Opening Remarks by HR/VP at the EU-ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference
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Thank you very much Mr co-chair [Mr Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand, current Country Coordinator of ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations], thank you also for the excellent work we have done together.
Excellencies, dear friends,
It is for me really a pleasure to be here today. Thank you also for the invitation. I am flying directly from Tehran where I was attending the inauguration of President [of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan] Rouhani and I was happy to hear from his words a commitment of himself and Iran to stick to the Iran nuclear deal which is, I think, a major element of security for both Europe and Asia and the global order in general.
But it is particularly a pleasure for me to be here and together with my team as we celebrate the fortieth anniversary of our friendship. Later today we will go through forty years of shared history. We will also probably remind the fact that we celebrate 50 years of ASEAN and 60 years of the European Union. But let me tell you that I am glad to be here first and foremost to look at the future and to push our common work forward because our world deserves and needs our friendship to be strong. You mentioned the many new uncertainties that we are facing in the global outlook and our friendship and our cooperation today is even more relevant that it has ever been in the past.
Yes, Europe and South East Asia are geographically a world apart. And yet what happens on this side of the world matters very much to us and I believe the same is true for you: what happens on our side of the world counts for your people.
We, Europeans, care about your countries, your people: we have an interest in the security and development of your countries, because these are essential to security and development all over the world. And when we join forces - we have already seen it-, there is much we can achieve together. And, first of all, this is about new opportunities for our citizens - as you said people centred - both here, in Europe and globally.
The exchanges between our regions support growth in both continents: only last year, almost ten million Europeans came to South-East Asia and the number continues to grow.
Both the European Union and ASEAN want a free and fair global trade. The impact of bilateral free trade agreements between the European Union and ASEAN countries will be huge, with great benefits for our firms and our citizens. And these agreements will be the stepping stones towards a future region-to-region agreement.
The Air Transport Agreement we are negotiating would be the first of its kind. When it will be finalised, thousands of new jobs will be created and one billion people will be able to fly directly for lower prices and with the highest security standards.
And last but not least, we all want to continue fighting climate change and to preserve the Paris agreement. It is particularly important to re stress this today, jointly, and I am glad that today we will adopt a joint statement to reaffirm that we stand by our own commitments and we will continue to work together for its full implementation.
If we look at security issues, it is even more evident how close our regions have become. All crises today have a global impact. The conflicts in the Mediterranean, in the Gulf or in the Horn of Africa, have a clear impact on markets and societies here in South East Asia and tensions and radicalisation in the Asia Pacific can destabilise far beyond your region.
The situation in the Korean peninsula is the most obvious case: it affects all of us and we all have a responsibility to work for peace.
Let me say that it is particularly painful for me to talk about nuclear proliferation on this particular day, in this part of the world because seventy-two years ago the first atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima. Seventy-two years later, our world is still not free from nuclear weapons. And the nuclear non-proliferation that is at our agenda is, I believe, a key common interest we share and in particular the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is a common interest we have: an Asian interest, a European interest. We want to build a stronger cooperation with our Asian friends who share our aspirations to peace and cooperation on North Korea but also on so many other issues related to our common security.
So the European Union is commited to cooperation with ASEAN in general terms and to security in Asia. We want to contribute as your security partner. And we are doing so in two very concrete ways. First, we are making our European Union stronger in the field of security and defence, and, second, we are making our partnership with ASEAN even closer and more operational.
Our European Union has just turned sixty. We are from some perspectives quite young, from some others quite old. It depends on the kind of approach you take to life. Today, we are not only the largest trading bloc in the world. We are and we need to be even more a global security provider for our own interest, and because so many of our partners expect us to play a major global role given the situation the world is facing today.
This is why we have participated in your Disaster Relief Exercises, last year, and for the first time, the European Union also took part in an “ASEAN plus” naval military exercise.
The European Union is a global force for peace and cooperation, and this also requires a stronger European Union of security and defence. This is what we are working on with our Member States, that taken together have the second largest defence budget in the world. By putting this together we will increase the European cooperation; also in this field we will become an even stronger provider of global security for the benefit of all.
I know that we are living in times full of doubts and uncertainties. I also know that after the British referendum last year, some predicted that the European Union would have dissolved, or headed towards an inevitable decline. On the contrary: what is happening is that our Union today is stronger, more determined than ever to continue working together because only together, as Europeans, but also for our partners, we have an impact in the global world of today.
With the same spirit, we want to bring our partnership with ASEAN to the next level. The European Union has already become one of the main contributors to the work of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
I would also like to thank you all – and the Philippines in particular – for inviting us to attend the November East Asia Summit in Manila, as Guest of the Chair. This is a very much appreciated invitation. The East Asia Summit has been playing a very important role in promoting cooperation and trust – which is a rare currency in our times. And we look forward to contributing to this work, as a partner and as a friend. And the same goes for other security and defence fora in South East Asia, notably the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus.
To conclude, there is much we can do together, both on traditional defence and on non-traditional security challenges. I will mention one that is particularly close to our hearts and central to our societies: the challenge of radicalisation. We believe that we can only prevent further damage if we work together, sharing not only information but also good practices on prevention, on inclusion and on diversity.
Let us never forget the joint potential of our cooperation. Together we represent over one billion people. We are among the largest world economies. The European Union itself is the second one in the world, the first single market in the world. We are also the first foreign investor in ASEAN and the second trading partner.
So forty years into our friendship, we are still pioneering new forms of cooperation. We are adopting today very important documents. The potential for greater engagement is huge. The European Union is firmly committed to increase the level of our cooperation. The progress is entirely up to us. From trade to migration, from defence to counter-terrorism, together we can make our two regions stronger. And as you said, Mr Co-Chair, together we can advance a more cooperative and multilateral system of global governance for the benefit of all our people.
Thank you very much and I wish you all a very successful meeting.