After 44 years of formal partnership, ASEAN and the EU agreed to improve their relationship to a strategic partnership on December 1, 2020.
At first look, this may occasionally seem to be a very long time coming. In spite of everything, these two regional our bodies have been engaged in dialogue and agreements for a number of a long time, so it isn’t utterly sudden. But it’s also maybe a shock, provided that the thought of a strategic partnership has been much less on the radar lately.
The ASEAN-EU strategic partnership can finest be considered a consolidation of the present vary of cooperative preparations and shared targets, which is broad, commendable, and spectacular in comparison with earlier phases of the connection. These embody financial cooperation and the EU’s ongoing help for ASEAN integration, and cooperation on such points because the response to COVID-19, local weather change and inexperienced development, sustainable growth and connectivity, maritime cooperation, and cybersecurity.
Effectiveness is a key criterion for a profitable strategic partnership. Though the partnership could also be restricted in its potential to extend prospects for the EU to be a major actor within the Asia-Pacific, it could show to be efficient in attaining exact objectives for particular tasks.
So why a strategic partnership now? And what does a strategic partnership imply for future relations between the EU and ASEAN?
The Technique within the Strategic Partnership
There was little readability as to an EU definition of a strategic partnership. The EU’s strategic partnerships are heterogeneous in nature and have come about in an advert hoc vogue, demonstrating an absence of clear standards for them. Nonetheless, they’ve been an necessary inclusion within the EU’s international coverage notably because the 2003 European Safety Technique and the ASEAN-EU strategic partnership is a transparent signal that that is an ongoing coverage for the EU.
For many years the ASEAN-EU relationship was characterised as a donor-recipient engagement. That section could also be over, with the deepening of financial cooperation that laid the bottom for broader cooperation. But these two regional our bodies are nonetheless removed from successfully negotiating a free commerce settlement (FTA), defaulting to EU FTAs with particular person ASEAN states.
Regardless of this, the ASEAN-EU strategic partnership exhibits that they will work collectively. Regional integration help, together with the current ASEAN Customs Transit System, and the EU’s vary of integration help packages, the newest being the ASEAN Regional Integration Assist Program (ARISE Plus), are necessary elements of the connection. And there’s a sense that this strategic partnership could also be a real trailblazer for region-to-region excessive stage collaboration, which suggests there could also be no want for particular person strategic partnerships with states in Southeast Asia. In spite of everything, the EU doesn’t have any strategic partnerships with ASEAN member states, not like its strategic partnership’s with South Africa (a member of the African Union) and Brazil (a member of MERCOSUR).
When the ASEAN-EU strategic partnership was introduced, it was clear that it actually elevates the connection and commits them to summit-level conferences. This summitry is a key part of such partnerships. Nevertheless, up to now, there is no such thing as a particular doc outlining the connection. What are the motion factors for this strategic partnership? For instance, is it to be assumed that the present ASEAN-EU Motion Plan is the idea of the partnership?
The EU has known as for extra recognition of its affect and standing within the Asia-Pacific. It has constantly sought to play a job in ASEAN debates concerning its future and extra broadly within the Asia-Pacific safety structure. Observers will intently monitor if the strategic partnership will additional combine the EU into the regional structure in Southeast Asia. There may be, in fact, the looming query remaining over the EU’s need for membership in a key ASEAN-led summit within the area – the East Asia Summit.
The EU is searching for a safety position within the Asia-Pacific and a strategic partnership could be the framework for this enlargement of each its position and affect within the area, even when there may be little overt recognition of the EU as a safety participant within the area.
To this point, the sound and reliable relationship stays characterised by growth cooperation and financial help. But more durable discuss on the South China Sea by the EU helps to sharpen its safety position, or a minimum of its stances, within the area. EU establishments’ leaders are absolutely cognizant that Europe must transcend being merely a commerce actor within the area. It might be slowly getting there, and the strategic partnership might assist this.
A Query of Timing
It’s clear that the area has all of the sudden grew to become much more necessary strategically to the EU. It’s attention-grabbing timing that the strategic partnership was introduced quickly after the signing of a deal constituting the world’s largest free-trade zone – the Regional Complete Financial Partnership (RCEP), which brings collectively ASEAN and its particular person free commerce companions in Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.
RCEP is a political success for ASEAN, because it strengthens ASEAN centrality, rendering ASEAN an much more necessary associate for the EU, and enhancing ASEAN’s bargaining energy not solely with the EU, however within the area as a part of a plurilateral commerce bloc.
Present geopolitics might have additionally facilitated the lead-up to the strategic partnership. China’s actions within the South China Sea and the withdrawal of america – beneath former President Donald Trump – from multilateralism created a vacuum of multilateral and rules-based order help, which the EU and ASEAN may fill. It supplied the chance for the EU and ASEAN to tackle management roles they in any other case wouldn’t have been capable of. With the change of administrations in america, this chance could also be coming to an finish, so it was an opportune time to consolidate the EU-ASEAN relationship. But it could additionally show helpful within the adoption of widespread positions in dialogues with new U.S. President Joe Biden.
Lastly, the prevalence of transboundary points such because the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgency of local weather change has additionally rendered multilateral cooperation each crucial and pressing. These are concrete points the EU and ASEAN may use to anchor their SP.
Consolidating Inter-Regional Relations
For each the EU and ASEAN, a region-to-region strategic partnership bolsters the relevance of regional governance. But except navigated fastidiously, it could not do greater than show that regionalism is a sound method to some collective motion issues, whereas avoiding main challenges. The very fact stays that the EU and ASEAN will not be nice safety powers and they also might nicely discover that agreeing on non-traditional safety points – similar to COVID-19, counterterrorism initiatives, humanitarian help, water and meals security, and catastrophe administration – could also be a fruitful path ahead with this strategic partnership.
The strategic partnership already supplies a construction for exterior engagement. For the EU, even when current developments had pointed to a desire for bilateral engagement with Southeast Asian states, the worth of inter-regional collaboration and particular agreements is as soon as once more being delivered to the fore.
The strategic partnership additionally reinforces ASEAN’s broader technique with its exterior companions: It has added a regional group into the combination, and now that the EU is a strategic associate of ASEAN, its solely dialogue associate with out this standing is Canada. ASEAN’s different strategic companions are america, China, Russia, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
Not solely European and ASEAN observers, but additionally many within the Asia-Pacific area and those that search strategic partnerships with each the EU and ASEAN can pay shut consideration to see if this partnership will obtain even its modest objectives.
Laura Allison-Reumann is affiliate fellow on the EU Centre, Singapore and analysis fellow on the College of Melbourne.
Philomena Murray is Jean Monnet Chair advert personam and honorary professorial fellow on the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, the College of Melbourne. She is a analysis affiliate at UNU-CRIS, Bruges and visiting analysis fellow at Trinity Faculty Dublin.