Speech as delivered!
Thank you dear Vivian, Dear Foreign Minister [of Singapore, Vivian] Balakrishnan,
Let me start by thanking Brunei for assembling us today despite the difficult situation that the COVID-19 pandemic has created.
When I last met with you in December, we elevated reIations between the European Union and ASEAN to the level of a Strategic Partnership.
This decision was long overdue. It is a recognition of the strength and potential of our relationship and I am very happy that this has happened.
More than any other partner of ASEAN, the European Union understands the strategic benefits of regional integration and how challenging it is to turn the vision of a regional community into practical reality. One thing is theory and another is practical implementation.
We have made good use of the intervening time to implement this decision by visibly deepening our contacts and cooperation.
Last June, I had the opportunity to visit Indonesia and the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, for which I am very much grateful to my Indonesian hosts for their warm welcome.
I have also met many of my ASEAN colleagues on the margins of the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting and other events, including Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia] Retno Marsudi, [Second] Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Brunei] Erywan [Yusof], yourself Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, and the Secretary [of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, Teodoro] Locsin.
These moments I shared with you, they have strengthened my personal belief that ASEAN should be the central focus of European Union cooperation in the region.
And this belief is reaffirmed in the European Union strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, which we are building.
I think as you know it is time to involve our leaders more deeply in the implementation of this Strategic Partnership. And this is why the European Union proposes to hold a European Union – ASEAN Commemorative Summit next year, as you dear Minister have already mentioned.
Another major positive development in the past months is our agreement on the European Union – ASEAN Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement.
It is the first region-to-region aviation agreement – and the biggest agreement of its kind ever negotiated by the European Union, binding together our 37 States. It will play an important role in re-connecting our people, on and over and above the pandemic.
At the same time, there have also been negative developments, which have engaged us in the last few months.
The European Union has firmly condemned – and continues to oppose – the illegal over-throwing of the democratically elected Government of Myanmar. Let me re-state that.
At the same time, a highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus has wreaked havoc in both our regions, and today mainly in the ASEAN region, causing personal loss among our citizens, lost opportunities for our connectivity, for our trade, and for our economic growth.
I will address these issues in greater detail later, and I would now like to pass the floor back to my co-chair [Foreign Minister Balakrishnan].
And thank you very much again.
Thank you. Thank you to all of you for the many issues you have put on the table in a candid way. I think the best way of using our time and using this kind of meeting, saying to each other what we really think about our relationship, to express our concerns in an open and frank way. Because certainly we have differences but, certainly, also we have a long way to go together.
So allow me, as my last remarks, to ask all ministers to focus on the work that lies ahead, beyond the pandemic, building back better towards a sustainable, climate-neutral, digital economy that guarantees peace and prosperity to our citizens.
These are the building blocks of our new partnership and should also form the basis of discussions for potential deliverables at our summit next year. The summit should not be just a summit, all the leaders sitting together and saying nice things. It has to be a moment in which we deliver potential ways of working and agreements. This is the purpose. Sometimes summits are just a big celebration where everybody says how happy they are sitting together. It has to be more than that and in order to be more than that, we have to work a lot in order to provide the leaders, the issues on which they have to discuss, engage in discussions, and get agreements. I think this is our working programme, not commemoration but the willingness to continue working together still more.
And that is what you have been doing, my dear friend. So I would like to thank you, to thank Singapore and you personally, my friend Vivian, for your engagement as ASEAN Coordinator for the European Union over the past three years.
My students at the summer University of Spain still remember your videoconference last year and I hope that you and all of my colleagues from south-east Asia, from ASEAN, will be able to participate in this kind of contact, people-to-people contacts, in order to get closer to each other.
We started working together in December 2019, during the first days of my mandate as High Representative, when I hosted many of you in Madrid for the ASEM Ministerial Meeting. It was my first contact with you.
You have shuttled back and forth between your member states and your partners, ably hosted multiple high-level meetings – both virtual and physical – and skilfully negotiated with both sides in a fair-minded manner. You have been an honest broker among us.
Dear Vivian, I started working with the ASEAN coordinator for relations with the EU and, 20 months later, I now feel I have a new friend.
It is fair to say that your coordinatorship has successfully deepened and strengthened the relationship between our two organisations, and for that, I extend my gratitude on behalf of the European Union.
At the same time, I welcome the incoming Coordinator, Secretary Locsin from the Philippines, who I had the opportunity to meet in person in Rome last June.
I am looking forward to working with you and colleagues in Manila towards an even deeper engagement, based on our common strategic interests, to our commitments towards effective, rules-based multilateralism, as well as democracy, rule of law and human rights.
I am sure I will find in you the same level of coordinator and friendship that I had with Vivian.
So thank you very much for this meeting. I am really looking forward to working with the Philippines coordinator and to face all the issues that you have been putting on the table in order to look for a fair solution to all of them.
Thank you very much.