A key goal of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union has thus been achieved.
At the annual meeting of EU and ASEAN Foreign Ministers on 1 December 2020, the countries decided to upgrade relations between the two regional organisations to a Strategic Partnership. Europe and Southeast Asia are thus sending a clear signal of support for multilateralism. This means that 37 countries and 1.1 billion people are set to have even closer ties in the future. The EU and ASEAN make up 23 percent of global GDP. With the Strategic Partnership, a key goal of the Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union has been achieved. This is also a milestone with respect to the implementation of the German Government’s policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas emphasised the following:
The Strategic Partnership stands for our shared belief in multilateralism; no country should be forced to decide between two poles. And it stands for jointly advocating for common EU and ASEAN interests.
The Strategic Partnership stands for the European Union’s firm interest in intensifying its relations with ASEAN and its member states in a comprehensive way. This means more exchange at all levels – from civil society to Heads of Government.
In addition to the 37 Foreign Ministers from the EU and ASEAN countries, the High Representative of the EU and ASEAN’s Secretary General also attended the virtual meeting. Important items on the agenda included the joint efforts to overcome the COVID‑19 pandemic, strengthening multilateralism, the joint commitment to both a rules-based order and to climate and environmental protection, and the common interest in rules-based free trade.
Half a century of cooperation
ASEAN and the EU are natural partners as regional organisations as they share many interests and principles. EU-ASEAN relations stand for a common commitment to multilateralism, free trade and a rules-based order, as well as climate protection. The EU and ASEAN have enjoyed almost 50 years of cooperation, which is now set to take on a new strategic dimension. ASEAN is an extremely dynamic region with a young population, and is also an important trading partner for the EU. The EU successfully concluded free trade agreements with Singapore and Viet Nam in 2019 and 2020. The common goal is a free trade agreement between the EU and ASEAN, which would be the first interregional FTA worldwide. Both politically and geographically speaking, the ASEAN region lies at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, a region that is increasingly becoming the new global centre of gravity.
Strengthening the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific
The Strategic Partnership is also a key step towards implementing the policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific region adopted by the Federal Government in September – a forward-looking, strategic guide for shaping Germany’s foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific. The aim is to diversify and intensify relations both in and with the region, with ASEAN at its core. ASEAN is the most effective regional institution in the Indo-Pacific region and stands for peace, security and stability in Southeast Asia and beyond. Together with ASEAN, Germany is committed to an inclusive, multilateral world order in which international law applies, as opposed to the law of the strong. Another focus of cooperation is tackling climate change and rising sea levels, which are having a particularly great impact on Southeast Asia.