ISSN 2330-717X

Interview With Igor Driesmans, EU Ambassador To ASEAN


EUAC: How has ASEAN coped with Covid-19? Are the ten members cooperating on travel bans, economic recovery, easing lockdowns, etc?

ID: I think it is important to emphasize just how unprecedented the challenge of COVID-19 has been for all countries and regions of the world. ASEAN, like the rest of us, has found itself in unchartered waters, and I believe they have done well to navigate their way through. The ASEAN Leaders held a successful COVID-19 Special Summit in April, which took place by videoconference – a first. The summit showed that ASEAN was ready to do more collectively, particularly in the areas of public health, essential medical supplies and social protection. Regarding post-pandemic action, the ASEAN Economic Ministers are due to meet virtually in June and are expected to discuss ways to support regional supply chains and coordinated economic recovery plans.

EUAC: How are the EU and ASEAN cooperating to support the multilateral system, eg WTO reform?

ID: With multilateralism and international collective action increasingly coming under strain, it is clear that Europe and Asia must work together to address global challenges such as climate change, rules-based trade and investment, and new security threats. Multilateral cooperation, with the UN at its core, is a cornerstone of the EU’s foreign policy. The EU encourages close contacts between ASEAN and EU countries sitting on the UNSC, and we support cooperation on areas of common interest such as the nexus between human rights, peace and security, and development. Another area of multilateral cooperation is non-proliferation, where the EU is working with Malaysia in support of its chairmanship of the Preparatory Committee the 2020 Non-Proliferation Review Conference. And both the EU as well as ASEAN share a commitment to preserving and strengthening an open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at its core. The EU and ASEAN also support the central role played by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in coordinating a global response to the COVID-19 crisis.

EUAC: How will trade and investment patterns between the EU and ASEAN be affected after Covid-19? Will ASEAN benefit from relocation of supply chains?

ID: The far-reaching disruptions caused by the current crisis have spurred talks between public and private sector representatives on the need to build more resilient supply chains. Much of this could depend upon increasing diversification and lowering overdependence on any one supplier. The EU and ASEAN are already closely linked within the global supply chain – the EU is the largest investor in ASEAN with FDI stocks of over 330 billion euros, and has become ASEAN’s second-largest trading partner. ASEAN countries can therefore expect to benefit from the trend towards diversification – particularly if the region maintains a good investment climate and continues to facilitate cross-border trade flows.

EUAC: How can the EU and ASEAN work together to boost connectivity? Any concrete examples?

ID: EU and ASEAN are the two most successful regional organisations in the world; these are not just my words but that of an ASEAN Foreign Minister. Connectivity is at the heart of our regional integration projects. Not surprising therefore we have much to share and are working together in all dimensions of connectivity. We are for example simplifying regional customs procedures with the mid-2020 launch of the ASEAN Customs Transit System (ACTS) under the EU ARISE+ programme. We hope to advance towards the early conclusion of the EU-ASEAN Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, which would be the first block-to-block open skies deal and that will bring benefits to both regions. We promote student mobility under the ERASMUS+ programme and credit recognition within the ASEAN region advanced under the EU-SHARE programme that has facilitated over 500 intra-ASEAN student exchanges since 2015. In addition, we facilitate sustainable financing for connectivity, for example by promoting private sector engagement through contributions to the ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Facility where the EU has provided 50 million euros.

EUAC: Is ASEAN a reliable partner for the EU in terms of climate change, the environment and sustainable development?

ID: Sustainable development is a guiding principle of EU-ASEAN cooperation, and both sides share a strong commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. The second ASEAN-EU Dialogue on Sustainable Development in February 2020 specifically focussed on climate change, green growth and green financing; regional integration in promoting inclusive growth and sustainable development; and gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. The EU holds regular dialogues with ASEAN Member States and the ASEAN Secretariat on climate mitigation, adaptation and finance, biodiversity, circular or zero-waste economy and low carbon development. We also cooperate across a wide range of initiatives, including using the EU Copernicus Remote Sensing for Climate Monitoring in AMS, management of peatlands, smart cities, more efficient use of resources, or the adaptation of fishing practices to the changing climate. But of course we can and must do more. The EU Green Deal is very ambitious and we look for partners around the world to help turn that ambition into reality. We hope therefore that we can deepen our partnership on climate change and environment in the coming months and years.

EUAC: How can the EU and ASEAN deepen their security cooperation?

ID: EU Foreign Ministers took a decision two years ago to strengthen security dialogue and cooperation with Asian countries. To do so, the EU deployed counter-terrorism advisors in Jakarta and Islamabad, who are now being joined by military advisors again in Jakarta and in Beijing. Last October we signed a Framework Participation Agreement with Vietnam, which allows it to participate in EU-led crisis management operations. This was the first FPA with in ASEAN and the second one in Asia, after the Republic of Korea. We are also about to launch an all-new 13,5 million euro programme of security cooperation in Asia with activities in four key areas – maritime, cyber, counter-terrorism and crisis management or peacekeeping. For now, this pilot covers Vietnam and Indonesia, but it aims to contribute to enhanced security across the ASEAN region. It will prepare the ground for ASEAN countries and the EU to jointly address common security concerns, for example by deepening cooperation with the peacekeeping centres in the region. And the EU’s ambition for deepening security cooperation also extends to our full participation in the ASEAN-led regional security architecture, notably as fully-fledged members of ADMM-Plus.

EUAC: will Covid-19 spur ASEAN to closer cooperation or will it be more of the same?

ID: I think this crisis will leave a lasting impact on ASEAN, the EU and many other regions of the world. The pandemic has clearly illustrated the value of international solidarity, and the undertakings of ASEAN Leaders at the Special Summit in April show that they are willing to engage in more and more concrete regional cooperation. Several of the agreed steps by ASEAN, such as setting up a regional reserve of medical supplies, developing standard procedures for public health emergencies or creating a COVID-19 Response Fund, are unprecedented. I hope that they will take us towards a post-pandemic world in which ASEAN, the EU and others work together to make sure that we are all better equipped to withstand future crises.

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The EU-Asia Centre aims to fill a void and establish itself as the leading, Brussels-based research policy think tank on EU-Asia relations, covering developments in Asia and relations between the EU and Asia.

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