Statement by
His Excellency Mr. Wolfgang Schuessel
Vice-Chancellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria
President of the Council of the European Union

Mr. Chairman,

On behalf of the European Union, I would like to thank you for the excellent arrangements undertaken for this meeting.

First of all I would like to underline how highly the EU values the 9+1 consultations at the Post-Ministerial Conference. They offer a very welcome opportunity to maintain contacts at the highest level on a regular annual basis and to discuss issues of common concern in depth.

Please allow me to have a brief review on developments concerning EU-ASEAN relations over the last year.

A salient feature is, of course, the economic and financial turmoil to which most South East and East Asian nations have been exposed since last July. It is precisely one year now that the dynamic economies of this region have been caught in a downward spiral leading to severe economic readjustments, negative social effects and in some cases, even political unrest. The EU has followed these events with great care, not only because of the heavy involvement of European enterprises in the region, but also out of a sincere concern for the long term growth perspectives of these countries and the future well-being of their people.

In macro-economic terms, decisive action by most of the affected governments, and swift and well coordinated institutional rescue measures have helped ASEAN nations through hard times. The EU has been instrumental in the implementation of the numerous IMF and World Bank programs, which have, together with the resolute approach from local authorities, permitted a stabilisation of the economic situation to a certain extent.

The most painful phase may, nevertheless, still lie ahead; international analysts foresee a period of adjustment which could accentuate social hardship and, in some cases, political unrest. It is, therefore, very important to enhance our mutual co-operation in order to combat such a possible negative effect in the coming years. The first important steps have been made; we should use our well established channels of communication to address arising difficulties immediately and pragmatically.

In the ASEM framework, the EU and its Asian partners have undertaken such practical steps by launching the ASEM Trust Fund and network of expertise. Those ASEAN countries who belong to the ASEM process will be able to apply for Trust Fund assistance. In addition, many EU-Member States have undertaken important bilateral commitments vis-a-vis ASEAN countries and provided advice and technical assistance. The European Commission is also administering a number of programs to counteract the effects of the economic slowdown. We can certainly enhance these efforts utilising our existing EU-ASEAN co-operation to its fullest possible extent.

On the subject of the European Union’s relationship with ASEAN, it is regrettable that we have been unable so far to resolve our differences over how to accommodate ASEAN’s newest members, who are not signatories to the 1980 EC/ASEAN Co-operation Agreement. The strengthening of EU relations with ASEAN remains our priority. I am confident that we shall be able to find a solution which will allow us to take forward dialogue under the EC/ASEAN framework.

At the 12th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting in Singapore in February 1997, we agreed to take measures to consolidate, deepen and diversify in a dynamic manner relations between the EU and ASEAN, in particular, but not exclusively, in the economic field. The time is ripe to implement these conclusions and to prepare our partnership for the next millenium. A major step on the way for that common future will be the 13th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting to be hold in Berlin in March 1999.

Allow me now to address briefly some concrete developments which are of particular concern to the EU.

Two days ago, Cambodia held general elections. To give a final assessment would be premature as vote counting has not yet been finalized, However, the EU notes with satisfaction the orderly ballot and high voter turnout and hopes that the outcome will be respected by all parties, The EU also hopes that the results of the election will allow the Cambodians to sort out their internal problems and to put the ruling and administrative structures back on the democratic track. The EU has invested heavily in Cambodia’s future: Already in 1993, the EU was the biggest contributor to the UN and the UNTAC efforts. In the elections just held, the EU provided massive electoral aid, in particular in the important field of voter registration. Thanks to the EU’s endeavours, which started already in February of this year, many other international contributors have been convinced to stop up their activities in Cambodia. As a result, the vast majority of the Cambodian population has been able to register and participate in the elections. The EU’s election observer unit under the guidance of Ambassador Sven Linder has, together with the EU Special Representative for electoral observation Mrs. Glenys Kinnock, co-operated closely with the UN and other international teams including an important ASEAN contingent to ensure the success of this operation. I must, however, stress here that none of this would have been possible without the relentless political efforts of ASEAN to bring about the preconditions for positive change in Cambodia. We congratulate ASEAN on its decision last July to mandate a Troika of Ministers to help restore political stability in Cambodia. We salute the tireless efforts of the Troika, often undertaken in very difficult circumstances. The EU joins with other members of the international community in expressing its firm support for ASEAN’s approach. This successful ASEAN engagement has further boosted ASEAN’s international reputation.

The achievement of stability, democracy and prosperity in Cambodia should have an extremely positive impact on the development of the whole Mekong region. We all hope that future developments in Cambodia will belle the sombre and tragic part of this region and that conditions will be created quickly for ASEAN to consider a possible full Cambodian contribution to the ASEAN-process. This would certainly add a major stabilising element to the whole of South East Asia. On the occasion of last year’s accession of Laos and Myanmar to ASEAN, the EU acknowledged the historic dimension of this decision and reaffirmed its commitment to the EU-ASEAN dialogue and to the promotion of shared values; including respect for human rights and democratic principles. At that time the EU also expressed its serious concerns regarding the political and human rights situation in Burma / Myanmar. These concerns have unfortunately not been dissipated during the past year; the EU remains gravely concerned about the lack of democratic progress and the continued bad human rights situation in Burma / Myanmar, We are particularly concerned about the recent restrictions placed on opposition MPs by the regime. We would like once again to strongly appeal to the leadership in Yangon / Rangoon to enter urgently into a result-oriented dialogue with the opposition, especially the NLD and ethnic minority groups.

For these above-mentioned reasons, the EU has to maintain, for the time being, its Common Position on Burma / Myanmar, which prevents it from opening negotiations for an accession protocol to the 1980 EC-ASEAN Co-operation Agreement, As the EU has stated repeatedly, this difference of viewpoints should be resolved by both sides in a positive spirit and should have no bearing on the overall EU-ASEAN relationship.

All members of the EU have been following with keen interest and great concern the developments over the last months in Indonesia. After the violent incidents in May, the EU has called upon the Indonesian authorities to find a peaceful solution to its political and economic crisis. The EU closely followed the subsequent constitutional political transition, and welcomed the new government’s commitment to political and economic reform and to holding early elections in 1998. As well as urging a credible economic reform process, the EU called on President Habibie to work urgently for more accountable and transparent Government to meet the democratic aspirations of the Indonesian people and for full respect for individual human rights and fundamental freedoms. The EU recognises the economic hardship faced by the people of Indonesia and has committed itself to supporting Indonesia as it embarks on these far-reaching reforms.

As regards East Timor, the EU considers that there are new opportunities to find a realistic and fair solution to the problem, which will respect the rights and legitimate aspirations of its people, in accordance with international norms and principles. This lends a new urgency to the talks under the auspices of the UN Secretary General, to which the EU reiterates its firm support. The EU considers that an early dialogue involving the East Timorese leaders is imperative, that confidence-building measures should immediately be pursued and that there must be appropriate consultation of the East Timorese people in due course.

On these issues as well, the EU hopes to co-operate successfully with its ASEAN partners. Thanks to ASEAN’s solid co-operative structure and its impressive track record for consolidating regional stability, the EU is very hopeful that the ASEAN countries will emerge from the current crisis with a stronger determination to strive towards their goals of integration in order to secure a stable and peaceful South East Asia for the 21st century. The EU hopes to remain a privileged dialogue partner on this road towards the future.

In closing I may briefly touch on two developments which are of historic importance to the European Union and which will also have a major effect on its relationship with ASEAN : On 31 March of this year the process of EU enlargement has entered into its concrete phase of implementation with the opening of negotiations with the first six candidate countries and on January 1, 1999 the European Monetary Union with the Euro as a single currency will enter into force.

EU enlargement will be a long term process, through which the artificial division between Western and Eastern Europe by the “Iron Curtain” after World War II and the legacy of communism will eventually overcome. For our partners in Asia EU enlargement will result in a considerably bigger market than the European Union represents today, We are aware of the concerns in Asia that with enlargement Europe may become inward-looking and a “Fortress Europe”. But I can assure you that Europe will remain committed to the principles of openness and free trade and, therefore, the enlarged European Union will become an even more interesting partner for Asia’s economies than it is today.

As for the European Monetary Union eleven of the fifteen member countries of the European Union will participate at its inception in January 1999. Already at this initial stage, the Euro will facilitate trade and currency exchanges between our two regions and will offer the opportunity of a second reserve currency in addition to the US-Dollar.

The EU highly appreciates the dialogue partnership it established with ASEAN more than 20 years ago. We are convinced that in the years to come this partnership will become even more significant and will provide a solid foundation for both of our regions to meet the common challenges of the 21st century.