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Smart regional integration? Comparative lessons for a lean and legitimate EU


Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes. For the latest updates regarding corona virus, please check this link.

Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Master Honours Class aimed at talented Master’s students. Admission will be based on academic background, GPA and motivation.


Globalization forces states to work together in regional organizations, such as the EU. Only as a united front can they remain relevant. Yet regional integration is hard and comes with its own costs and challenges. How, for example, to make a regional organization both effective and democratic? For if you fail to do so, a bleak choice remains between national irrelevance due to globalization or sacrificing sovereignty and democracy to create regional power. Regional organizations balance on this knife's edge all the time, and Brexit is a stark reminder of what can happen if you get the balance wrong.

To complicate matters even more, different regional organizations have to meet these similar challenges in very different regional contexts. Bringing together Germany and France is very different from integrating Kenya and Tanzania, Indonesia and Malaysia, or Colombia and Peru. Getting regional integration right, therefore, requires both an understanding of regional integration itself and of the specific regional context and history.

In this course, students and lecturers together face this interdisciplinary challenge of regional integration. To this end, this course offers an overview of traditional comparative integration theory paired with practical insights from the different regional integration projects. This allows for a structured appraisal of today’s integration policies following an interdisciplinary approach. This knowledge can then be applied to the EU: often seen as the leading model for regional integration, the EU is facing a polycrisis itself, with Brexit as the most visible challenge to its legitimacy and effectiveness. In this course we will explore to what extent examples and innovations from other regional organizations may help the EU, as well as which key do’s and don’ts other regional organizations may learn from the EU. Students are, amongst other things, asked to create a vlog that engages with opinions in favour and against (EU) regional integration shared within society. These vlogs will be shared via YouTube and possibly other social media outlets, thereby triggering engagement with a broader societal audience. In addition, students will be allocated in multidisciplinary teams to work on their final assignment. Each team will be asked to compare one or more different regional organizations with the EU on a specific point. For example, one could compare the East African Community, ASEAN and the EU on their democratic legitimacy, or MERCOSUR, CARICOM and the EU on how they deal with migration or national identity. During these research projects, you will be stimulated and supported to contact relevant stakeholders, for example at the EU level or in the different regional organizations you will be studying. After all, you too will have to become familiar with the relevant context, as for example the political and administrative systems work rather differently in Burundi, Brazil and Belgium. At the end of the course, we hope to collect all your insights, and see what lessons may be drawn for the EU as a whole.

Programme and Timetable

The course will meet 11 times from 17.30 - 19.30 on a weekly, and sometimes biweekly basis, and is structured in three parts:

  1. In the first part of the course, students will engage in the underpinning theoretical framework of regional integration. Students will be familiarised with different theories across different disciplines and with the EU model in particular.

  2. In the second part of the course, students will study and assess in further detail concrete examples of regional integration and experiences in Africa, Asia and Latin-America. Students will consider the particularities of different integration projects, as well as their common elements and challenges.

  3. In the final part of the course, students will present the comparative research of their own team, and discuss the comparative research of others. The aim is to compare particular elements of the EU integration project with another regional integration project that the students can choose. This research will result in a blog, a vlog by each student, as well as a research paper for each group. Really good papers may be selected for the online paper series of CompaRe, the Leiden Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence on Comparative Regional Integration.

Lecture 1: Wednesday, November 3, 2021 at 17.30 - 19.30
How to integrate: the challenges of regional integration and cross-regional comparison

Lecture 2: Wednesday, November 10, 2021 at 17.30 - 19.30
The still unidentified political object. The EU model of regional integration

Lecture 3: Monday, November 22, 2021 at 17.30 - 19.30 (Lipsius building, room 211)
From Brexit to Hungary: challenges and limitations to the EU model

Lecture 4: Thursday, November 25, 2021 at 17.30 - 19.30
Regional integration and the African context

Lecture 5: Thursday, December 2, 2021 at 17.30 - 19.30
African regional and continental integration: Between regional ambition and national power

Lecture 6: Thursday, December 9, 2021 at 17.30 - 19.30
Regional integration and the Asian context

Lecture 7: Thursday, December 16, 2021 at 17.30 - 19.30
Asian regional integration: How to make a supranational omelette without breaking some sovereign eggs?

Lecture 8: Monday, December 20, 2021 at 17.30 - 19.30
Regional integration and the Latin-American and Caribbean context

Lecture 9: Thursday, January 13, 2022 at 17.30 - 19.30
Latin-American and Caribbean regional integration: courts v. politicians?

Seminar 1: Wednesday, January 19, 2022 at 17.30 - 19.30
Student project presentations 1

Seminar 2: Thursday, January 20, 2022 at 17.30 - 19.30
Student project presentations 2


LIPSIUS building, room 307

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have acquired: • General knowledge on regional integration theory. • Interdisciplinary understanding of the challenges regional integration is confronted with. • Practical insights into regional integration projects in Africa, Asia and Latin-America. • An awareness of the specific regional setting for integration projects and the interaction between such regional contexts and the processes and tools of regional integration. • Specific knowledge about regional integration in the EU and key challenges facing the EU, including in particular surrounding key challenges concerning democracy, legitimacy and sovereignty. • Awareness of the public debate on the EU and EU integration, and the capacity to take a reasoned normative position, supported by objective facts, on the costs and benefits of regional integration in Europe.

At the end of the course students are able to: • Undertake independent comparative analyses; • Undertake own research on regional integration projects; • Engage with literature, reports, jurisprudence on the matter of regional integration; • Engage in informed public debate on the EU and the future of European integration; • Collaborate with other students in an interdisciplinary research team; • Collaborate with stakeholders in the field, i.e., representatives of different regional organizations, which also train intercultural communication skills.

Course load

This course is worth 5 ECTS, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • Lectures: 9 interactive lectures of 2 hours;

  • Seminars: 2 seminars of two hours;

  • Literature reading & practical work: 4 hours p/ week;

  • Assignments & final essay: 40 hours.


In light of the different learning objectives of this course, the examination consists of several different elements: • Research paper (60%): Students are divided into groups. Each group writes a research paper that compares a particular aspect of regional integration in the EU with two regional integration projects that the students may choose themselves. In this comparison, students are asked to tackle one of the challenges that regional integration is confronted with, as highlighted in the context of this course. • Research presentation (15%): Students will present their research ideas during the third part of the course. The presentation and the research outline will be assessed by a peer, who provides feedback on content, structure, and relevance. Subsequently, the lecturers, as well as other participants, will provide feedback on the research idea. • Blog (15%): In order to allow for a broader dissemination of ideas developed in this course, as well as to practice short and effective writing for the general public, students are required to complete a blog post for the Comparative Regional Integration domain of the Leiden Law Blog on the topic of their research paper. • Vlog (10%): In order to further engage with the public debate, students are required to interview both supporters and opponents of European integration, critically and objectively reflect on their positions, and report on their interviews and findings in a Vlog that will be posted on the dedicated YouTube channel and Instagram page of the course.

Students could only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

Reading list

  • C. Closa, “Comparative Regional Integration – Governance and Legal Models” (CUP, 2016).

  • P. Craig & G. de Burca, “EU Law: Text, Cases and Materials” (OUP, 2015)

  • E. Ugirashebuja et al. (Eds.) East African Community Law – Institutional, Substantive and Comparative EU Aspects (Brill, 2017)

Other possible literature will be announced in class or via Brightspace.

Brightspace and uSis

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Master Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.


Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 13 September 2021 up to and including Sunday 26 September 2021 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Master Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.


Dr. Armin Cuyvers