Celebrating a budding friendship

Hakim Hayat

The annual cooperation report, the sixth edition of the EU-ASEAN Blue Book 2021 was launched via video conference on May 7, capturing the growing European Union-ASEAN partnership in multifaceted areas of cooperation.

The Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi and the EU Ambassador to ASEAN Igor Driesmans launched the annual cooperation report.

The book highlights EU-ASEAN cooperation in political, security, economic, and socio-cultural areas as well as focusses on efforts in advancing green growth and addressing the global challenge of climate change.

“This year, we celebrate the 44th year of EU-ASEAN partnership. This sixth edition of the EU-ASEAN Blue Book demonstrates the resilience, the importance, and the relevance of our partnership in the new global context but also for the lives of our citizens,” said the EU Ambassador to ASEAN.

The Secretary-General of ASEAN said, “As the world’s two most important and successful regional organisations, the ASEAN-EU relationship has witnessed a significant growth in its multifaceted cooperation, as guided by the ASEAN-EU Plan of Action.”

The Blue Book has served as a useful repository of the wide array of ASEAN-EU cooperation projects over the years. Its name is also particularly fitting as blue is a common colour of both the EU and ASEAN flags.

Flags of European Union and ASEAN member countries wave in front of Nuremberg’s congress centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany. PHOTO: AFP

The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the need for increased cooperation and solidarity. The EU and its member states’ joint efforts, ‘Team Europe’, have dedicated EUR 800 million to support ASEAN’s pandemic response and recovery efforts.

Team Europe is also currently the second largest contributor to the COVAX Facility with EUR2.2 billion to ensure fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all. The newly launched publication is available to download online for free from https://eeas.europa.eu/.

The publication highlights recent EU-ASEAN cooperation including: the launch of the ASEAN Customs Transit System by ASEAN and EU flagship cooperation programme, ARISE Plus, to facilitate cross-border trade; adoption of a cooperation framework for the ASEAN Network for Combatting Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing during the 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture and Forestry with the EU’s Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument (E-READI) facilitating the two preceding dialogues; in the near future, kick off support for Smart Green ASEAN Cities and continuation of the joint work towards an ASEAN brand scholarship scheme; the launch of ASEAN-wide operational guidelines for the aviation industry by ARISE Plus; support to the safe and fair programme to ensure services to women migrant workers remain accessible during the pandemic; and the extension of the EU Support to Higher Education in ASEAN Region (SHARE) programme to support intra-ASEAN student mobility and harmonisation of ASEAN higher education.

Last year, an exciting milestone in EU-ASEAN’s long-standing partnership was achieved when both blocs became strategic partners based on shared values of effective multilateralism and rules-based international order.

Regular summits at leaders’ level will strengthen ties, promoting fair and free trade, sustainable connectivity, and peace and security.

According to the EU Ambassador to ASEAN, on cooperation to combat COVID-19, they will continue expert dialogue on vaccine security and work together to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines.

To build back better, EU-ASEAN’s flagship cooperation programmes facilitated cross border trade through a new electronic ASEAN Customs Transit System, promoted the exchange of knowledge and experiences, and continued efforts to conserve ASEAN’s rich biodiversity and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Both sides also launched new programmes on disaster management and resilience, reducing illegal logging and strengthening sustainable forest management.

This year, EU-ASEAN will kick off support for Smart Green ASEAN Cities and continue our work towards an ASEAN brand scholarship scheme. ‘Team Europe’ will explore future opportunities for cooperation that can help us jointly address the global challenges of climate change and reap the benefits of connectivity and digitalisation.

The EU Ambassador to ASEAN highlighted that both sides have come so far as partner regions, having stepped up their relations to strategic economic, political, development, and security cooperation.

“These advances should ultimately serve one purpose – making a positive change in the lives of the people of Europe and Southeast Asia.”