Intensifying ties to ASEAN
Foreign Minister Westerwelle has spoken out in favour of closer cooperation between the EU and ASEAN. Speaking in Brunei, where the Foreign Ministers from the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were meeting on 26 and 27 April, he emphasized the particular importance of relaunching negotiations about a free trade agreement.
The family photo taken at the EU-ASEAN meeting
Westerwelle declared that EU-ASEAN cooperation had enormous potential. Notwithstanding the two regions’ already dense network of economic relations, he announced the intention “to continue developing that network even further”. What this would require, he said, was negotiations for a free trade agreement and closer cooperation in the field of human rights.
Westerwelle described the ASEAN countries’ economic success in recent years as “impressive”, elaborating that “this is a good place to witness the shifting balance taking place on the world stage”. There had long been a host of “states positioned just outside of the limelight”, he said, “which have been becoming breathtaking economic success stories”.
ASEAN was founded in 1967 and today comprises the following ten member states: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.
Structural reform in Asia and Europe
Minister Westerwelle with ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan
On the subject of Europe’s current debt crisis, Westerwelle drew parallels between Europe now and the ASEAN countries in the 1990s, which overcame their debt crisis by means of structural reform. The Minister used the conference to urge people to have confidence in Europe and outlined the steps being taken to defeat the debt crisis. He reported that the EU had laid the right foundations and was in a position to continue building its success.
If international investment – from the ASEAN countries, for example – was to be drawn to Europe, it had to be made clear that Europe had the “will to make it”, Westerwelle said. “We are not an old continent,” he stated, “We are a continent with a very bright future; we just need to respond correctly to a changing world.”
The history of these regular Ministerial Meetings goes back to 1978. They are attended by the Foreign Ministers, the ASEAN Secretariat and the European Commission, and the last one was held in Madrid in May 2010. ASEAN enjoys close economic ties with the European Union as well as Germany individually. On the political level, too, ASEAN is playing an increasingly active role and is contributing to peace and stability in the region. One example is the organization’s recent mediation efforts in the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. ASEAN has also been playing its part in Myanmar’s process of reform.
Support for Myanmar’s policy of reform
Aung San Suu Kyi surrounded by supporters
Following the EU-ASEAN meeting, Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s journey takes him on to Thailand and Myanmar. Recent developments there were on the agenda at the Foreign Ministers Meeting. Westerwelle afterwards relayed the relief that had greeted Myanmar’s introduction of a reform policy. The ASEAN countries also welcomed the EU’s recent decision to suspend the sanctions it had imposed on Myanmar. “We hope that they will soon be superfluous,” Westerwelle said, adding that this would however depend on the reform policy lasting.
While in Myanmar, Westerwelle is scheduled to meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Thein Sein and Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, as well as representatives of civil society. His visit is intended as a sign of encouragement and support for the cautious path of democratic reform, including dialogue with the Opposition, which the Government there has been pursuing since the end of 2010. For Westerwelle’s time in Thailand, there are plans for meetings with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Last updated 27.04.2012