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The EU and Asean: natural partners

/ 02:39 AM July 25, 2014

Daily headlines in Southeast Asia speak about the region’s impressive economic achievements. More and more they also focus on security tensions, including those in the South China Sea.

The European Union supports Asean in the twin challenge of integrating the region’s economies and addressing growing security threats. That was why foreign ministers from 28 EU and 10 Asean member-states gathered in Brussels on July 23 to discuss how the EU-Asean partnership can best deliver shared security and sustainable prosperity for their peoples.

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A look at the flight schedules from Frankfurt to Singapore, from Brussels to Bangkok, from London to Hanoi, is testament to the depth of the European Union’s partnership with Asean.

Every year 10 million people travel between our two regions. The vibrant exchange between our societies is the basis of our growing cooperation.  Together we drive trade, tackle organized crime, and promote safer seas.

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It is little wonder that our societies are growing increasingly interconnected. The European Union 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 have traditionally been strong. Trade between our regions has increased every year since 2009. The European Union is the biggest foreign investor in Asean—close to a third of all foreign investments from abroad come from it. With the prospect of economic integration in Asean, these numbers are likely to increase even further.

The depth of our economic ties inspired us to reap the benefits of closer ties also in other areas. Two years ago in Brunei, foreign ministers from both regions decided to take EU-Asean cooperation to a new level, making it more political and more ambitious.

More than any other Asean partner, the European Union is committed to promote peace through regional integration instead of power politics. More than anyone else, we know about the strategic imperative of shaping regional solutions. We also know how difficult it is to reach them. That’s why sharing experiences and best practices is such a central part of the EU-Asean partnership.

To confront challenges that transcend borders, such as climate change or maritime security, should be common sense. In a world where we increasingly rely on each other to sustain prosperous and safe societies, it is also a strategic necessity.

Today conflict, terrorism or crime in one part of the globe can influence the wellbeing of societies in another. Our solution is simple: When countries act together, they are stronger and more resilient.

The foreign ministers meeting in Brussels this week are focusing on three concrete steps. Our first priority is connectivity—deepening the connection between and within our societies. We want to invest more in transport, education and communication to bring people together to learn, travel and exchange ideas.

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We also want to work together more closely on maritime cooperation. Safe and secure seas in Southeast Asia are a prerequisite for a stable and prosperous Asean. They are also important to the European Union, which conducts 90 percent of its trade by sea. The European Union does not take sides on the question of sovereignty. We believe that all territorial disputes should be settled peacefully in a spirit of cooperation and respect of international law, including Unclos. The European Union 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 as soon as possible.

The European Union and Asean have a lot of common experiences to share from keeping our ports safe to sustainably managing our resources. For example, on maritime surveillance, illegal fishing or marine conservation, the European Union has created a set of regional policies that could inspire Asean countries as they grapple with similar challenges. By translating shared experiences into practical cooperation, we will make an important contribution to regional security and prosperity.

Our third priority is development cooperation with Asean.  The European Union has decided to more than double development aid to Asean countries to eradicate poverty and sustain the region’s dynamic economies. The European Union and Asean are also investing in the future of our societies by linking up our younger generations. Every year thousands of students and scholars from Asean come to the European Union.  They will be an important backbone to driving innovation and growth for generations to come.

A stronger EU-Asean partnership is of strategic significance for both sides. A united and self-confident Asean is good for regional stability, security and prosperity. The European Union invests heavily in this region because it is also central to global stability and prosperity.

Four decades of cooperation have made the European Union and Asean “natural partners.” As the ministers gather in Brussels, they know that together, the European Union and Asean have achieved a lot. They also know that there is even more work to be done.

Guy Ledoux is the European Union’s ambassador to the Philippines.

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TAGS: Asean, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, EU-Asean partnership, European Union, South China Sea
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