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The EU and ASEAN: Natural Partners

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August 6, 2014 Comments (0) ASEAN, Indonesia & The EU

Indonesia and several of its ASEAN partners have made impressive democratic and economic progress over the last decade or so. ASEAN is today an important player as regards political stability, including in the South China Sea. The EU supports ASEAN in the twin challenge of integrating the region’s economies and addressing security questions. On 23 July Foreign Ministers from 28 EU and 10 ASEAN Member States will gather in Brussels to discuss how the EU-ASEAN partnership can best deliver on these issues.

Every year ten million people travel between our two regions – a testament to the depth of the EU’s partnership with ASEAN. The vibrant exchange between our societies is the basis of our growing cooperation.  Together we facilitate trade and promote tourism. Together we tackle organised crime and cooperate to make the oceans safer.

Our societies are growing increasingly interconnected. The EU and ASEAN are the world’s two major initiatives for promoting regional integration. We have worked to advance peace and security at home and abroad for almost four decades.

Economic ties between us are traditionally strong. Trade between our regions has increased every year since 2009. The EU is the biggest foreign investor in ASEAN – close to a third of all foreign investments from abroad come from the EU. With the prospect of economic integration in ASEAN, these numbers are likely to increase even further.

Our successful trade and investment ties are just one facet of our comprehensive partnership. Two years ago we decided to take the EU-ASEAN cooperation to a new level, making it more political and more ambitious.

More than any other ASEAN partner, the EU is committed to promote peace through regional integration. The European Union sees regional integration as a sensible answer to the challenges of our ever more complex, interdependent world. At the same time, we realise the difficulties in moving ahead with integration. Sharing experiences thus becomes a central ingredient of our partnership with ASEAN.

Together we confront challenges such as climate change or maritime security. We inexorably rely on each other to sustain prosperous and safe societies. Armed conflict and terrorism in one part of the globe influences the well-being of societies elsewhere. Together we are stronger and more resilient.

In these endeavours, Indonesia is a key partner for the EU. Indonesia musters impressive credentials: the sheer size and economic weight of the country; an exemplary, home-made political transition, making it the third-largest democracy in the world; and its active role in promoting stability and human rights in the region and beyond. A brand-new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, ratified in May 2014, provides a modern framework.

EU and ASEAN foreign ministers shall meet in Brussels next week. Three concrete steps are on their agenda: Our first priority is connectivity – more and better links between and within our societies. We want to invest more in transport, education and communication. This brings people together, by learning and travelling, by trading and exchanging ideas.

Secondly, we also want to work on maritime issues. Safe and secure seas in South East Asia are a prerequisite for a stable and prosperous ASEAN. They are also important to the EU, as we conduct 90% of our external trade by sea.

We believe that all territorial disputes should be settled peacefully, in a spirit of cooperation and respect of international law including UNCLOS. The EU also supports the efforts to work on a formal and legally binding Code of Conduct between ASEAN and China and hopes these discussions can be completed soon.

The EU and ASEAN have a lot of experience to share, from keeping our ports safe to sustainably managing our resources. On illegal fishing and marine conservation, the EU has created a set of policies that could inspire ASEAN countries grappling with similar challenges.

Our third priority is to eradicate poverty and to sustain the region’s dynamic economies. The EU has decided to more than double development aid to ASEAN countries. The EU and ASEAN are investing in the future of our societies: every year more than 4.000 students and scholars from ASEAN come to the EU. They are an important backbone for driving innovation and growth.

A strong EU-ASEAN partnership is strategically significant for both sides. A united and integrated ASEAN is good for regional stability, security and prosperity.

Four decades of cooperation illustrate the unique ‘natural EU-ASEAN partnership’. As Ministers gather in Brussels, they can look back at a successful cooperation. They also know that our intensified partnership will bear fruit for future generations.

Olof Skoog is the European Union Ambassador to ASEAN. This article was originally published on 22 July 2014 in The Jakarta Post.

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