This article addresses how MERCOSUR has overcome tensions within the integration process over more than three decades. It applies the theoretical framework of differentiated integration proposed by Warleigh-Lack (2015), which facilitates flexibility in order to accommodate diversity. In integration processes like MERCOSUR, where there is resistance to ceding supranational powers to regional bodies and inter-governmentality predominates, differentiation becomes an essential element to avoid centrifugal forces while preserving sovereignty and avoiding the paralysis that can be caused by decision-making processes that require the consensus of all member states. In an integration process with as many asymmetries as MERCOSUR, in which Brazil–Argentina bilateral dynamics tend to prevail, differentiation also helps respond to the demands of smaller partners. The following sections will analyse: first, the evolution of MERCOSUR in the changing context of Latin American integration; secondly, the treatment of asymmetries as a key element of the differentiated integration of MERCOSUR; then – albeit not exhaustively – some categories of differentiated integration in various MERCOSUR policies will be identified; finally, an assessment will be made of how differentiated integration is shown in the relationship with the EU, particularly the association agreement signed in 2019 after 20 years of negotiations.
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