Despite challenges brought about by geopolitical realities and the covid-19 pandemic, senior officials are positive that EU-ASEAN relations are bound to expand and flourish in the coming years.
With the Philippines assuming the role of EU-ASEAN dialogue coordinator, the EU Delegation to the Philippines held on 12 August a Webinar on “What does the Strategic Partnership Mean for EU-ASEAN Relations?” The webinar provided a platform for diplomats to discuss how the two regional blocs can continue to ensure peace, prosperity, sustainability, and connectedness among their peoples and other stakeholders. The webinar also commemorated ASEAN Day and aligned with the Philippines’ adopted theme of “Building the Future Better.” EU Ambassador Véron and Former Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Domingo Albert delivered the opening and closing remarks, respectively. Panelists included Philippines Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Maria Theresa P. Lazaro, the EU Ambassador to ASEAN Igor Driesmans, and Ambassador Kok Li Peng, Singapore’s Permanent Representative to ASEAN.
Ambassador Véron said that the EU-ASEAN strategic partnership should be an occasion to strengthen our cooperation in addressing global issues such as global warming, combatting and recovering from COVID-19, peace and security, human rights and sustainable development.
He said that: “By their very nature, global challenges cannot be addressed by countries alone. The more regional organisations work together, the stronger we are collectively and the more robust the multilateral system becomes”.
Ambassador Véron further expressed: “The European Union wants to deepen its cooperation with ASEAN members to promote effective multilateralism, able to address the challenges that we are facing, for example in the on-going process to strengthen the World Health Organization’s capacity against pandemics, or at the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26)”.
“The EU- ASEAN agenda is broad and deep, and we care deeply about it. I believe that, hand in hand with the Philippines, we will strengthen our relationship with ASEAN. This journey is a work in progress”.
Ambassador Driesmans emphasized that the EU is committed to work closely together with the Philippines in advocating for a green partnership, enhancing security and military ties, and promoting connectivity in the region. He underlined that there should be more endeavors to increase people’s awareness of the efforts done by the EU and ASEAN. He said that “It is sometimes not enough to do the things that we mentioned, we also need to make them known to a wider audience. In many ways, we are ASEAN’s closest partner but a few people know about it. Communication and visibility should be part and parcel of everything we do.”
The promotion of a rules-based international order will remain a key undertaking during the Philippines’ turn as dialogue coordinator. Undersecretary Lazaro commented that, “ASEAN-EU will continue to champion the respect for international law including the 1982 UNCLOS. ASEAN and EU should continue to reaffirm the importance of maintaining peace, security, safety, and the right of freedom of navigation in and overflight of the South China Sea, as well as the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with International Law particularly the 1982 UNCLOS.”
Certainly, the future of EU-ASEAN cooperation will build on the milestones in the previous years.
Ambassador Kok highlighted how the strategic partnership paved the way for the establishment of the world’s first region-to-region air transport agreement through the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement. This should create new growth opportunities for the aviation industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ambassador Kok likewise noted the importance of the elevation of the ASEAN-EU relationship by stating, “Indicative of a maturing relationship, the strategic partnership is a conduit for frank exchanges on difficult issues. While we may not agree on every issue, the strategic partnership underscore the values we share while offering a platform to air our views on areas of divergence.”
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Albert Domingo concluded the event by reaffirming the need to continue the inspired conversations between the ASEAN and the EU about developing synergies for the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, and important crosscutting issues that involve the role of women in peace, security, and diplomacy.
The webinar was moderated by Professor Manuel Enverga III of the Ateneo de Manila University. It was attended by more than 700 members of the diplomatic community, Philippine government agencies, academe, think tanks, business community, and the media.