Regional Cooperation in the World – A Comparative Study of the European Union and the SAARC

By Akkiraju Chandralekha, SLS Pune

Editor’s Note: Today we see before ourselves a globalized world. Different societies in different nations are intricately interconnected. In such a scenario, it makes much more sense if several nations in a region pool their resources and abilities in order to achieve common goals, and also help with each other’s specific aspirations. The EU and SAARC are two such regional cooperation organizations.

However, there are stark differences between them regarding their political, judicial, administrative structures, their method of functioning and the overall operational practices. This paper makes a deep analysis of the differences and similarities of both organizations while comparing and contrasting them, in a bid to present the best of both worlds for possible adoption.


South Asian Association for Regional Corporation was established in the year 1985. In the 1970s, the President of Bangladesh Ziaur Rahman had put forward the idea of a trade bloc that would comprise the South Asian countries. This idea was accepted by India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in Colombo in 1981. In 1983 there was a summit in New Delhi whereby the declaration regarding the formation of the South Asian Regional Cooperation was adopted. Later three other countries of Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives joined in.

The objectives, principles and general provisions, as mentioned in the SAARC Charter, are as follows :


  • To promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life;
  • To accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potentials;
  • To promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia;
  • To contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems;
  • To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields;
  • To strengthen cooperation with other developing countries;
  • To strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interests;
  • To cooperate with international and regional organizations with similar aims and purposes.


  • Cooperation within the framework of the Association is based on respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and mutual benefit.
  • Such cooperation is to complement and not to substitute bilateral or multilateral cooperation.
  • Such cooperation should be consistent with bilateral and multilateral obligations of the member states.
  • Decisions at all levels in SAARC are taken on the basis of unanimity.
  • Bilateral and contentious issues are excluded from their deliberations.

Areas of development:

There were mainly five areas in which these seven countries decided to cooperate:

  • Human Resource Development
  • Transport
  • Health and Population Activities
  • Telecommunications, Science, Meteorology, and Technology
  • Agriculture and Rural Development

European Union

A brief history:

European integration was a movement that followed after the devastation Europe post World War I and II. 1952 saw the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was declared to be “a first step in the federation of Europe”, starting with the aim of eliminating the possibility of further wars between its member states by means of pooling the national heavy industries.

In 1957, the six countries signed the Treaty of Rome, which extended the earlier co-operation within the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and created the European Economic Community (EEC), establishing a customs union. They also signed another treaty on the same day creating the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for co-operation in developing nuclear energy. Both treaties came into force in 1958.  Eventually, the scope of cooperation extended to various spheres like free trade, free movement and common currency etc, by signing a number of treaties.

Reasons for integration

The  initial  background of European integration  was economic in nature, eventually, it evolved into a political integration .L et us briefly examine the causes of economic and political integration,

  • Desire for a new identity, a broader connotation as an alternative to narrow nationalism that led to the world wars. The identity the leaders envisaged was that of a larger, stronger Europe and the identity of every citizen to be “European”.
  • The reemergence of Germany post World War II was a common fear that all the European countries shared, European integration in the direction of the European Union was a move for “Containment of Germany”.
  • Post World War II, Europe was devasted economically and politically, the leaders of various European countries decided to rebuild themselves and they sought the channel of European integration in the hope of economic prosperity and recovery. Free trade agreements, freedom of labor, freedom of establishment within the member states was a result of this common and shared state of affairs i.e economic depression among them, that initially resulted in this integration.
  • The United States saw a union between the European States as a means of countering a perceived communist threat from the eastern bloc countries and consequently, provided financial aid, under the Marshall plan. Although, the United States had a vested interest in the European integration and the financial aid provided by them played an important role in the same, it has be noted that European integration was built primarily by the efforts of various European leaders to build a more stable and peaceful future for Europe and its citizens

Working of the European Union:

The European Union (EU) is not a federation like the United States. Nor is it simply an organization for co-operation between governments, like the United Nations. Then the question is in such a unique model, how the member states of the European Union, have compromised on their sovereignty.

At this point, it is important to understand that the European Union is based on the concept of   “pooling of sovereignty”. In practice, this means that member states delegate some of their decision-making powers to shared institutions they have created, so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be made democratically at the European level. Then the questions of the institutions performing these function should be understood.

Institutions of European Union

  1. European Parliament: The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European (EU). Together with the Council of the European Union (the Council) and the European Commission, it exercises the legislative function of the EU. The members of  the European Parliament, are directly elected by citizens of member states of the European Union through universal adult suffrage. This institution is the place where all EU laws are made.
  2. The European Commission: Consists of 27 members as proposed by their member state government, one from each state. These members are expected to work on behalf and for the greater benefit of Europe as a whole and not as a representative of their home state. President of the European Commission is proposed by the European Council and elected by the European Parliament. This commission is divided to branches, each headed by Directorate General looking into specific areas like translation, trade, foreign relations etc. This body has legislative powers.
  3. The Council of Ministers: It consists of the foreign ministers of various member states. This forum is the place where national interests are discussed to create an amicable community legislation for Europe as a whole.
  4. The European Council: Summit conferences of heads of State or Government of the community member states. They meet to decide on broad political priorities a broad framework for the other EU institutions to legislate.
  5. The European Investment Bank: It is the governing body of the Board of Governors consisting of minister designated by member states . It works towards balanced development of a common market in the interest of the community by financing projects, developing less developed regions etc.
  6. The European Court of Justice: It is the adjudication body for disputes between the member states and individuals between the member states and very importantly the final interpretation of EU law.

European Union Law and National Law of Member States

The provisions of the treaties and secondary legislation are directly applied in the member states and the EU law has primacy over the national laws in all the member states. The states have to make necessary changes in their legal systems and economic systems before becoming a part of the European Union. The laws thus are uniform across the member states.

Various constitutional provisions have been formulated in the member states to give EU law supremacy over the national law. European Communities Act 1972 is one such facilitating statute in the United Kingdom.

Although some member states like the United Kingdom and Germany have reserved the final decision with their respective states to decide which law to follow when the EU law is in conflict their basic features of the Constitution, it is amazing to note that the union and the member states have always worked on the lines of conflict resolution and cooperation till date, without giving rise to many issues of conflict between the two laws. The European Court of Justice is the final interpreter of EU law and any court in the member state can directly write to the European Court of Justice to interpret the EU law.

European Union and Trade:

The citizens in the European Union have freedom of movement, freedom of trade in the union and freedom of establishment. These facilities avail, sharing of labor and resources amongst the member states for mutual development.


Having discussed the nature and working of both EU and SAARC let us try to differentiate the two.

Firstly, before the attempt to compare both these institutions one has to understand that the European model of integration was a unique model. Its formation and success was due to common conditions shared by all the European countries post World War II, which is not the case with the SAARC. Thus, SAARC cannot act and behave like the European Union. Many such differences between the institutions are highlighted below.


Member states of SAARC , except India, are politically instable states and have weaker market structures. Almost all the members of the EU are Parliamentary democracies, having a multi-party system, free and regular elections and strong market economy.
The specific aim of the formation of SAARC was to promote regional economic cooperation among the member states and it did not have any historical reason of integration. The reasons of European integration, were, as discussed, a desire for a new identity as “European” for a stable and peaceful market, economy and state of affairs.
India, is the biggest power in the region of South Asia, in terms of size and population thus all the other member states look at it with suspicion and the relations of India with its neighbors is not of mutual trust making the working of SAARC weak and difficult. Geographically, all the states in the European Union are placed in terms of size and population that no single state can dominate the other states. This enables smooth geopolitics amongst the member states.
Given these relations between the member states the states do not compromise on their sovereignty and all laws have to be made within the strict framework  of “sovereign equality” not as community legislation for  the single unit of “South Asia”  and the bilateral relations of the states are outside the ambit of SAARC. On the other hand, the member states of the European Union have “pooled their sovereignty” enabling  institutions of EU to legislate for the common benefit of the “European Continent”.
The countries of SAARC lack economic complementarity, rather they are economically competitive markets where every country exports mostly the same goods like spices, cotton, jute etc. Furthermore, there is very less intra regional trade in the region which hinders integration on economic lines in this region. The European Union on the other hand, are economically complementary markets having great intra- trade  and business, which helps in stronger integration.

Apart from the above fundamental difference SAARC and European Union are different in the sense that there is  a lack of political will among the member states of the SAARC to resolve the conflicts and channelize their energy to mutual trust and cooperation for the betterment of the region. The European Union on the other hand is always in the pursuit in creating the larger identity of “ being European”.

It raises and provided funds for infrastructural development to facilitate free trade , establishment and movement within the union, it runs several exchange programmes like Erasmusmundus  etc within the member states to create a feeling of integration within the Europe . This difference in lack of idea of integration and political will is the fundamental difference between the both.

Critical Analysis of EU and SAARC

India’s role in strengthing  SAARC:

India being territorially the biggest, population wise the largest, development wise the most developed country of the South Asia, has the potential and resources in the successful operationalism of the SAARC programmes. It should renounce its unilateral approach and should play an instrumental role in promoting free trade  and free movement within its neighboring countries (India shares its land border with most of the SAARC countries ).

Tariffs and duties for goods must be decreased to promote the same. India should  play a role in raising funds among the SAARC nations for better infrastructure to facilitate free trade and movement within the SAARC nations.

Lessons to be learnt from European union and challenges before SAARC:

Having agreed that the EU is a unique model of integration and the replication of the same is not possible the EU  model can be of great help to the SAARC.

  1. Conflict resolution and seeking compromises is the mantra of the European Union and in the current scenario the necessity of the SAARC.
  2. Equitable distribution of benefits.
  3. In-building of infrastructure and transport linkages.
  4. Creation of centre of excellence in the form of a South Asian University etc.
  5. Active participation of various civil society groups, to create of oneness amongst the citizens of SAARC Nations.


In the light of the above analysis made,  the question as to whether  given the  current economic, social and political conditions of the  SAARC member states, is it necessary to invest and divert their attention to their own development is inevitable. In my opinion, given the situations in the SAARC countries, this is the right time to go for regional integration and this will definitely enhance their well being for the present and future.

Formatted by February 22nd, 2019.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *