Working closely for 40 years
The dialogue between the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) spans more than 40 years. The European Economic Community (EEC) was the first entity to establish informal ties with ASEAN in 1972.
The 10th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in 1977 formalised relations, which were institutionalised with the signing of the ASEAN-EEC Cooperation Agreement in March 1980.
ASEAN-EU relations are guided by the Nuremberg Declaration on an EU-ASEAN Enhanced Partnership, adopted in March 2007. The Declaration sets out the long-term vision and commitment of both sides to work together.
With the adoption of the ASEAN Charter in 2008, the EU initiated formal diplomatic relations with ASEAN in March 2009, followed by the EU countries.
In 2012, the EU became the first regional organisation to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) — an important milestone, boosting the EU's political and security engagement with the region.
On 8 August 2015 (ASEAN Day), the EU established a diplomatic Mission to ASEAN and appointed a dedicated Ambassador. In addition, there are currently 25 Ambassadors from EU countries accredited to ASEAN.
- In May 2015, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Commission adopted the Joint Communication: The EU and ASEAN: a partnership with a strategic purpose, putting forward specific ideas for taking relations to the next level.
- The proposals contained in the Joint Communication were later endorsed by EU countries in the Conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in June 2015. This states clearly the EU’s commitment to continue supporting the establishment of the ASEAN Community while strengthening EU-ASEAN cooperation on issues of common concern, global challenges and the most advanced regional integration projects in the world.
- The first ASEAN-EU Policy Dialogue on Human Rights was held in October 2015, addressing issues such as women's rights, child protection and the safety of migrant workers.
- In April 2016, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission (HRVP) paid an official visit to the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. She met with the Secretary-General and the Committee of the Permanent Representatives to ASEAN (CPRs).
- The European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, met with the CPRs in November 2014 at the ASEAN Secretariat.
Security and defence cooperation
The EU is a founding and active member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which aims to foster constructive dialogue and consultation through confidence building and preventive diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region with a view to ensuring peace, prosperity and stability in the region and beyond.
The EU and ASEAN have also been working in many non-traditional security areas, such as maritime security, conflict prevention, mediation and reconciliation, crisis management, transnational crime, counter-terrorism, cyber security and non-proliferation.
Many important steps have been taken to enhance EU-ASEAN cooperation in the area of security and defence policy, for example:
- A High Level Dialogue (HLD) on Maritime Cooperation was initiated and held in 2013 and in 2015, as a platform for exchanging views, best practices and lessons learnt in this complex and challenging area. While complementing the work of other ASEAN-led processes (ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus and ASEAN Expanded Maritime Forum), the ASEAN Member States see merits and added value in engaging with the EU and its countries in this area and asked for this dialogue to be held at regular intervals. New editions of the HLD are confirmed for 2016 and 2017 to be hosted by ASEAN Member States.
- A second ASEAN Border Management and Migration Programme began work in 2015, supporting ASEAN community building processes while providing support and capacity building to address trans-national crime challenges.
- A regional chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence (CBRN) project has managed to engage all ASEAN Member States in regional activities, and established a Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Manila.
- In 2014 and 2015, the EU hosted two Orientation Courses on the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), with a special focus on EU-ASEAN relations. Considering the success of the first two editions, the EU will organise more such courses in the near future.
- The EU was instrumental and assumed leadership with ASEAN Member States' support in moving forward the ARF agenda from Confidence Building Measures (CBM) to Preventive Diplomacy (PD) and Mediation. This was achieved by organising — with Brunei (in 2014) and Indonesia (in 2015) — two events and training sessions on PD and mediation. The last one marked an important moment by bringing, for the first time, the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) under the ARF umbrella.
- In April 2016, the EU participated, for the first time, in the multinational naval exercise hosted by Indonesia. Komodo 2016 offered the chance to share best practices and learn lessons from the EU experience in engaging in naval military and peacekeeping operations.
While participating in many ongoing security and defence cooperation activities, the EU is also looking for ways to increase its engagement with all ASEAN-led mechanisms and processes in this field. These and many other developments are invaluable stepping stones towards upgrading the partnership between the EU and ASEAN.