The European Union (EU) and ASEAN are the most highly integrated regional organizations. While the EU may have served as an inspiration for Southeast Asian integration, it is clear that the “ASEAN way” will be different. ASEAN unites countries with very different historical, social and political backgrounds.

And despite the general dynamism in Southeast Asia, there is still a considerable “development gap“ between highly and less developed ASEAN member states. But ASEAN has made decisive steps forward towards its integration. This is probably most palpable in the economic sphere. There can be no doubt that ASEAN will eventually reach its goal of a common market.

The ASEAN Charter has been a milestone on the way forward. The values it stresses most are cherished equally in Europe and Southeast Asia. The ASEAN Charter is a point of reference for the implementation of democracy, good governance and the rule of law, and for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

A direct result of this commitment was the creation of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in 2009. It certainly is no secret that we hope to see a strong and effective AICHR with real influence throughout ASEAN.

Looking at the recent informal meeting of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers I cannot but concur with the ASEAN Secretary General Dr Surin Pitsuwan that the result bears a historic dimension and pay tribute to the successful diplomatic efforts by the Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr. Marty Natalegawa.

In this test case of settlement of disputes, ASEAN has so far lived up to its standards in promoting peace and stability. Hopefully, the frame set by ASEAN will lead the two conflicting parties, Thailand and Cambodia, to reach a peaceful and lasting solution.

EU-ASEAN cooperation dates back to the 1970s. Germany has been an engine for this regional cooperation. In the early phase, former German Foreign Minister Genscher was very active, if not visionary. During the German EU-Presidency in 2007, EU-ASEAN cooperation received another push forward by the Nuremberg Declaration on Enhanced Partnership. While the partnership between the two regional organizations is certainly mature, there is still ample room for improvement in the form of “win-win” opportunities.

With a trade balance of 118 billion euro, the EU is ASEAN’s second largest trading partner after China, while ASEAN ranks fifth for the EU. ASEAN has concluded free trade agreements (FTAs) with all its important dialogue partners, but not the EU.

Because we recognize that an EU-ASEAN FTA may not be attainable for the time being — a goal that we nevertheless do not want to relinquish — we are interested in the early conclusion of FTAs with individual partners. Negotiations started with Singapore in March and with Malaysia in October 2010. We hope that Vietnam and Thailand will follow suit soon. “Win-win” situations is what we aim for.
Difficulties and differences of interest must be overcome.

The main hurdles include non-tariff barriers, the opening up of service sectors such as banking, financing and insurance to foreign investment, “negative lists” which partially or entirely exclude foreign enterprises from sectors like telecommunications, transport, logistics or pharmaceuticals etc.

In the end, both regions will profit from enhanced trade and market interaction.

Another aspect of EU-ASEAN cooperation concerns Asia’s regional architecture. The EU recognizes ASEAN’s central role in East Asian regional forums and organizations. Taking Russia and the USA aboard in the East Asia Summit (EAS) and in the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus is proof of ASEAN’s regional stature.

As a long-time Dialogue Partner of ASEAN, the EU has persistently shown great interest in the region.

It is no secret that the EU — which certainly has much to offer — would wish to join forums that foster peace and stability in the region, such as the EAS. –Werner Hoyer, Berlin, Jakarta Post