The Assessment of Regional Governance: Principles, Indicators and Potential Pitfalls

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UNU Insitute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies
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UNU-CRIS Working Papers
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This chapter aims to provide a set of parameters by which one may assess the quality of governance in systems of regional cooperation or integration. Some preliminary conceptual clarifications are required since the terms involved are widely used in different ways. In the first place, the term 'region' is used here exclusively to refer to geographical areas involving more than one sovereign state. Some of the same governance issues are also posed for 'regions' in the sense of territories within a state (occasionally crossing state borders). However there are fundamental differences not only in terms of international law, but also regarding the levels at which legitimacy questions are posed. Whereas individuals within a sub-state region are normally expected to share the same cultural identity, one of the core governance challenges within an international region is precisely the management of interdependence and shared sovereignty where there is not the same degree of cultural homogeneity. In this respect the international region has more in common with a federal state than a sub-state region. Second, ‘governance' is used here in the normative sense associated with concepts of 'good governance' - that is, the democratic quality of the arrangements by which societies and groups of societies organize themselves. The first section discusses the kinds of principle and indicators involved in assessing governance in this sense, and the particular issues raised by their application to regional arrangements. It is argued that neither the traditional trinity of governance principles - transparency, accountability and participation - nor established sets of 'governance indicators' can be applied in a simple way. Both need to be specified and adapted in order to take into account the particular nature of regional arrangements, as well as the difficulties involved in comparison. Three categories of good-governance principles are proposed as an alternative: correctness, openness and responsiveness. In this light, a catalogue of relevant principles and indicators is first proposed by which governance may be cautiously assessed in the case of regional organizations. Examples are given to highlight the challenges involved in taking formal mechanisms as indicators of underlying realities, the possibility of tensions between different principles, and the dangers of making comparative assessments on the basis of simple assumptions about the appropriateness of particular measures. This is then supplemented by a list of principles and indicators which may serve as a basis for assessing systems of regional governance which, in the few cases that exist, involve common rules and multi-level institutional arrangements. The chapter comes to two main conclusions. On the one hand, in order to be analytically apt, assessment of regional governance needs to go beyond application of a universal 'check-list' of formal good practices, however helpful such lists may be in ordering the terms of comparison. It should aim at evaluating whether a particular regional arrangement incorporates, and has internalized, mechanisms to satisfy the underlying good-governance principles in ways which are appropriate to its real needs and circumstances. On the other hand, in order to be practically useful, assessment should aim at supporting processes of improvement which are driven internally as well as externally, in which case approaches involving self-assessment are likely to achieve the greatest results.