On December 14, European Union and ASEAN leaders gathered in Brussels to celebrate 45 years of partnership between the world’s two most successful projects of regional integration. This is a natural partnership, based on shared support for the UN Charter, a rules based international order and sustainable multilateralism, as well as on a fruitful dialogue on the most pressing international and regional issues and a multifaceted cooperation, aimed at common benefit and global prosperity.
The European Union recognizes the centrality of ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific region, as political relevance, economic dynamism and demographic weight make South East Asian countries key players in shaping the international order and in addressing global challenges – and, increasingly, as key strategic interlocutors for the EU. The elevation of EU-ASEAN relations to a Strategic Partnership in December 2020, followed by the adoption of the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in 2021, confirm the growing interest by the EU to increase its presence in this part of the world, for constructive engagement and fruitful partnership, contributing to security, growth and prosperity in the region.
While global stability is at stake, with Russia’s unprovoked and unjustifiable war of aggression against Ukraine, the deepening crisis in Myanmar and ongoing tensions in the Indo-Pacific area, the EU is ready to engage as a constructive dialogue partner, seeking to join ASEAN-led security mechanisms, including the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM plus), a platform for ASEAN and Dialogue Partners to strengthen security and defence cooperation and promote peace and stability. The EU is already successfully engaging in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and participated in the EAS and ADMM plus as Guest of the Chair this year.
Over recent decades, the EU and ASEAN have become major economic partners. In 2021, the EU was ASEAN’s third largest trading partner, accounting for around 10.6% of ASEAN trade and ASEAN as a whole represented the EU’s third trading partner outside Europe. In the same year, the EU became the second biggest investor in ASEAN, while ASEAN investment in Europe has been growing steadily, to over 144 billion Euro in 2019. The EU aims at consolidating its presence in the region, as a partner for sustainable and equitable growth and development.
Enhancing political and economic dialogue through the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement
On 14 December 2022, in the context of the EU-ASEAN Commemorative Summit, the EU and Thailand signed the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). This represents reaching a new level in our bilateral relations. The PCA is part of the EU policy of strengthening bilateral relations with individual countries of the region, in addition to with the Association of South East Asian Nations as a whole.
The PCA will give EU-Thailand relations a new and more comprehensive and up-to-date legal foundation and will govern overall relations between the EU and Thailand, paving the way for enhancing political, regional and global cooperation between two like-minded partners, sharing universal values enshrined in the UN Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Thailand was one of the first subscribers. The new framework will entail practical benefits for both sides, promoting political dialogue on issues of global concern and providing more scope for a mutually-beneficial cooperation in areas including trade, environment, energy, climate change, transport, science and technology, culture and education, agriculture, employment and social affairs, human rights, migration, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, the fight against corruption and organised crime. It will provide a roadmap, which will positively frame EU-Thai relations in the years to come.
This agreement confirms the EU’s commitment to contribute to regional stability, security, and sustainable development, in line with international law and the principle of mutual benefit, as well as to step up the dialogue and cooperation with Thailand as a relevant partner in the South East Asian region. While we are celebrating 45 years of prosperous cooperation, we look forward to many more decades of fruitful partnership, for the benefit of our peoples.
The author is the Ambassador of the European Union to Thailand.