Does the EU miss out on the Asian Century? What’s at stake in EU-ASEAN relations

Does the EU miss out on the Asian Century? What’s at stake in EU-ASEAN relations

Following the ambitious online workshop of IFAIR on EU-ASEAN perceptions by students and young professionals from eight countries in Europa and Asia, at the concluding event in Berlin Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel, Dr. Thomas Gambke, MP, Imke Pente, Dr. Siswo Pramono and Kilian Spandler discussed the findings and recommendations suggested in the group’s policy paper ‘Unlocking the Potential of Interregionalism: Mutual Perceptions and Interests in EU-ASEAN Relations’ [read it here].

Following the ambitious online workshop of IFAIR on EU-ASEAN perceptions by students and young professionals from eight countries in Europa and Asia, at the concluding event in Berlin Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel, Dr. Thomas Gambke, MP, Imke Pente, Dr. Siswo Pramono and Kilian Spandler discussed the findings and recommendations suggested in the group’s policy paper ‘Unlocking the Potential of Interregionalism: Mutual Perceptions and Interests in EU-ASEAN Relations’ [read it here].

Nelly Stratieva, member of the IFAIR ‘EU-ASEAN Perspectives’ project and one of four authors of the policy paper, opened the conference with her remarks on the current state of EU engagement in Southeast Asia. She argued that, even though progress in comprehensive cooperation agreements and free trade promotion was disappointing, the EU was very active in ASEAN. A multitude of issue-specific projects testified to this commitment. However, according to Stratieva, the successes of EU-ASEAN cooperation often go unnoticed among the public because of a general lack of mutual awareness between both regions.

Based on these introductory remarks, the panelists discussed what’s at stake in EU-ASEAN relations: Dr. Siswo Pramono, Chargé d’affaires ad interim at the Indonesian Embassy to Germany, Dr. Thomas Gambke, Member of German Parliament and Chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentary Friendship Group, Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel, head of the Research College (KFG) ‘The Transformative Power of Europe’ at Free University Berlin and Imke Pente, PhD-student at the KFG and member of the IFAIR ‘EU-ASEAN Perspectives’-project exchanged their views on the topic.

Panelists discussion EU-ASEAN relationsThe panelists (Imke Pente, Dr. Siswo Pramano, Kilian Spandler, Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel, Dr. Thomas Gambke, l to r) discuss EU-ASEAN relations

Moderated by Kilian Spandler from IFAIR, the panel picked up on Stratieva’s argument that, while the EU is pretty active in the region, it suffers from a visibility problem – an assessment shared by the discussants. Dr. Pramono pointed out that the Southeast Asian states had a realist outlook on international relations with a focus on nation-states, and that the hybrid character of the European Union does not fit easily in this perspective. This was mirrored in Dr. Gambke’s remarks, who said that he continuously tried to convince his counterparts from ASEAN countries that the interconnectedness of German and EU policies actually is a benefit and not an obstacle for Southeast Asian policy-makers because it provides them with access to decision-making centers on various levels. Prof. Börzel stressed that, for a long time, ASEAN explicitly rejected the European model of integration with its high level of formal centralization of competences. In her opinion, the primary attractiveness of the EU for regions like Southeast Asia lies in its ability to provide solutions for specific problems, not in its particular mode of integration as such. In Pente’s view, the EU’s relations with ASEAN used to be complicated by issues such as the human rights record of Myanmar, which have impeded the formalization and intensification of cooperation with ASEAN as a group. However, with the lifting of the sanctions against Myanmar and ASEAN developing more substantial forms of integration, EU policy-makers need to acknowledge the huge potential that lies in interregional cooperation.

The lively debate that followed these opening remarks centered on the roles the EU and ASEAN ascribe to each other.

In this, the participants stressed that one has to keep in mind the difference of both entities and regional settings: Dr. Pramono stated that the EU cannot serve as a simple model for ASEAN. Both regions differ in their very basic institutional set-up. The European concept of borders was e.g. only introduced by the colonial powers and henceforth competed with the South East Asian concept of loyalty. Still, ASEAN is looking out for best practices from various regional organizations on the globe. Dr. Gambke added that the very heterogeneous stages of political development in the region have to be taken into account when transferring policies – as only two ASEAN member states, Indonesia and the Philippines, can be counted as stable democracies.

SONY DSCProf. Dr. Tanja Börzel and Dr. Thomas Gambke, MP

In the following, the panel focused on the EU-policy towards ASEAN. Spandler raised interest to potential conflicts of interests in the EU’s parallel pursuit of trade and the democracy promotion vis-à-vis its partner region. Prof. Börzel  rejected the view that this was a zero-sum game, pointing to  German history as an illustration: Just as in the critical engagement policy of the German ‘Ostpolitik’ under the West German chancellor Willy Brandt, the EU can combine economic and political interests. In fact, the EU never terminated relations to ASEAN states due to concerns with their conditionality policy while still pressing for political reforms. One has to keep in mind, according to Börzel, that democracy promotion is worthwhile in the long run for all sides – while there might not be a direct correlation of democracy and good governance, there seems to be a stable relationship between democracy and public goods provision. Pente added that the European Union has its own human rights issues to solve: Not only the situation at Europe’s borders and the EU migration policy, but as well the human rights situation in some member states threatens the credibility of the EU as a normative actor.

SONY DSCDr. Pramano and Kilian Spandler

Finally, the panelists discussed what the EU can actually learn from ASEAN: As Prof. Börzel highlighted, the EU traditionally has a very outgoing perspective and not been very willing to draw lessons from elsewhere. However, the EU should take a closer look at the regional monetary governance that evolved in Latin American and Asian in response to the financial crises in the 1980s and 1990s. Dr. Gambke raised the issue of subsidiarity which is a central paradigm in ASEAN – the EU must learn that centralization is no pathway to better outcomes in all policy fields. Dr. Pramono added that the way ASEAN is respecting the common ground of ASEAN members could serve as best practice – similiarly, Pente argued that the EU often fails to speak with a single voice which is a crucial principle in ASEAN. Although this oftentimes results in lowest common denominator positions in ASEAN, the EU member states have to voice their opinions in a more coherent manner if the EU is not meant to be perceived as a political dwarf.

Concluding the debate, the panelists agreed that EU-ASEAN relations bear remarkable economic and political opportunities for both regions. Especially the actors in the EU should not get trapped in a fear of the Asian economic rise and the following zero-sum arguments voiced in the discussion on the US-EU free trade agreement. Besides the economic realm, the EU should launch a debate about its political role in the region. If it seeks to do so, the EU and its member states should develop a cohesive strategy on ASEAN and implement it in a coordinated manner.

SONY DSCThe audience discusses with the panelists

Overall, while the actual degree of the power shift towards Asia  was put into question – Prof. Börzel referred to the heterogeneity of the continent and its lacking common vision – the 70 participants in the room took a clear stance: 63% agreed that the EU does indeed miss out on a potential Asian Century.

SONY DSCNelly Stratieva, member of the IFAIR Impact Group, hands over the group’s policy paper to Dr. Pramano.

by Lukas Rudolph, Kilian Spandler, Imke Pente and Nelly Stratieva for the IFAIR Impact Group “EU-ASEAN Perspectives”

Nelly Stratieva, member of the IFAIR ‘EU-ASEAN Perspectives’ project and one of four authors of the policy paper, opened the conference with her remarks on the current state of EU engagement in Southeast Asia. She argued that, even though progress in comprehensive cooperation agreements and free trade promotion was disappointing, the EU was very active in ASEAN. A multitude of issue-specific projects testified to this commitment. However, according to Stratieva, the successes of EU-ASEAN cooperation often go unnoticed among the public because of a general lack of mutual awareness between both regions.

Based on these introductory remarks, the panelists discussed what’s at stake in EU-ASEAN relations: Dr. Siswo Pramono, Chargé d’affaires ad interim at the Indonesian Embassy to Germany, Dr. Thomas Gambke, Member of German Parliament and Chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentary Friendship Group, Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel, head of the Research College (KFG) ‘The Transformative Power of Europe’ at Free University Berlin and Imke Pente, PhD-student at the KFG and member of the IFAIR ‘EU-ASEAN Perspectives’-project exchanged their views on the topic.

Panelists discussion EU-ASEAN relationsThe panelists (Imke Pente, Dr. Siswo Pramano, Kilian Spandler, Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel, Dr. Thomas Gambke, l to r) discuss EU-ASEAN relations

Moderated by Kilian Spandler from IFAIR, the panel picked up on Stratieva’s argument that, while the EU is pretty active in the region, it suffers from a visibility problem – an assessment shared by the discussants. Dr. Pramono pointed out that the Southeast Asian states had a realist outlook on international relations with a focus on nation-states, and that the hybrid character of the European Union does not fit easily in this perspective. This was mirrored in Dr. Gambke’s remarks, who said that he continuously tried to convince his counterparts from ASEAN countries that the interconnectedness of German and EU policies actually is a benefit and not an obstacle for Southeast Asian policy-makers because it provides them with access to decision-making centers on various levels. Prof. Börzel stressed that, for a long time, ASEAN explicitly rejected the European model of integration with its high level of formal centralization of competences. In her opinion, the primary attractiveness of the EU for regions like Southeast Asia lies in its ability to provide solutions for specific problems, not in its particular mode of integration as such. In Pente’s view, the EU’s relations with ASEAN used to be complicated by issues such as the human rights record of Myanmar, which have impeded the formalization and intensification of cooperation with ASEAN as a group. However, with the lifting of the sanctions against Myanmar and ASEAN developing more substantial forms of integration, EU policy-makers need to acknowledge the huge potential that lies in interregional cooperation.

The lively debate that followed these opening remarks centered on the roles the EU and ASEAN ascribe to each other.

In this, the participants stressed that one has to keep in mind the difference of both entities and regional settings: Dr. Pramono stated that the EU cannot serve as a simple model for ASEAN. Both regions differ in their very basic institutional set-up. The European concept of borders was e.g. only introduced by the colonial powers and henceforth competed with the South East Asian concept of loyalty. Still, ASEAN is looking out for best practices from various regional organizations on the globe. Dr. Gambke added that the very heterogeneous stages of political development in the region have to be taken into account when transferring policies – as only two ASEAN member states, Indonesia and the Philippines, can be counted as stable democracies.

SONY DSCProf. Dr. Tanja Börzel and Dr. Thomas Gambke, MP

In the following, the panel focused on the EU-policy towards ASEAN. Spandler raised interest to potential conflicts of interests in the EU’s parallel pursuit of trade and the democracy promotion vis-à-vis its partner region. Prof. Börzel rejected the view that this was a zero-sum game, pointing to German history as an illustration: Just as in the critical engagement policy of the German ‘Ostpolitik’ under the West German chancellor Willy Brandt, the EU can combine economic and political interests. In fact, the EU never terminated relations to ASEAN states due to concerns with their conditionality policy while still pressing for political reforms. One has to keep in mind, according to Börzel, that democracy promotion is worthwhile in the long run for all sides – while there might not be a direct correlation of democracy and good governance, there seems to be a stable relationship between democracy and public goods provision. Pente added that the European Union has its own human rights issues to solve: Not only the situation at Europe’s borders and the EU migration policy, but as well the human rights situation in some member states threatens the credibility of the EU as a normative actor.

SONY DSCDr. Pramano and Kilian Spandler

Finally, the panelists discussed what the EU can actually learn from ASEAN: As Prof. Börzel highlighted, the EU traditionally has a very outgoing perspective and not been very willing to draw lessons from elsewhere. However, the EU should take a closer look at the regional monetary governance that evolved in Latin American and Asian in response to the financial crises in the 1980s and 1990s. Dr. Gambke raised the issue of subsidiarity which is a central paradigm in ASEAN – the EU must learn that centralization is no pathway to better outcomes in all policy fields. Dr. Pramono added that the way ASEAN is respecting the common ground of ASEAN members could serve as best practice – similiarly, Pente argued that the EU often fails to speak with a single voice which is a crucial principle in ASEAN. Although this oftentimes results in lowest common denominator positions in ASEAN, the EU member states have to voice their opinions in a more coherent manner if the EU is not meant to be perceived as a political dwarf.

Concluding the debate, the panelists agreed that EU-ASEAN relations bear remarkable economic and political opportunities for both regions. Especially the actors in the EU should not get trapped in a fear of the Asian economic rise and the following zero-sum arguments voiced in the discussion on the US-EU free trade agreement. Besides the economic realm, the EU should launch a debate about its political role in the region. If it seeks to do so, the EU and its member states should develop a cohesive strategy on ASEAN and implement it in a coordinated manner.

SONY DSCThe audience discusses with the panelists

Overall, while the actual degree of the power shift towards Asia was put into question – Prof. Börzel referred to the heterogeneity of the continent and its lacking common vision – the 70 participants in the room took a clear stance: 63% agreed that the EU does indeed miss out on a potential Asian Century.

SONY DSCNelly Stratieva, member of the IFAIR Impact Group, hands over the group’s policy paper to Dr. Pramano.

by Lukas Rudolph, Kilian Spandler, Imke Pente and Nelly Stratieva for the IFAIR Impact Group “EU-ASEAN Perspectives”

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