Regionalism: A theoretical framework

Posted on Posted in Analyses

By Lazaros Galanomatis, Analyst KEDISA



In this paper we will be looking at the notion of Regionalism as a theoretical framework. Regionalism can either refer to regions on a global scale or regions on state level. In this paper we will be examining Regionalism as part of the International Relations. Regionalism as a concept and practice has several aspects and by no means restricted to Europe or even West, although much of the bibliography focuses on the European Union. As a research field, it has received much attention after the second World War.

Drivers and disciplines associated with regionalism and regionalization

In general, the disciplines that were mostly associated with the research in the fields of regional cooperation and integration were the International Political Economy as well as European Integration. The International Political Economy is the discipline that examines issues such as regional trade and investments and the making of regional institutions to settle differences between states as far as market access issues were concerned. (Börze, 2016, p. 2)

In the regions there is integration and cooperation. From a point of view a very important driver of regionalism is economic cooperation between the states, as states expect economic benefits from trade agreements.

The main driver behind regionalism might be that the states are making profit through conducting trade agreements between them in order to reduce transaction costs, gain technological innovation and attract more foreign investments, but as important as it is, regionalism in the case of Europe always had the potential to become so much more than just trade agreements. European Integration is a means for the member-states and their governments not only to promote their economic interests but also to defend their geopolitical ones. In that regard, European Union as an example, is a result of regionalism, as regionalism is associated with policies and projects. So, in practice it leads to institution-building. According to some researchers dealing with the issue, Regionalism is associated with the cooperation and the coordination of policies while regionalization is mostly an economic process inside the region, where economic relations such as trade relations and investments develop faster there, than between a particular region and rest of the world. (Mansfield & Solingen, 2010, p. 147). In other words, there is more economic growth and development between the states that belong to the same region than there is between these states and states that belong to a different region.

In general, Regionalism is often understood as a project with the states being in the center of it, while regionalization can be considered as the process of it. This does not mean that non-state actors have no place in this project but rather participate in a more somewhat pivotal role. Thus, considering the above, Fredrik Soderbaum provides the definitions of both regionalism and regionalization. He states that we can think of: ‘regionalism’ as the policy and project or the cognitive idea of forming regions, and ‘regionalisation’ as the process of cooperation, integration, cohesion and identity creating a regional space. (Soderbaum, 2011, p. 15)

Defining a region

 Further examining our subject, a fundamental question is “what constitutes a region?” In other words, how a certain geographical area reaches the point that is able to qualify as a region? The key word in our case is interdependence. Essentially, regions are geographical clusters, where geopolitical, economic and institutional issues are concerned due to the proximity of the actors. Again, states as actors play a central role. Thus, a region can be understood as: “a limited number of states linked together by a geographical relationship and by a degree of mutual interdependence.” (Stefanova, 2018, p. 30)

A region is not only defined by the history of its states only, but also by their relations and their interdependence. In that sense, the social, political and cultural relations, along with history, inside the geographical cluster is what constitutes a region. Apart from the foreign relations of the states, geography always played a vital role in defining a region. Thus, regions can of course be understood as group of states at the same geographical location.

Regarding integration, Regionalism as an analytical framework discusses three different aspects. The first aspect is the institutions in the region and their influence, the second about the history of the region and the third about the social, political, economic and cultural relations in the region. (Mattheis, Raineri, & Russo, 2019, p. 13)

Theories like liberal intergovernmentalism, neofunctionalism and multilevel governance, support the notion that the actors that push the agenda of the integration, are the actors inside the states, like corporations and business associations because it is their belief that the integration will eventually secure their interests. (Börze, 2016, p. 33)

In the next article, we will be looking at the theories concerning Regionalism as well as at a historical review of this framework.



Börze, T. A. (2016). Theorizing Regionalism: Cooperation, Integration, and Governance. In T. Börze, & T. Risse, The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Regionalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mansfield, E., & Solingen, E. (2010, June 15). Regionalism. Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 13, pp. 145-163.

Mattheis, F., Raineri, L., & Russo, A. (2019). Fringe Regionalism: When Peripheries Become Regions. Palgrave Macmillan.

Soderbaum, F. (2011). Theories of Regionalism. Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg.

Stefanova, B. (2018). The European Union and Europe’s New Regionalism: The Challenge of Enlargement, Neighborhood, and Globalization. San Antonio, Texas: Palgrave Macmillan.