JAKARTA, Oct 14 (Bernama) — Have you ever wondered how convenient it will be to travel to your neighbouring countries without passports and while there, spend using the same currency that you use back home?
While this may sound far fetched, this is what people in Europe are doing after the different nations in the region came under the European Union (EU), an economic and political union of 27 European nations.
Closer to home, Asean leaders have been harbouring high hopes that the 10 nation grouping will one day realise a similar setup to EU, the Asean Community (AC).
However, is this just another pipe dream especially when many Asean member nations lack the will to ratify a number of conventions towards greater integration?
Despite the reservations, Asean diplomats and their EU counterparts believe the AC is achievable and the ball has already started rolling with the ratification of the Asean Charter on Dec 15, 2008.
Realising the urgent need to engage the people of the region in achieving the AC vision, the Asean secretariat in Jakarta sought the assistance of the region’s media practitioners during a two-day workshop on Asean-EU relationship.
The workshop provided greater exposure on the ongoing efforts of the Asean Secretariat in adopting some of EU’s successful formula and stories, in achieving greater integration among Asean nations and its people.
LESSONS FROM EU
The Deputy Secretary-General of Asean Community and Corporate Affairs Bagas Hapsoro said that there were many things to learn from EU and its member states.
“What EU has achieved so far is not something achieved overnight and we at Asean secretariat strongly believe that we can learn from their experience of how countries that are politically, economically and socially diverse can be integrated as a single entity as what we witness today,” said Bagas responding to a question posed by a journalist at the two-day workshop.
“We are not going to adopt in total whatever policies or mechanism of EU, we just want to share their experiences and come up with our own mechanism and policies in ensuring that Asean remain as a strong regional organisation,” stressed Bagas.
For record, currently EU’s total population is estimated at 500 million compared with Asean at 592 million and the EU GDP per capita stands at 26,000 euro compared with Asean standing at 1,800 euro.
The EU has developed a single market through a standardised system of laws which apply in all member states and ensures the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. Sixteen member states have adopted a common currency, the euro, constituting the euro zone.
The special adviser to the EU delegation in Indonesia Jan-Willem Blanket noted that Asean needs more attention from EU and added that EU could play a crucial role in realising AC as early as 2015.
“The flow of trade and people among Asean’s 10 member states should be worked out in more detail and we are already seeing some results towards this with cheaper rice, this is not possible without greater integration of Asean,” noted Jan-Willem.
TAKING THE AC INSPIRATION TO THE PEOPLE
The Indonesian Foreign Ministry’s Director-general for Asean-Indonesia Ddjauhari Oratmangun noted that: “We need to engage with people of our respective countries, in Indonesia we will be holding road shows at major cities, we bring Asean to the people by showcasing how the Asean Community 2015 blueprint is to benefit them.
However, he agreed that member countries also need to look into “external factors” and greater political commitment in tackling whatever outstanding issues including border disputes.
“Even though we can’t simply neglect out internal agendas, we need to do more work to achieve what we intend to in Asean by 2015,” he added.
On the other hand, Malaysia’s Permanent Representative to Asean Datuk Hsu King Bee noted greater political will and more funding are needed to strengthen further the Asean secretariat.
She said EU has nearly 27,000 staff attached with its secretariat but the Asean secretariat is under funded and employs less than 300 staff.
“To achieve what is stated in the blueprint of Asean Community by 2015, we require better resources and funding.”
“At the moment most member countries need to look at their national challenges, before they can look at the blue print,” pointed out Hsu.
JOURNALIST VIEW ON AC
Meanwhile, senior journalist Don Pathan of The Nation daily in Thailand stressed on the need to translate the diplomatic language into a simpler language that gives the true picture to the common people.
“Its totally different situation from what was being said by most of the Asean diplomats on the ambitious target of Asean Community by 2015, where the reality on the ground is different.”
“In some countries, you reach certain point (conflict zones) where guns are being pointed at you,” added Don.
The Asia correspondent for the Frankfurter Allemeine Zeitung (FAZ) daily published in Frankfurt, Germany, Jochen Buchsteiner told participants of the workshop that while he noted Asean making some progress towards realising AC, it is not really there yet.
Buchsteiner pointed out the Europeans in general are still not fully aware how important the Asean region is.
Meanwhile the Associate Editor of The Star daily in Malaysia Bunn Nagara concurred on the urgent need to inform the people of Asean on policies and challenges faced by countries of the region.
“Media in Asean, generally lack understanding on Asean and even Malaysian media practitioners do not give good coverage on diplomatic issues of the region.
IN THE BIGGER PICTURE
The Head of EU delegation in Indonesia Julian Wilson said in 25 years time, EU will be the largest exporter to Asean.
He said the road towards greater partnership of EU-Asean already started with European banks channeling almost 5 billion euro to the region since the past two years.
“EU-Asean partnership in the next 25 years will help the region to emerge as a respectable economic power in the world, where some 800 million people of Asean could benefit from it,” said Wilson.
He said with greater integration of Asean, member countries should also look into a single currency which he believes is achievable by 2035.
“AC will equally allay the increasing global concerns over China and India that are emerging as new economic powers in this part of the world,” added Wilson. – BERNAMA, M.Santhiran
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