The EU and ASEAN - Ready for the future?

Term Paper, 2008

16 Pages, Grade: 85% = 2,0/A-/GPA 3.7


Table of Content


The ‘Spider-Web’ of the EU-ASEAN Relations

The Major Developments in the Relations since 2001




The European Union (EU)[1] and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have a long lasting relationship and had many events to celebrate in 2007. The EU celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome (1957) and ASEAN celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the signing of the Bangkok Declaration (1967), which respectively established both organizations. Furthermore, the official or formal relations between the two regional actors started thirty years ago, in 1977. On November 22, 2007, to honour all these anniversaries, the first Commemorative Summit of the EU and ASEAN commenced in Singapore (European Commission, 2007a).

Nonetheless, informal relations between the EU and ASEAN already started in 1972, and the EU was one of the first international actors to start a dialogue with ASEAN after its establishment. The relations were formalized in 1977, through the establishment of “ties with the Council of Ministers [. . .] and the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER)” (ASEAN, 2007a) and the first Ministerial Meeting between the EU and ASEAN was held one year later. With the signing of the EU-ASEAN Cooperation Agreement, the relations were finally institutionalized in Kuala Lumpur on March 7, 1980.

The relations are characterized by many achievements and many drawbacks in the last decades. Additionally, even though the relations between the EU and ASEAN date back to the beginning of the 1970s, they have not fulfilled the expectations of many people in both Europe and Southeast Asia for two main reasons. Firstly, the context in which these relations take place has significantly changed with the end of the Cold War and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Naturally, the aims and objectives of the relationship have to be much broader than thirty years ago, because they have to take into account these changed international circumstances since they do not take place in a vacuum. Secondly, both ASEAN and the EU developed internally, for example through different rounds of enlargements. These internal developments of the two partners have to be taken into account as well, just as the changed international environment.

Since 2001, owing to the reasons mentioned above, new initiatives were proposed to reinvigorate the relationship and to make it more effective in facing the new, profoundly changed international arena. Can these initiatives achieve the aim of improving the relationship and consequently prepare it for the challenging future? The essay will proceed as follows. Firstly, the ‘spider-web’ of relations between the EU and ASEAN will be portrayed to give an impression of the complexity of the relationship. Secondly, the main developments since 2001 will be introduced and analyzed to be able, thirdly, to conclude if the relations are healthy enough to face the new challenges of the future.

The ‘Spider-Web’ of the EU-ASEAN Relations

The relations between ASEAN and the EU take place on different levels. Mainly, this is caused by the division of competences between the different institutions in Brussels and between the institutions and the member-states. Since the end of the bipolar Cold War, the EU aspires to position itself as a global actor on the changing international scene and tries to create a multipolar world. Thus, the foreign policy competences of the EU were enhanced through the introduction of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the intergovernmental second pillar of the EU, with the Treaty on European Union (TEU) in 1992. This pillar was strengthened with the introduction of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) a couple of years later. However, this is not the only foreign policy instrument in the ‘tool kit’ of the EU. Even before the TEU, the EU had foreign policy instruments or policies at its disposal, for example, the Common Commercial Policy (CCP) or Development Cooperation, which are situated in the supranational first pillar. Furthermore, a third component of the EU’s foreign policy are the different policies and interests of the twenty-seven member states[2], which shape the EU’s policy to a considerable extent (Lucarelli, 2006, p. 9).

The foreign policy of the EU includes many specific strands and there are three distinct or main actors who decide on foreign policy in the EU. The European Commission, situated in the supranational first pillar, makes foreign policy mainly through the Directorate-General (DG) External Relations and DG Trade. The Council of Ministers, in the intergovernmental second pillar, and the member-states in their respective capitals. Thus, a traditional definition of foreign policy “as the external actions of a state” (Cameron, 2007, p. XIII) is not very helpful to analyse the EU. Foreign policy in the context of this essay is defined, in accordance with Fraser Camerons’s definition, “as all external actions that are undertaken by the actor [i.e. the EU]” (p. XIV)[3], no matter if they are institutionally situated in the first, second or third pillar of the EU’s framework.

The definition of “all external actions that are undertaken by the actor” (Ibid.) can also be applied to ASEAN, even though it does not have such a developed and complicated system of foreign policy making as the EU. The foreign policy making competence in ASEAN is still completely in the hands of the ten different member-states, because they did not transfer sovereignty in this policy area to any supranational institution, as the EU member-states did to the Commission. Thus, ASEAN’s foreign policy making can be compared to the EU’s Council, since it is the intergovernmental coordination of actions and policies to be pursued, which are arrived at through the consensus of all the member-states. One manifestation of these types of decisions was the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Thus, ASEAN has two levels of foreign policy, namely the actions taken by ASEAN as a whole and the different foreign relations of the member-states.


[1] The essay will use the term EU for reasons of simplicity. At first, there were three separate communities, the European Economic Community (EEC), the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM). In 1967, the three separate communities were merged into the European Communities (EC). The EU was established with the Treaty of Maastricht (1992).

[2] However, the different foreign policies of the member states of the EU and ASEAN, including their bilateral relations, will not be the main theme of this essay, except where otherwise indicated.

[3] Except where otherwise indicated.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The EU and ASEAN - Ready for the future?
Southeast Asian Regional Studies
85% = 2,0/A-/GPA 3.7
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
435 KB
ASEAN, Southeast Asian Regional Studies, EU, Foreign Policy
Quote paper
MA Judith Becker (Author), 2008, The EU and ASEAN - Ready for the future?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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