While the United Nations is the largest intergovernmental organization, there are many smaller regional organizations that play a significant role in international affairs. These regional organizations have been created as ways to enhance regional influence in matters such as global trade and collective security. They also provide methods for inter-regional cooperation in matters of trade, travel, and immigration. Many Model UN Conferences, such as London International Model United Nations (LIMUN) and Oxford International Model United Nations (OxIMUN) specialize in simulating these organizations. While some, like the European Union are very common, and USAN less so, knowing the membership and mandate of these bodies is important for MUN delegates, whether simulating the committee or writing clauses that relate to them in a draft resolution.
In this article, all of the major continental organizations will be examined. A brief history will be given as well as a list of all member countries. The nominal GDP of each union will be given as well as the Human Development Index (HDI). HDI is measured by examining education levels, per capita GDP, as well as life expectancy. The HDI is important as it gives a way to compare development levels based on multiple factors. It should be noted that within each union there is a wide array of development levels. This will lead many figures to be misleading as far as development is concerned. The HDI will be given as a number ranging from .000 – 1.000. Basically, absolute 0 is the worst, while a 1 is the highest.
The most well known and the most powerful of the continental unions is the European Union. There are currently twenty-eight countries within the EU. It should be noted that the United Kingdom recently voted to leave the EU and is currently in the lengthy process to do so.
Technically, the European Union was not founded until 1993, though it has its roots in the European Economic Community (EEC) which was founded in 1957. When most people consider the beginning of the EU, that is the year generally agreed upon as the founding. As the name says, the initial goal of the EU was an economic one, with members hoping to gain more strength in numbers. The founding members were able to bring together many common markets, specifically concerning the energy markets.
The EU has significantly evolved since then. A common currency, the Euro, was introduced in 1999 and is now used by 19 of the 28 member countries. It is the currency of well over 300 million people within the EU. Member countries also accede much of their sovereignty to the EU, though they still retain their rights as a country in the international sense. A citizen in any country within the EU may freely travel to any other member country with an EU passport. While each country retains its own government, the EU itself is governed by the European Parliament and the European Council. The European Parliament has 751 members who are elected to five year terms by their host countries. The European Council has 28 members, one for each country in the EU.
For new members to join, they must meet the Copenhagen criteria. Each member of the union must have a democratic government, a free market, and follow the rule of law. Protection of minority communities is necessary, as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is strictly followed by all member nations. No member country is allowed to have the death penalty as an option for punishment. Despite recent issues concerning membership, the EU is an economic powerhouse. The 2017 GDP is $16.5 trillion, making it the second largest economy in the world if treated as a single entity. The collective bargaining power of the EU represents its strength in global affairs. The HDI of the EU is very high at .874.
Recent controversy has arisen over the issue of immigration, specifically refugees fleeing war torn places such as Syria. Beginning in 2014, the EU saw the large increase in refugees arriving from the Middle East and Africa. Many EU member countries have done much to accommodate the refugees, with Germany leading the charge. There has been significant push back from others. Many of the smaller member countries argue that they do not have the resources to accommodate any refugees. More significant is the nationalist outcry that has arisen in places such as the UK and France. As terrorist attacks have increased, so has suspicion of refugees. It is thought that the European Union's policies concerning immigrants is one of the main reasons citizens of the UK voted to leave the EU.
Regardless of the recent difficulties within the EU, the body as a whole is expected remain powerful on the world stage for some time.
The African Union is the largest regional union in terms of both population and land area covered. All fifty-five countries on the African continent are included. Though the AU was founded in 2001, it finds its roots in the Organization of African Unity which was founded in 1963. As decolonization of the African continent began to give way to independent African countries, it became apparent that there was a need to unite the vastly different nations. Each country within the continent differs culturally, economically, and politically and most do not have a long track record of self-governance. Today, the African Union's mission is for a peaceful, prosperous, and integrated Africa. The AU is governed by the Assembly of the African Union and the African Union Commission.
The Assembly of the African Union consists of the heads of state for all countries within the union. The Assembly handles issues such a policy making, budget setting, and membership compliance of decisions. The African Union Commission acts as the executive body of the AU and carries out the decisions made by the Assembly.
The collective GDP of the African Union is $2.26 trillion, making it collectively the world's eleventh largest economy, though the range of economic levels varies widely within the AU. The HDI for the AU is considered low, measuring .524. It should be noted that many of the countries in the AU have a HDI much lower than the average AU HDI.
Today, the AU deals with many difficult issues throughout the African continent. Health concerns remain a top priority. HIV has ravished the southern portion of the continent. Recently, the Ebola epidemic called for a global response. Politically, many member countries are unstable. Civil war continues to rage in many regions and terrorist groups are widespread throughout the continent. Hunger remains an issue, as agricultural practices have not reached the technological levels of developed nations.
ASEAN was founded in 1967 and is now comprised of ten countries. ASEAN was created to ensure economic growth and help with cultural development among its members and with surrounding Asian nations. The ten countries within the union are not individually strong economically, but together they are able to negotiate from a more powerful stance. ASEAN has favorable trade relationships with powerful economies such as China, Japan, India, South Korea, and the US. This would likely not be possible for each of the individual countries within the union. ASEAN's slogan is “One Vision, One Identity, One Community.”
The members of ASEAN are all located in an area that is globally significant. China constantly positions itself for more power in the region, often claiming economic rights in the oceans and seas surrounding ASEAN member countries. China has even gone as far as building islands in the South China Sea and claiming them as exclusive economic zones (EEZs). These islands have been built in EEZs already claimed by countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam, all ASEAN members. China has proceeded to put military installations on these islands as a means of controlling the valuable shipping lanes in the area. The International Court of Justice ruled against China's territorial claims, though it has no way of enforcing the ruling. China did not take part in the hearings.
The collective GDP of ASEAN is approximately $2.8 trillion. The HDI of ASEAN is .684, which is considered to be in the mid-level. In 2007, member countries signed a charter to develop into a union more along the lines of the European Union.
The Union of South American Nations (USAN) is the youngest of the regional continental unions and was officially formed in 2008. Movement towards a union for the region began in 2004 as a means to establish a group modeled after the European Union. There are currently twelve member countries within USAN. USAN will be headed by a proposed South American Parliament containing ninety nine members. The proposed headquarters of USAN is Quito, Ecuador, while the home of the South American Parliament will be located in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Currently, the union is not as extensive as the EU, though by 2019 there are plans to have a common currency, common passports, and free movement of peoples within member countries. Collectively, USAN has a GDP of approximately $4.2 trillion. The HDI of USAN is considered high, measuring .751.
South America has seen significant growth and advancement over the last few decades as it has continued to industrialize at a fast pace. Much of this growth has come from Brazil, but most countries on the continent have seen gains economically and developmentally. Life expectancy has risen, though there are still areas with significant favelas, or slums. In recent years, Venezuela has seen governmental unrest as oil prices have dropped and the government has cut public assistance.
As the newest member of regional unions, USAN has not had much time to immerse itself into international affairs.