H.E. Ong Keng Yong
Seminar on Regional Integration Process of ASEAN and the EU:
Sharing of Experience and Fostering Mutual Learning
ASEAN Secretariat, 6 June 2007
This year marks the 50th year anniversary of the EU, 40th anniversary of the founding of ASEAN and the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations. We are witnessing the maturity of the two regional organisations, following various paths of growth and developments over the last four to five decades. However, the historical, cultural and ideological foundations that encouraged the EU’s formation and created its character are different from ASEAN. From European Coal and Steel Union, to European Common Market, European Economic Community, and European Community and finally European Union, the path progressed for half a century. It is a gradual and steady institutional building which made Europe the way it is today.
ASEAN started without formal institutional setups and without formal legal framework. For years, the principles of non-interference and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member Countries, consensus decision-making and informality have played an important part in ASEAN’s modus operandi, necessary to promote trust and confidence for binding ten diverse countries in the region.
The differences between ASEAN and EU, however, do not prevent the two organisations to cooperate and work together for their common goals and objectives. Over the years, ASEAN-EU dialogue relations have been progressively strengthened and intensified. Cooperation and relations have expanded to cover political, economic, socio-cultural and development cooperation.
The consultations between the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) and the European Commission Trade Commissioner, first initiated in 2000 and which since have been held annually, have become the highest-level forum where trade policies and initiatives supportive of closer ASEAN-EU partnership are being discussed. ASEAN Senior Economic Officials (SEOM) also regularly meet twice a year with their counterparts from the European Commission. The decision to launch the ASEAN-EU FTA negotiation is a landmark decision to expand the existing trade and investment flows and to buttress the partnership
ASEAN remains an important conduit for the EU to engage Asia. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which is the most important and successful political and security forum in Asia Pacific, continues to feature prominently in the EU’s strategy for engaging the region as it provides a window for the EU to extend its political presence in the region. The EU’s intention to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and the recent successful outcome of the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) reflect a strong commitment of the EU to work with ASEAN to promote peace and security in the region.
ASEAN perceives the EU as a strong supporter of ASEAN regional integration. This is evidenced by ASEAN-EU cooperation in a number of areas, namely, Standards, Quality and Conformity Assessment, Intellectual Property Rights, Energy, Environment, Regional Integration Support, and Higher Education. The ASEAN Programme for Regional Integration Support (APRIS II), successor of APRIS I, that we officially launched yesterday is an important programme to support ASEAN’s efforts of intensifying the establishment of the ASEAN Community by 2015, and develop a partnership for regional integration.
With ASEAN determined to work towards an ASEAN Charter, the delegation of Eminent Persons Group on the ASEAN Charter visited Brussels in 2006 to meet with various EU’s experts and high-ranking officers to share experiences on the EU’s regional integration processes and institutional building. Later, the High Level Task Force (HLTF) to draft the ASEAN Charter also visited the EU. The HLTF has met a number of times to prepare the first draft of the Charter that will be submitted to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers at the end of July 2007. The plan is to get the Charter finalised and concluded at the ASEAN Summit in November 2007 in Singapore.
Although ASEAN will not be like the EU, the EU can certainly be a useful reference for ASEAN’s own integration and community building efforts. ASEAN can certainly learn from the integrated approach of the EU in developing its regional institutions and legal requirements to support the community.
This seminar, I believe, would provide ASEAN and the EU with an opportunity to share experiences on forging regionalism and on the part of ASEAN, to learn pitfalls and best practices of the EU and to adapt them to fit the ASEAN context.
I wish all the success and fruitful discussion.