Irkutsk
Ulan-Ude

Blagoveshchensk
Chita
Yakutsk

Birobidzhan
Vladivostok
Khabarovsk

Magadan
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

Anadyr
Petropavlovsk-
Kamchatsky
Moscow

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Discord virus

The coronavirus crisis has become both a litmus test of problem areas in interstate unions and associations, and their own problems - a catalyst.

The pandemic has exacerbated divisions among many countries and paralyzed the work of a number of institutions and multilateral formats. In addition, the coronavirus crisis raised the question even more strongly - do multilateral institutions have autonomy in decision-making and political will, or are their activities only a product, a side effect of interaction between states and a reflection of their selfish nature?

Discord virus
Photo: pixabay.com

During the expert online seminar "Integration associations in the fight against the global pandemic", organized by the Higher School of Economics, Russian and foreign experts discussed the role and features of four regional trading blocs - the EU, EAEU, ASEAN and MERCOSUR in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The discussion included three groups of issues: assessing the effectiveness of measures taken at the level of integration associations, the impact of the pandemic on the strategic aspects of regional integration and forecasting the future development of integration associations after the end of the pandemic.


The ghost of two-faced Janus haunts Europe

The three main areas by which the effectiveness of the European Union in responding to the pandemic can be assessed are the health sector, the provision of the Schengen area, and economic regulation and distribution. The most problematic area is health care, especially vaccination issues. At the moment, people from priority groups are being vaccinated - the elderly or medical workers. However, the European Commission is unable to resolve a number of problems.

First, AstraZeneca is not following the agreed EU vaccine supply plan. Second, vaccination in the European Union is slow. Third, a number of Member States purchase vaccines from manufacturers that have not received EU registration for their vaccines. As a result, the EC even banned the export of COVID-19 vaccines outside the EU without special permission.

The provision of the Schengen area can also be attributed to the EU's problem areas in a pandemic. The EU tried to work out common rules on the closure or opening of borders, however, it failed to preserve the achievements of integration in full. The economic bloc of the EU, on the contrary, demonstrated the success of European integration during the period of con-crisis. The EU Council has already approved financial support of € 90,3 billion to 18 member states. Over 10 billion euros have been allocated to small and medium-sized enterprises. Finally, to mobilize the necessary investment, the European Commission has put forward a double response, endorsed by the European Council and the European Parliament: a) the launch of NextGenerationEU, a new € 750bn recovery instrument that will increase the EU budget by attracting additional funding in financial markets by 2021-2024 years; b) an enhanced long-term EU budget for 2021-2027. 

Eurasian dualism

The effectiveness of the EAEU can be assessed as twofold. On the one hand, at the supranational level, within the framework of its competence, the Eurasian Economic Commission adequately and timely responded to the threat of the spread of the pandemic. The duties on medical products that are used to prevent and prevent the spread of coronavirus - personal protective equipment, disinfectants, diagnostic reagents, etc. - were zeroed or reduced. A temporary ban was established on the export of certain types of food products from the EAEU countries. Among them are onions, garlic, turnips, rye, rice, buckwheat, millet and others.

On the other hand, the member states of the Union could not reach an agreement on the creation of a common "green corridor" at the supranational level. In addition, during the pandemic, at the level of individual EAEU member states, restrictions were introduced on the export of personal protective equipment and food, which were applied to all third countries, including other countries of the Union. The inconsistency in the actions of the EAEU member states in relation to the transit of goods during the pandemic has led to the emergence of additional barriers that impede the free movement of goods.

Depicting activities in the shadow of ASEAN

ASEAN was very active during the pandemic and launched a number of new formats and initiatives. These include the ASEAN Regional Virtual Center BioDiaspora, the ASEAN Risk Assessment and Risk Communication Center (ARARC), and platforms within the ASEAN Health Sector for COVID-19 Prevention, Detection and Response. In May 2020, the ASEAN EOC Network was formed and the Regional Public Health Laboratories Network was established. Dozens of virtual conferences were held between ASEAN member countries, as well as in the ASEAN + 3 format (China, Japan, South Korea). A key ASEAN decision is the creation of the ASEAN COVID-19 Fund and the ASEAN Regional Reserve for Medicines and Medicines. The funds of the Fund are formed from an initial contribution of 10% from the ASEAN Development Fund, as well as contributions from the allocation of funds from the dialogue partners of the Association and voluntary contributions from the ASEAN member countries.

Despite the significant number of different formats and virtual meetings, it would be an exaggeration to say that ASEAN's measures to combat cononavirus are effective. In many ways, the initiatives launched represent the sum of the measures taken by the member countries of the Association. Many measures, including the decision to hold the first Leaders' Summit and the ASEAN + 3 Summit, as well as to create a dedicated Fund, were belated. Certain countries of the unification, for example, Malaysia and Vietnam, unilaterally and without consulting the partners in the unification closed their national borders, which negatively affected the migration and socio-economic situation in the region. Finally, the financial burden within the ASEAN Fund is uneven and mainly falls on the shoulders of large countries - Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, as well as partners outside ASEAN, primarily Japan, China, South Korea, which contributed $ 1 million to the Fund. ... In addition, it was with financial support of $ 500 million from Japan that the ASEAN Center for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED) was established.

Didn't live richly there is nothing to start

Latin American integration associations have not become important actors and instruments in the fight against the pandemic. A number of measures and assistance packages were formally adopted. For example, in April 2020, an initiative was agreed to allocate an additional budget of $ 16 million to combat COVID-19. The announced funds belonged to the Foundation for Structural Convergence of MERCOSUR (FOCEM) and are intended to provide medical equipment, personal protective equipment for personnel, tests for the detection of the virus, etc.

However, the effectiveness of measures on the part of MERCOSUR and other associations of LA was striving to zero. A striking illustration of this is the statement of the Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Alicia Barsena Ibarra. According to her, during the pandemic, there was a "rollback of integration in the region." The reason for such ineffective measures is the crisis of many integration blocks preceding the pandemic, the growth of centrifugal tendencies. An illustrative example is the collapse in 2019 of the UNASUR group, which was the only regional platform for cooperation in the field of healthcare.

Serpentariums of like-minded people

The pandemic highlighted even more clearly the crisis of confidence in the European Union on the part of the member states and the crisis regarding the EU's ability to effectively respond to the coronavirus crisis. First of all, issues of health care, vaccinations within the EU and the approval of external vaccines have provoked an increase in mistrust. At the same time, in certain areas, such as economic regulation and redistribution, there were signs of European solidarity. These are two trends that run parallel to each other.

During the pandemic, the EAEU faced the problem of adopting the Association's Development Strategy until 2025. However, in the future, it was possible to eliminate discrepancies and agree on the document. In general, the protectionist panic over the legitimacy of the EAEU and its possible collapse did not materialize. However, one cannot fail to mention the crisis of political legitimacy in individual EAEU member states. This is a protracted internal political crisis in Belarus, and a change of power in Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia's involvement in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and demands for the resignation of the current prime minister, and a series of protest movements in Russia.

The current coronavirus crisis has not changed the balance of power in Southeast Asia. Rather, he has highlighted the contemporary problems of ASEAN even more clearly. One of the main ones is the lack of unity in the bloc, which was observed long before the pandemic. This is also manifested in integration issues - the countries are not ready to fully undertake obligations to promote the ASEAN Economic Community, reduce non-tariff barriers, of which, according to various estimates, there are currently more than 10 thousand in Southeast Asia. Most are in Thailand. This is also the problem of the South China Sea. Vietnam and the Philippines are in favor of a tougher and more decisive stance towards China and call for the adoption of the Code of Conduct for the Parties in the South China Sea as soon as possible. While Malaysia and Brunei are taking a more restrained position, Cambodia is even accused of undermining unity within ASEAN and is called a satellite of China.

There is no consensus on the settlement of the internal political crisis in Myanmar and the solution of the humanitarian crisis in the country caused by ethnic oppression of the Muslims of Rohingya. There has been no progress on any of these problems, and the economic crisis that has hit the countries of Southeast Asia only distracts the attention and resources of the ASEAN “ten”.

There is no crisis of legitimacy in Latin American associations - MERCOSUR or the Pacific Alliance caused by the pandemic due to the absence of supranational bodies responsible for countering this challenge. MERCOSUR or UNASUR also showed themselves weakly in the fight against the previous large-scale epidemiological challenges - the Zika virus in 2016 and periodic outbreaks of Dengue fever. Rather, we are talking about a general crisis of the model of trade integration in LA, including MERCOSUR, political differences between Brazil and Argentina.

The patient is rather alive

The crisis of confidence within the EU will continue. The health sector will remain a significant spoiler on the path to strengthening EU solidarity. The rhetoric of sovereignty (in the trade and military-political dimensions), which was not previously characteristic of the EU, as well as the geopolitical considerations of the European Union, will intensify. Gradually, the EU will move away from the image of an actor pursuing economic interests and universal values, which it has been creating for itself for decades.

One of the possible scenarios for the future development of the EAEU may be the expansion of the “Eurasian family” by connecting Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which are compatible with Eurasian integration from an economic point of view, as well as the localization of Eurasian value chains as a result of the pandemic.

For ASEAN, the process of getting out of the coronavirus crisis will be long, painful and uneven for different member countries of the association. This is especially true for the service sector, tourism, which have suffered the most due to the pandemic. ASEAN will continue to rely on RCEP as a key tool for rebuilding disrupted Asia-Pacific value chains and rebuilding national economies. In the military-strategic sphere, ASEAN is unlikely to succeed in the foreseeable future to replace the current Declaration with a broader Code of Conduct for the Parties in the South China Sea.

One can hardly expect activity from ASEAN in promoting its own aseanocentric vision of the Indo-Pacific region. For this, there is neither the resources nor the political will of the member countries of the Association.

It will become increasingly difficult for ASEAN members to stay away from the US-China confrontation and to occupy a middle position. This is especially true of the formal military and political allies of the United States - Thailand and the Philippines, on which D. Biden's administration will stake in the region.

The pandemic itself is no longer capable of having a destructive initiating effect on integration into LA. It will serve as a catalyst for negative trends that have been traced since the second half of the 2010s. The attractiveness of the domestic market for integration associations in the aircraft will remain at a low level. At the moment, the share of intraregional trade is less than 11% and may continue to decline. The main stake will be made on foreign partners that will demonstrate rapid recovery growth - ASEAN.

Thus, the experts came to the conclusion that regardless of the level of development of the institutional mechanisms of integration associations, the presence or absence of supranational bodies, the number of participating countries, all four groups could not fully respond promptly and effectively to the pandemic. At the same time, in all the cases under consideration, the coronavirus was superimposed on the current structural problems. In all cases, this is a lack or even a crisis of trust between member countries, political differences between the leading participants, a problem of leadership.

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