The European Union has been at the forefront of the international community's re-engagement with Myanmar as it has advanced on its remarkable path of reforming and opening up to the world.
The European Union is firmly committed to support the country and its people on their path to democracy, peace and prosperity. Myanmar's successful democratisation and socio-economic development will further strengthen the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the EU's natural partner in South-East Asia.
Myanmar's democratic transition
In 2011, Myanmar's quasi-civilian government embarked on a substantial process of reform by taking the first steps towards democratisation, peace with the country's ethnic armed groups, and socio-economic recovery. The holding of credible and competitive elections in November 2015 marked an important milestone in the transition process and provided the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, an absolute majority in parliament. The new NLD-led government took office in April 2016, with U Htin Kyaw becoming the first civilian president in more than half a century and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi serving as State Counsellor, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of the President's Office.
The EU as a partner in transition
The European Union is a partner of Myanmar in its transition, having rapidly responded to political changes in the country and provided strong support for democratic and economic reforms from the outset. The EU suspended sanctions and opened an office in 2012. In 2013, all EU sanctions, with the exception of an arms embargo, were lifted. Trade preferences under the "Everything But Arms" scheme, which allows duty free and quota free access to the single European market of 500 million consumers, were restored. A full-fledged EU Delegation was opened in 2013. In the same year, an EU-Myanmar Task Force meeting with the participation of four Commissioners, the European Parliament and the European Investment Bank took place in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, combining all instruments the EU has at its disposal to support democratisation. In October 2015, the EU signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement as an international witness, reflecting its key role in supporting the peace process. The EU deployed the largest international Election Observation Mission to observe the general elections on 8 November 2015, on the invitation of the Union Election Commission.
In 2012-2013, the EU increased its development support to Myanmar with an initial package of EUR 150 million, while in 2014 the Multiannual Indicative Programme 2014-2020 was adopted with an indicative allocation of EUR 688 million over seven years. In order to promote aid effectiveness, the EU and its member states have been engaged in the joint programming of development cooperation since 2013.
The new EU strategy for Myanmar
In June 2016, the European Union responded to the new political context after the November elections with the launch of a new EU strategy in support of Myanmar's reforms. The foreign ministers of all 28 EU member states endorsed this new strategy through Council Conclusions.
The 2016 EU-Myanmar strategy:
- Reaffirms the EU's commitment to support Myanmar's goal of becoming a sustainable democracy with full respect for the rule of law through building effective institutions and assisting the reform of the security sector
- Opens the door for increased engagement with the society as a whole, including local governments, the justice sector, parliaments and civil society
- Reaffirms the EU's commitment to support the peace process, including through a Joint Peace Fund. The Joint Peace Fund is designed to provide financial and technical support to national peace building initiatives. So far ten international donors have contributed to the Joint Peace Fund with a view to improve coordination and foster local ownership
- Offers to work together with the Myanmar government on addressing human rights concerns, including the situation in Rakhine State and respect for minorities, combating hate speech and intolerance, and ensuring the full implementation of UN human rights resolutions
- Reiterates the EU's commitment to support Myanmar through sustainable and inclusive development assistance. The Multi-annual Indicative Programme (MIP) 2014-2020 and joint programming priorities will be complemented by new mechanisms to deliver aid support. This includes working directly with relevant institutions to increase the effectiveness of social services and to formulate sector policies as part of a state-building approach
- Aims to stimulate European business interest through the conclusion of an Investment Protection Agreement, while also promoting corporate social responsibility and responsible investment
- Aims to enhance cooperation with Myanmar as a member of ASEAN so as to strengthen the regional integration process as well as the EU's partnership with ASEAN
In 2013, the EU and Myanmar agreed to open a new chapter in their relations and laid the foundations of a strong partnership. A high-level political dialogue was launched and the two partners engage in an annual Human Rights Dialogue which is co-chaired by the Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister and the EU Special Representative for Human Rights. This engagement underscores the particular attention the EU places on democratic transition and human rights in the country, including minority rights.
The EU and Myanmar also co-operate in multilateral fora. For many years, the EU has tabled resolutions on the human rights situation in Myanmar in the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council.
Myanmar’s first ASEAN chairmanship in 2014 provided the opportunity for the EU to step up engagement with the country at the regional level and work towards implementing the "Bandar Seri Begawan Plan of Action to strengthen the ASEAN-EU Enhanced Partnership (2013-2017)". The chairmanship also enabled the promotion of EU strategic interests in the Asia Pacific region as set out later on in the EU Joint Communication ‘The EU and ASEAN: a partnership with a strategic purpose’ and the ensuing Council conclusions.
The EU and Myanmar cooperate in broad security and defence related matters in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is another multilateral forum for engagement. In 2017, Myanmar will host the 13th ASEM Foreign Ministerial Meeting.