The fracturing of the European Union (EU) has drawn into sharp relief the tensions between regional economic integration and the reconfiguring of national democratic processes. Neo-institutionalist accounts of Brexit have highlighted a ‘technocracy’ that has grown in scope and distance from European citizens, driving Euro-scepticism and the reassertion of nationalist objectives and identities. These accounts explain Brexit as the consequence of the failure of regional architects and managers to legitimise this project with citizens. However, the rupturing of the European project has emerged alongside the intensification of regional economic integration elsewhere. The merging of the Andean Community and Mercosur into the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community, and the African Union’s push to establish a regional governance architecture all highlight the importance that state actors place on regionalism. Moreover, across all of these projects in the global south, economic integration has been paired with state actors’ commitments that regional organisations will advance democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. These claims are in tension with the targeted – and often violent – strategies employed by governments to silence dissent.
These trends raise critical and pressing questions regarding the legitimation of regional organisations and the structuring of regional communities. This panel considers how recent findings in political economy, political geography, state theory, neo-institutionalism, and de-politicisation studies inform the study of legitimation in regional organisations. The papers consider four cases: the AU, the ASEAN, the EU, and Mercosur. Each analyses interview data with key informants to yield new insights regarding the processes through which stakeholders are consulted. Charting the boundaries of participation in stakeholder consultations – who participates and how – the papers document the formal rules and informal practices that shape legitimation. The diversity of cases, and in particular the focus on cases from the global south, constitutes a substantial contribution to the literature. This empirical contribution underpins the papers’ key conceptual contribution. By highlighting how stakeholder consultations in regional organisations function in addressing, ameliorating, or marginalising the conflicts arising from intensifying regional economic integration, the papers advance the conceptualisation of stakeholder consultations as conflict management tools.