In the end, it is simple. Europe needs Asia, and Asia needs Europe – not only as trading partners, but as friends and allies in a world where the geopolitical realities are changing fast, and where global threats and challenges endanger Asians and Europeans alike.
This is what is on my mind as I prepare for the EU-Asean Summit and the East Asia Summit in Manila.
After Britain’s referendum last year, rumours of the demise of the European Union were greatly exaggerated. Paradoxically, EU public approval ratings have sharply increased since. Brexit shows the benefits of EU membership more clearly than any public relations campaign ever could. The EU27 are conducting exit negotiations in a unified and well-organised manner, in a spirit of fairness toward Britain.
Whatever the outcome, the EU economy will continue expanding strongly, as it already is. A raft of ambitious new trade deals are being concluded with key partners, including with Singapore, Vietnam and Japan. In December, EU countries will cross the Rubicon in defense with a major new initiative on capabilities, security research and force projection. And we have brought under control a migration crisis far greater in scale than the Vietnamese boat crisis over 30 years ago. The European Union now looks outward and to the future with a renewed sense of confidence and optimism.
Central to this is our desire for a strategic partnership with Asia, in particular with Asean, a sister organisation committed – like us – to peace and regional integration and with which we are proudly celebrating 40 years of relations. The EU is Asean’s second largest trading partner and largest foreign investor. We seek to further open up trade and investment, year by year, eventually agreeing to an ambitious interregional framework that can set trading standards globally.
Few emerging economies are growing as fast as those of Asean. Europeans want to do what we can to ensure this impressive achievement is sustained long into the future and helps as many people as possible. That is why the EU is doubling development cooperation funds to support Asean integration and also devotes over 2 billion euros (Bt77 billion) in bilateral cooperation with all Asean countries.
EU countries also want to widen and deepen our relationship with Asean, based on mutual respect, common interests and shared values. Unfortunately, the world has become a more dangerous and unpredictable place in recent years. Rapidly evolving international realities require us to take counsel together and cooperate. Our leaders should talk more, and more frankly, and meet more often. A credible rules-based international order is vital for us both, whether we talk about trade, regional security or issues like climate change. Asean and the EU are rightly expanding our security cooperation from preventive diplomacy to conflict mediation and crisis management, from maritime security to transnational crime and counter-terrorism. This is sorely needed.
Forty years ago, Asian and European leaders took the prescient decision to establish the Asean-EU friendship. At the time, very few people understood that the EU would become the world’s largest market, or Asean its fastest growing group of economies. And almost no one foresaw threats like climate change, today’s brand of violent extremism, hybrid war or cybercrime. Yet the maturing Asean-EU relationship can now be used as a tool to help us tackle such challenges together. It can also help us both reap the huge opportunities that are also there in our rapidly changing world.
To that end, I am confident we will be celebrating soon the benefits of a working strategic partnership that fulfils the potential of our already rich political, security and economic relations and people-to-people contacts between our societies. I look forward to discussing this ambition in depth in Manila and to marking the significant milestone of four decades of productive and positive relations. Long may it continue. – Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN
Donald Tusk is president of the European Council, the highest decision-making body of the European Union.