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EU and ASEAN Move for a Bigger Deal

  • March 18th, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

asean-interior-resize.jpgThe powerful East-West bloc that European and South-east Asian Ministers are talking about might become a reality. Lee Duffield writes from Nuremburg.


European leaders set a priority on international security issues and trade, at the opening of a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the European Union, and the ASEAN group, at Nuremburg in Germany (14-15.3.07).

They also spoke of joint efforts on climate change, as a priority undertaking.

The host, the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told an opening ceremony that South-east Asia and the EU together would be a large and powerful force in world affairs.

Both would manage better as blocs of nations working than as individual countries, to deal with problems from terrorism, to trade and development, and environmental protection.

Those proposals were echoed on the other side.


The meeting of Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and the European Union is a biennial event but this time, at Nuremburg in Germany, the priority items had some urgency:

Their Nuremburg Declaration emphasised practical and intensified opening of trade; it committed Europe to a treaty agreement on peace-keeping in South-east Asia, and promised priority attention to collaboration on dealing with climate change.

The European side led off with proposals for much closer co-operation, outlining its claims for more free trade, and active relations on peace-keeping and security.

Dr Steinmeier, as European co-chairman chairman, said the European Union had become more visible and important in Asia, and could be a positive element there in both politics and economic development.

The two sides were “moving in the same direction” and it was natural for them to become closer partners.

Already the EU was discussing liberalised trade agreements with a number of individual ASEAN countries, as well as providing assistance in building up civil society.

Ministers from at least two, Indonesia and Laos, had talks with EU officials this week about signing more formal, direct co-operation agreements.

In the general gathering the two sides agreed to early negotiations, bloc-to-bloc, for liberalised trade relations following World Trade Organisation (WTO) prescriptions.

This would match the current ASEAN drive for a single market in its region by 2015.


Several of the Ministers talked in slightly awed terms of the great size of the enterprise they might create, considering population alone, each with over half-a-billion people.

“One billion people is something all of us have to think about,” said the ASEAN Secretary general, Ong Keng Yong.

“How to formulate ideas and policies for one billion people across such a diverse spectrum of culture, history and systems is not easy.”

The European High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Javier Solana, agreed there could well be transformation on the way.

“The number of people that we together are composing; the level of trade we are altogether participating in, in the world, is really very impressive,” he said.


The EU has signalled its wish to accede to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Co-operation (TAC), its main device for settling conflicts in its region, like disagreements over standards of governance or human rights.

Special legal processes are being organised to amend the treaty so this can happen with a largely expanded number of signatories.

So far there are 22, the ten ASEAN states and twelve others including Australia, China, France and India.


Australia signed in 2005 after an extended delay, wanting assurances it would not affect rights and obligations under other treaty arrangements.

Mr Ong said relations had progressed:

“Australia is a signatory and we have got quite a good vibe, so to speak between the two sides. Of course the issue of Myanmar and any other concerns like human rights and civil society engagements come up from time to time, and disturb the tranquillity of the relationship, but these are things which we can sit down and talk over in the spirit of our regional cooperation.; we have been able to discuss them and reach a certain understanding.”


The ASEAN co-chair, Cambodia’s Foreign Minister, Namhong Hor, said Europe would sign the TAC early, this year, either in Cambodia or Singapore.

He said agreement had been reached across the full range.

“We had very fruitful discussions on all these problems, and we share almost a common view on these problems,” he said.

“We consider the Nuremburg Declaration on ASEAN – EU enhanced co-operation … will be a milestone for relations, and broadly covers co-operation in many sectors: agriculture, security, the economy, and other fields, as industry, socio-cultural matters, environment and counter-terrorism.”

The European Union has changed much since signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, committing member countries to taking a joint stand on international issues.

Wherever it is negotiating trade and development issues it is bound now also bring in considerations of human rights, justice, governance standards and the issue of corruption.

This has affected development assistance programs where the EU has committed EU-80-million (nearly A$135;, 17.3.07).


The Cambodian Foreign Minister was asked by journalists about hold-ups in the process to put on trial, former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of committing crimes against humanity, in the nineteen-seventies.

He said Cambodian and international judges and prosecutors would hold a plenary discussion in April about rules for the tribunal; he was optimistic and did not expect there would be further long delay.

The Khmer Rouge tribunal was not discussed within the ASEAN – EU meeting.


Dr Steinmeier told the news media there had been “greater irritation” than in previous years in the human rights and governance field, because the army in THAILAND had taken over the state and set up a government.

He said Thai representatives had explained that they had a road-map for returning to democracy which would include drafting of a constitution, a referendum, and then elections before the end of this year.

He said European Ministers had expressed the desire that the roadmap would be adhered to.


However there was no such reassurance about Burma (Myanmar), where developments had been “anything but satisfactory”:

“The return to democracy which was promised is not visible and we will constantly do all we can to insist that human rights are properly respected, that political prisoners be released and the freedom of the media be properly respected,” he said.

Leaders from the South-east Asian bloc said they were continuing to speak with Burmese authorities about honouring agreed standards on human rights, and participating more in collective undertakings such as trade negotiations.

The Indonesian Foreign Minister, N. Hassan Wirajuda, said Burma’s ASEAN partners were frustrated over the country’s human rights position.


Representatives of the Indonesian government and the European Union agreed in a separate session, earlier last week, to intensify bilateral relations with a formal, comprehensive partnership and cooperation agreement.

The European side described Indonesia as a privileged partner of the European Union, which had made great progress with its own democratic reforms and also as a leader in international peacebuilding – through the United Nations Security Council, and in promoting dialogue among Moslem interests.

Mr Wirajuda said his country shared common democratic values with Europe and these had been demonstrated when they carried out a joint monitoring project, as part of the peace settlement in Indonesia’s Aceh province.


Representatives of both sides showed relief that their chief projects – about trade, peace-building, and climate protection – were not overshadowed by conflicts over political issues

The European Union, asking for help from South-east Asian countries in its new drive for action against climate change, said that project was linked to environmental protection.

There would be further collaboration on the environment including an extension of existing agreements to work against deforestation in Asia – and move to extensive reforestation.

A summit of EU heads of government on 9.3.07 launched a large sale drive against global warming, enforced by binding laws.

The core of it would be a drive to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide in Europe by 20%, by 2020; but the EU also called on other countries to join it, in working towards a cut of 30% by the deadline (EUAustralia, 8, 11, 12.3.07).
Footnote on security: In a tight security environment at Nuremburg questions were put by journalists at open sessions about talk of a security threat to the gathering. Organisers said they could provide no helpful information.

Picture: Scene at Nuremburg conference hall