Ursula Von Der Leyen’s Visit To The Philippines: Exploring Avenues In Renewed Partnership – Analysis


In 2023, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, undertook a visit to the Philippines to enhance the bilateral ties between the European Union and the Philippines. The visit of President von der Leyen marked a significant milestone as the first visit by a President of the European Commission to the Philippines. Notably, this visit coincided with the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the European Union and the Southeast Asian nation.

During her bilateral visit from July 30 to August 1, Ursula von der Leyen engaged in discussions with Marcos, including a range of topics of shared significance. These included trade, investment, climate change, human rights, regional security, and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, she engaged in a discussion with the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines and emphasized the prospects and obstacles associated with the green and digital transformations in both countries.

The bilateral trade volume between the EU and the Philippines in 2022 amounted to €18.4 billion. In 2021, the European Union’s foreign direct investment stock in the Philippines amounted to €13.7 billion. The bilateral trade volume between the EU and the Philippines had a notable growth of 32% in 2022, as compared to the preceding year of 2021. This significant rise may be attributed to the reestablishment of diplomatic and economic relations between the two nations. In July 2023, the EU and the Philippines expressed their mutual determination to recommence discussions about a free trade agreement (FTA).

This development has the potential to significantly enhance bilateral commerce and investment between the two entities. The European Union mostly exports machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, and food goods to the Philippines. Conversely, the Philippines predominantly exports telecommunications equipment, machinery, food items, and optical and photographic instruments to the EU. The Philippines benefits from improved trade advantages with the EU via the EU’s GSP+ initiative. This scheme provides the Philippines with the advantage of complete tariff elimination on around two-thirds of its product categories.

The visit has bolstered collaboration and assistance from the EU in tackling the many obstacles presented by climate change in the Philippines. These problems include catastrophe risk reduction, adaptation, and mitigation strategies, as well as environmental preservation efforts. The Philippines is widely recognized as being most susceptible to the adverse effects of global warming. In recognition of this vulnerability, the Philippines has made a firm commitment to mitigate the implications of climate change by significantly reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases. Specifically, the country has set a target to achieve a substantial reduction of 75% in its greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030.

The European Union and the Philippines exhibit a convergence of values and principles, including a commitment to a rules-based international order, the promotion of effective and sustainable multilateralism, and the advocacy for free and fair trade. The visit has geopolitical significance as it demonstrates the European Union’s keenness and active involvement in the Indo-Pacific region.

Additionally, it signifies the EU’s endorsement of the Philippines’ sovereignty and security amidst China’s forceful actions in the South China Sea. The EU’s acknowledgment of the strategic significance and prospective partnership with the Philippines is evident in this demonstration. The EU has also conveyed its apprehension over China’s military buildup and use of force in the maritime sphere, as well as its readiness to collaborate with similarly inclined nations to safeguard the principle of unrestricted passage.

The visit highlights many geopolitical dimensions that demonstrate the European Union’s dedication to redefining its strategies and influence in the Indo-Pacific area. Additionally, it demonstrates the EU’s unity with the Philippines in addressing shared obstacles. The visit may potentially influence China’s forceful behavior in the South China Sea, but it is improbable that it will fundamentally alter the dynamics of the ongoing issue. China may also have a vested interest in mitigating the likelihood of attracting further scrutiny and censure from the global community, particularly from the United States and its allied nations.

These countries have notably bolstered their involvement and support for the Philippines and other parties involved in territorial claims inside the South China Sea. Furthermore, this action serves as an indication that the Philippines is steadfast in its commitment to retain its sovereign rights and interests in the South China Sea while simultaneously pursuing a peaceful and legitimate settlement. The Philippines has reaffirmed its support of the 2016 arbitral decision, which rendered China’s claims invalid, and has expressed concern over China’s actions and presence in the disputed maritime areas.

The aforementioned visit does not conclusively demonstrate Marcos Jr.’s inclination towards the European Union, Western nations, or the United States. However, it shows that he is pursuing a foreign policy that is more pragmatic compared to that of his predecessor, Duterte. He has acknowledged the need to enhance the conventional defense capabilities of the Philippines and upgrade its military.

This endeavor also requires collaboration and support from the United States and other allied nations. Marcos Jr. has further endeavored to broaden the commercial and diplomatic ties of the Philippines with other nations and areas, including the European Union, Japan, Australia, India, and ASEAN. He also signed on to participate in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a trade agreement that encompasses several Western nations while excluding China. Additionally, he has expressed his support for the Global Gateway Strategy, an effort of the European Union aimed at building the infrastructure requirements of partner nations while simultaneously addressing pressing global issues such as climate change, healthcare systems, and the security of supply chains.

The recent visit has served to reinforce the dedication of both parties to effectively execute the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which establishes an augmented legal structure for mutual collaboration in political, social, and economic domains. The aforementioned sectors have significant importance within the framework of the EU-ASEAN Strategic Partnership since they are crucial in fostering sustainable connectivity and facilitating regional integration.

The purpose of Von der Leyen’s visit was to invigorate the alliance between the EU and the Philippines, which is founded upon mutual values and interests. This visit sought to identify fresh opportunities for collaboration within an evolving global landscape. The long-term economic impact of EC President Ursula’s visit to the Philippines has been substantial. Primarily, the establishment of new avenues for trade and investment between the EU and the Philippines has been seen. This development is particularly notable in sectors associated with green and digital transformation, including renewable energy, digital services, e-commerce, and innovation. Additionally, it is worth noting that the EU now has a prominent position as one of the Philippines’ primary economic partners and a significant source of foreign direct investment.

In conclusion, the visit has enhanced new opportunities for the EU and Philippines to collaborate in domains related to the Global Gateway Strategy while simultaneously tackling global issues such as climate change, healthcare systems, and supply chain security.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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