Sat, 12 Mar 2005

The ASEAN-EU Partnership

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Jakarta

Today Indonesia is hosting the 15th regular meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the European Union (EU) and of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). It takes place barely three months after the worst natural disaster of recent history took hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed the livelihoods of millions in coastal areas throughout the Indian Ocean.

Our solidarity in dealing with the aftermath of the tsunamis will be uppermost in my mind as I begin my visit to Indonesia. Now that the immediate emergency needs have been met and the world's media has turned its attention elsewhere, there is a danger that the needs of the survivors are forgotten and the generous promises of funding are ignored. But my EU colleagues and I will not allow that to happen. Years of hard work lie ahead, and our commitment to this region is long term.

On Friday I will travel to Aceh and see with my own eyes the devastation this catastrophe has wreaked upon the coastal communities there. I will listen to survivors to learn what their needs are for rebuilding their lives.

The European Commission has already mobilized humanitarian aid worth 45 million euro for Indonesia, out of a total of 123 million euro of emergency assistance for the entire affected region. As we enter the reconstruction phase, I shall use my visit to consult with the Indonesian government, and the people I meet in Aceh, to ensure that we spend our reconstruction assistance for Indonesia - some 200 million euro - in ways that meet their needs.

This will also be the occasion to share information with my ASEAN colleagues on our 350 million euro reconstruction package for tsunami affected areas in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. But there is much else I want to achieve. Due to globalization, we face many of the same challenges and must find common ways of dealing with them.

We have important work to do in keeping up the momentum in our partnership, going beyond our traditional economic and development cooperation to include human rights, counter- terrorism, migration, science and technology, and trans-national crime. We have already made some progress, such as beginning negotiations for new co-operation agreements; setting up mechanisms for regional dialogue; and starting cooperation in counter-terrorism. Yet there is still much unfulfilled potential in our relationship.

The events of the last few years have put security at the top of everyone's agenda. The EU believes that the right approach is to tackle the root causes of the instability and new threats which face us. That has given renewed impetus to our commitment to reduce poverty and to lessen the gap between the richest and the poorest. We know that ASEAN shares this commitment and we will continue to offer our support by targeting our substantial aid programs on the poorest.

Regional stability is also key to any serious attempt to tackle the threats posed by terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and rogue states. The work of the ASEAN Regional Forum, the only Asia-wide security organization, is of immense significance, both for the region and for the wider world. Such international cooperation is vital and we must look at how our two regions can do more together.

The EU believes that respecting democracy, human rights and the rule of law is crucial for attaining any lasting security and prosperity. We cannot condone those countries where these values are not respected, not only as a matter of principle, but also because we consider such countries to be serious security threats.

I am deeply saddened by the situation in Myanmar. There have been encouraging strides toward deeper democracy across the region, led by the unprecedented, peaceful and democratic elections of 2004 held in Indonesia, but also in Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. To my dismay the junta in Myanmar seems content to remain an exception to this trend. I regret that this issue still casts a shadow over EU-ASEAN relations.

It is no secret that the EU views regional integration as one of the keys to dealing with the challenges we face. This belief stems from its own identity as an organization created to bind together former foes, making war between them unthinkable. We promote such integration elsewhere in the world because we are convinced it brings enormous economic and security benefits. Of course, every region will have its own model, but as ASEAN prepares itself for the establishment of the ASEAN Community by 2020, we would be delighted to offer you our experience.

The basis for our relations remains firm. EU companies are the biggest investors in ASEAN, and the EU is ASEAN's third largest trading partner. As I begin my visit to Indonesia and participate in the first EU-ASEAN meeting of my mandate, I am confident that we have a bright future ahead. No matter what disasters this globalised world throws at us, we will face them in solidarity, and be the stronger for it.

The writer is European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy.