complimentary sectors and industries that benefit from each other. Countries should come together also to generate regional markets for the goods that they produce in the countries and the regions. And countries should get together to provide the basic economic infrastructure from credit to finance to energy, to transport, to the things that are necessary to get the economies to cohere with each other (Tette Hormeku).

Then I think the issue of building new institutions. African countries have been talking about building new institutions at the sub regional level and even at the continental level. Like an African monetary fund that could pool together our reserves and try to help countries that are in need, especially during this period.  But unfortunately the political will is still lacking (Demba Dembele).

So that is why this has to be a multiple, multi-direction and democratic process and it will be gradual, it will move faster in some areas, as it must, with food and water and more gradually in other areas like energy coordination. And it will take even longer but very importantly it must move towards economic development and diversification and coordination of our industrial capacities, our mining capacities. But the important thing is: we have to start developing cooperative arrangements, co-ordinations, development,  goals and in some areas very clear integration that is the removal of artificial boundaries that impede us from making advances in these areas (Dot Keet, AIDC, South Africa).

If we had a Bank of the South, two or three years ago when the idea was launched, what would have happened? Today we would have a tool which our governments could appeal as a palliative measure, or to implement joint programs against the crisis.  (Gonzalo Berron, Trade Union Confederation of the Americas/Hemispheric Social Alliance, Brazil).    

We should be thinking on the fact of now the Banks are funded by us, they should be our Banks, How do we make that the profits that these Banks will be making goes into citizens funds that can be control at a regional basis to invest in social economy (Hilary Wainright, Red Pepper/TNI, UK).

Something else that is essential to us and for regional integration in our region is the energy question. The region produces more energy than it consumes, but there are many people who can not access that energy we produce. Either because it is exported, or because it is badly distributed. So, that kind of irrationality necessarily needs to be resolved at regional level.

And how to address the problem of climate change if not in a concerted manner? There is a big effort to coordinate efforts at global level, but we do not know where will it lead. It's necessary and obvious that we need environmental coordination at the level of our region. (Gonzalo Berron).

it is very evident already that the climate crisis above all will affect Africa more seriously than any other region of the world. And therefore climate, the climate changes, demand of African governments they can work together (Dot Keet).  

The other point about the regional level is that kind of make sense for several aspects of our economy, the economy we need, not just the economy they created. So, for example, transport, we clearly have to think regionally if we want to address the problems of climate change and reduce the amount of air travel. We have to think about railways, now that makes sense at a regional level, not just at a national level. (Hilary Wainright).

PART 3 –Reclaiming the regions: the role of social actors  

So, this is a very big challenge now to people's movements in our regions; it's hard to re-claim this regions and make them regions led by and for the peoples of these regions. And there is a big positive (for us) in Africa, is that this is a very powerful sentiment amongst the peoples (Dot Keet).  

And that's where we say that regional integration is not a given. Rather it is a process that will require political will and the struggle of interests. And that's why we, as social movement organisations, we have been articulating for some time to struggle for this other type of integrations, especially to stop what is called open regionalism or integration driven by the market.  (Gonzalo Berron).

And the role of the movements, I think that it's a political struggle, and if it is a politics struggle, we have to strengthen the social movements who are the ones willing to organise the people, build movilisations, build collective processes of debate. (Nalu Farias).

"Europe has to be democratic or it cannot be". And it takes a crises to prove this point... This is were we all come in, this is where we press for a radical change. We have to fight, we have to press for real changes, for real national budgets and for real European and Central Bank, but this is only talking about monetary and fiscal policy. The European Union has no social policy. Without a social policy it is, again, condemned to face up to new challenges that again will put into doubt its very existence (Marika Frangakis).

The experience indicates that the continuity of any process of change depends on the strength of social movements. During the last 30-40 years, we lived experiences in which progressive governments can be ephemeral if there is no social base that gives them coherence, consistency and strength. So I think that stability of changes is given by the strength of social movements.  (Enrique Daza)

We can not think that in a paternalistic way, governments, no matter how progressive they are, or no matter how good intentions they have, can transform the production model, the model of social relations, the model of political relations prevailing in today global society. Social movements should not contempt themselves with demanding  certain reivindications, they must assumed themselves as actors of the transformation, as agents of the change needed and of the integration process. (Héctor de la Cueva).

there is a need for peasant movement, indigenous peoples, women's movement ... in short, workers in general, to support and include in their agendas the struggle to deepen other type of integration for our region. (Edilberto Saucedo).

and because we are convinced that another world is possible, and that we are the builders of that world. These are battles we must win.

 (Francisca Rodríguez).  

I think the last two crises shows urgent need for workers working together with farmers and fishermen and with civil society and the people's organizations in order to push for the region integration that can benefit people. (Charles Santiago)

There is a lot of good inspiration on the ground. People are creating changes.  New lifestyles, new cultural values are being created. But the political imagination is fragmented; we don’t have enough coming together on more common agendas. When we do that, when those fragmented movements come together more, then we can recreate hope and again see advances (Thomas Wallgren).