Jan 1, 2014

ASEAN - EU-ASEAN Ties: Supporting, Sharing and Inspiring

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Jakarta (Antara News) - The European Union (EU) and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been working closely to strengthen the ASEAN-EU Partnership and to support ASEANs goal of building ASEAN Community by 2015 and beyond.

ASEAN and EU are both often seen as examples of two successful regional groups. However, ASEAN and the EU have very different historical backgrounds, development levels and perspectives as well as approaches on political, economic and security issues.

Officials of ASEAN often stated that it would not follow EU-style regional integration but is willing to learn from EUs long and valuable experiences in developing the European Community particularly regarding its integration and community building.

Since early 1950s, EU has been a pioneer in regional integration and has long been the most developed model of regional integration.

Whereas, only in 2003, during the Ninth ASEAN Summit in Bali, Indonesia, ASEAN Leaders resolved to establish an ASEAN Community comprising three pillars: ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).

EU is a developed international society that has established common policies, institutions, and legal frameworks from which its identity stems.

The 28 member nations of EU have frequently agreed to pool part of their sovereignty and give it to the European Commission, whereas the 10 member nations of ASEAN embark on regional cooperation in an effort to protect and uphold sovereignty of members.

ASEAN remains strictly inter-governmental cooperation and there is no indication of interest in sovereignty sharing among its members.

"ASEAN Community is different from the European Community. In ASEAN, we look for closer cooperation," Danny Lee, the Director for Community Affairs Development of the ASEAN Secretariat, told 22 ASEAN journalists participating in a workshop on "Reporting on Regional Integration and ASEAN" organized on December 13-14, 2013 by EU Center in Singapore, and supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), and the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC).

Despite those differences, EU is one of ASEANs first dialogue partners. In fact, EU is the only regional grouping that has become ASEAN Dialog Partner, while the nine other ASEAN Dialog Partners are individual countries - Australia, Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, the United States and India.

Established in 1967, ASEAN groups Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.

Founded in 1957, EU consists of Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom - with a total population of over 500 million.

Informal dialogue between ASEAN and EU was established in 1972, which was primarily aimed at gaining access to European markets for most ASEAN members exports.

Relationship between the two regional organizations was elevated to a higher level with the first ASEAN-EC Ministerial Meeting (AEMM) in 1978, which later became a regular meeting.

In March 2007, at the 16th ASEAN-European Ministerial Meeting (AEMM) in Nuremberg, Germany, the foreign ministers agreed to pursue enhanced partnership between the two blocs having a total population of over 1.1 billion.

In the area of economic cooperation, some activities proposed include advancement of the ASEAN-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations. However, a regional ASEAN-EU FTA has to be halted for reasons such as Myanmar human rights issue and development gaps in ASEAN.

EU later decided to negotiate bilateral FTAs with individual ASEAN member states, starting with Singapore. The final negotiations for FTA between Singapore and the EU were completed in December 2012, and both parties initialled the text on 20 September. The EU is negotiating Free Trade Agreements with Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

The EU is now ASEANs second largest trading partner and biggest source of foreign direct investment (FDI). ASEAN is the EUs sixth largest external trade partner. ASEAN and EU are major trading partners with 206 billion Euros of trade in goods and services.

Southeast Asian companies are now also making forays into Europe, according to Dr Yeo Lay Hwee, the director of EU Center in Singapore, in her writing entitled "How Should ASEAN Engage the EU? Reflection on ASEANs External Relations".

Trade and investments ties between the two regions have grown tremendously over the past several years. Investments from ASEAN into the EU have increased from 27.7 billion Euros in 2006 to 71.9 billion Euros in 2010.

In the Bali Summit 2003, ASEAN Leaders signed a declaration known as the Bali Concord II, which describes the ASEAN Economic Community as a single market and production base to allow goods, services and production factors such as capital, investment and labor to flow freely within the region in order to achieve upper economic integration level and institutional advancement.

ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) aims at deeper and broader economic integration between ASEAN member countries.

Having a population of around 600 million people, ASEAN is an attractive market for EU. Therefore, EU is interested in seeing ASEAN as more dynamic and competitive by establishing a single market and production base and promoting deeper regional integration.

EU is one of ASEANs major financial donors as ASEANs budget is very limited and it has to rely on some of its dialog partners to implement several activities.

During the 19th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting (AEMM) held in Brunei Darussalam in April 2012, the two regional groupings agreed on a Plan of Action to Strengthen the ASEAN-EU Enhanced Partnership for 2013-2017.

In the Plan of Action, EU is committed to supporting ASEANs goals of regional integration and community building, including enhanced ASEAN connectivity to underpin the ASEAN Community.

EU has established a four-year Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument or READI, and ASEAN Regional Integration Support by the EU or ARISE, according to Stefan Hell, the Team Leader of the Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument, in the workshop.

ARISE (2013-2016) is aimed at supporting the implementation of key regional integration initiatives prioritized in the Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivity to build the ASEAN single market and production base. It also helps strengthen the capacity building of the Jakarta-based ASEAN Secretariat.

Meanwhile, the objective of READI (2011-2015) is to support ASEAN integration through the support of the ASEAN community blue prints, drawing on European experience and know how through sectoral policy dialogue and knowledge development.

Four dialogue sectors have already been identified for READI support, namely Information and Communication Technology, Energy, Science and Technology, and Disaster Management.

European Union Ambassador to Singapore Dr Michael Pulch told the ASEAN journalists that "At the end, we hope to see the realization of EU-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement."

He also assured that EU is ready to help ASEAN increase connectivity by providing financial support to build infrastructure. Connectivity is very important in narrowing development gaps and ensuring better flow of ASEAN peoples and goods.

The EU ambassador expressed his optimism that ASEAN Community will become a better grouping, one day, with more power to face globalization.

"Let's hope that EU will become an example or inspiration for ASEAN," Pulch told the ASEAN journalists participating in the two-day workshop.

One of the EUs greatest success stories is market integration allowing free movement of people, goods, services and capital). Citizens all have a similar EU passport.

The European Union has set itself the objective of becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based society in the world. As a result, education, professional training and support for young people have become three major priority areas.

Environmental preservation has also become one of EUs priorities in order to safeguard quality of life for current and future generations. The regional grouping has also embarked on the ambitious project to combine environmental protection and economic growth.

One of the latest EUs policies that could also be another inspiration for ASEAN is the abolition of mobile roaming charges within the EU which will be realized in mid-2014.

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