United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS)

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UNU premises: Grootseminarie, the former Abby of the Dunes in
Bruges TheUnited Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS) is a research and training institute of the United Nations University. Based in Bruges since 2001, UNU-CRIS specialises in the comparative study of regional integration, monitoring and assessing regional integration worldwide and in the study of interactions between regional organisations and global institutions. Its aim is to generate new and policy-relevant knowledge about new forms of governance and co-operation, and to contribute to capacity building on issues of regional integration, particularly in developing countries. (www.cris.unu.edu)

The mission of UNU-CRIS is to contribute towards achieving the universal goals of the UN and UNU through comparative and interdisciplinary research and training for better understanding of the processes and impact of intra- and inter-regional integration. The aim is to act as a think tank that generates policyrelevant knowledge about new forms of governance and cooperation, and to contribute to capacity-building issues of integration and cooperation particularly in developing countries.

UNU-CRIS is part of several research networks: it is one of the main initiators and partners of the European Commission’s FP6 GARNET Network of Excellence on ‘Global Governance, Regionalisation and Regulation: the Role of the EU’; it coordinates two Jean Monnet Projects on ‘Comparing the EU with Other Regional Organisations’ and on ‘The European Integration Process and its Implications to East Asia’; a European Commission FP7 project entitled ‘Changing Multilateralism. The EU as a Global-Regional Actor in Security and Peace (EU-GRASP)’ and, together with the College of Europe, the Edulink-funded ‘Network for Regional Integration Studies (NETRIS)’. UNU-CRIS is also partner of the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate on ‘Globalisation, the EU and multilateralism (GEM)’ and of  OBREAL/EULARO, a network set up by 23 academic institutions and research centres in Europe and Latin America with the financial support of the European Commission.

UNU-CRIS is located at the premises of Grootseminarie, the former Abby of the Dunes in Bruges, with the support of the Province of West-Flanders.

As a UN Agency, UNU-CRIS is also a member of the United Nations Team in Belgium.

What does UNU-CRIS do?

UNU-CRIS contributes to academic research and capacity-building in the field of regional integration in four research clusters:

1) Comparative Regional Integration

Regional cooperation and integration can be seen as evolving processes rather than uni-directional movements towards pre-determined outcomes. Through the various regional integration arrangements that operate across the globe, countries are seeking to find new cooperative solutions to existing problems, and to improve collective decision-making to resolve issues that cannot be dealt with by the respective national governments. Globalisation has obviously opened up a space between the national and global levels of decision-making and policy-formulation, within which states and non-state actors can develop the processes and institutions (both formal and informal) that guide and restrain the collective activities of groups. Governance is here understood as a multi-faceted process of regulation, based upon laws, principles and norms, institutions, policies, and voluntary codes of conduct – thereby including both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ regulation. Nonetheless, the concept of governance extends beyond the action and authority of governments to include actors such as private businesses, non-governmental organisations, civil society, international and regional organisations, and trans-national interest groups. Thus, regional governance can either support or challenge the sovereignty upon which national governments customarily base their authority. The objectives of this research theme include:

  • To critically evaluate the modes of governance that are currently observable in the existing regional integration arrangements around the world, and to offer comparative analyses of these distinct governance models.
  • To examine the driving forces and shaping factors that determine the regional governance arrangements, and to identify the new pressures that give rise to the emergence of multi-level systems of governance.
  • To develop an inter-disciplinary conceptual understanding and explanation of regional governance models, in order to deepen an awareness and understanding of the political, economic, and social relations inherent in regional cooperation.
  • To consider normative questions related to governance, sovereignty, democratisation and policy-making under the framework of regional integration.
  • To derive policy-relevant output appropriate to the needs of different actors involved in regional integration processes, and in direct response to specific requests from relevant client groups.
  • To use the research output to support capacity-building activities among diverse actors involved in managing regional integration and cooperation.

2) Monitoring Regional Integration

The world has witnessed a proliferation of regional cooperation agreements among sovereign states in both advanced and developing countries over the recent decade. This coincides with a growing consciousness that regional cooperation and integration can deliver added value in a wide range of policy areas. Moreover, these agreements have continued to emerge and to co-exist alongside the processes of globalisation, producing a twin-track development that international institutions have come to recognise as producing its own particular synergies. While there is no clear agreement on whether regionalisation is in fact a step towards globalisation, it is clear that regional agreements have their own distinctive motivations and processes, varying from region to region. The objectives of this research theme are:

  • To systematically identify and describe the variety and evolution of regional integration agreements that currently exist across the globe, applying different time horizons.
  • To provide the discussion on the role and importance of the (macro-) regional level in global governance with a stronger empirical base.
  • To develop retrospective monitoring and measurement tools and prospective foresight and forecasting tools for regional integration processes.
  • To apply the monitoring tools to specific regional integration processes in support of the activities of regional organisations and communities worldwide.
  • To organise participatory foresight exercises to identify scenarios for regional integration processes and contribute to their sustainability by involving multiple stakeholders in visioning the future of their regions

3) Regional Peace and Security

Concomitant to globalisation there has been growing awareness of a need for a more holistic approach to “security” than traditional nation state based conceptions. The emerging concept of human security places human beings, rather than national borders, at the centre of focus. It emphasises the multifarious aspects of providing people with security and how these aspects are inter-related. Rather than examining exclusively military responses to violent conflicts, the human security approach advocates exploring diverse ways to prevent them and acknowledges the important role of economic, political, social-psychological, cultural and environmental factors, among others. Not only is the concept of security changing, but so are the optimal ways to address it: global and regional levels of governance are increasingly seen as vital to achieving human security. In a 2003 speech, the UN Secretary General called for a new vision of global security based upon collaborations between the UN and regional organisations. This research theme’s main objectives are:

  • To examine how regional integration can contribute to the achievement of human security;
  • To engage all relevant stakeholders (using participatory methods) in exploring how they can contribute to forms of cooperation and integration that facilitate peace and human security;
  • To build a database of research and educational modules that can contribute to capacity development, particularly for regional organisations, to achieve human security.

4) Socio-Economic Dimension of Regional Integration

The primary aim of UNU-CRIS is to analyse how the new paradigm of development, which is incorporated in the UN Millennium Development Goals, can be served by regional integration. Developing countries are increasingly turning to regional integration in response to the challenge of globalisation, which has undermined autonomous national development strategies. Another reason is that developing countries have lost confidence in the global multilateral institutions to provide equitable development rules, and to give them ‘ownership’ of development policies.

Therefore, UNU-CRIS aims to analyse the conditions under which the new multi-dimensional regionalism can act as an effective engine of development. In this context our work focuses on existing and newly emerging forms of South-South cooperation, as well as the new North-South inter-regional partnerships that are becoming part of the international landscape. The new role of regional organisations in global governance is also analysed.

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Contact Information:

Luk Van Langenhove
Director UNU-CRIS
Potterierei 72
8000 Bruges, Belgium
Tel. +32 50 47 11 00
Fax +32 50 47 13 09
E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Internet: http://www.cris.unu.edu.

UNU-CRIS Contact

Luk Van Langenhove
Director UNU-CRIS
Potterierei 72
8000 Bruges, Belgium
Tel. +32 50 47 11 00
Fax +32 50 47 13 09
E-mail: lvanlangenhove@cris.unu.edu This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Internet: http://www.cris.unu.edu

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