EU-ASEAN Relations in the 21st Century: Strategic Partnership in the Making

EU-ASEAN Relations in the 21st Century

Author(s):  Daniel Novotny, Clara Portela

ISBN:           9781137007490

Publisher:  Palgrave Macmillan

Year:           2012

Price:            $61

Reviewed by Fabian Kozielski, Researcher at Hanns Seidel Foundation Korea.

With ASEAN shaping up to be the rising star on the international stage, comprising a total population of 600 million and ranking sixth largest economy in the world if considered as a single entity, it is not by chance that scholars follow its development closely, especially with the ASEAN Economic Community coming into full force in 2015. The EU on the other hand has already established a single market including a monetary union, the Schengen Area for free movement of people, and a way to implement guidelines and decrees in all its member states.

The book edited by Daniel Novotny and Clara Portela, both well-known researchers in European Studies, deals with the  less explored relationship between both organizations moving into the 21st century: where do they stand and where will they go? Its purpose is to impart the reader with an overview of EU-ASEAN relations and their current topics. It is comprised of eleven contributions by international practitioners and academics from the fields of political science, law, and economics hailing from Europe, Southeast Asia and Oceania, therefore also guaranteeing geographical knowledge representation. After an introduction about the prospects for EU-ASEAN relations in the 21st century, the book describes the present situation of the EU and ASEAN. In part two, (inter)regionalism is discussed, which includes Indonesia weighing options other than ASEAN and putting it at risk. Part three discusses the EU as a role model for ASEAN. The public opinion of the EU in Southeast Asia is analyzed; further, how the EU could take a leading role in Southeast Asia in law, politics and energy security. In the last part, several practitioners present their views and discuss the question if both organizations are natural partners or still searching for common ground.

Douglas Webber and Naila Maier-Knapp discuss the history of regional power shifts and conclude that the process of widening in the EU and ASEAN has been stronger than their deepening (p. 17), which is regarded critical. Without the necessary framework already in place, further expansion could just be an adoption of existing problems and potentially leaves new members weak to non-traditional security threats in the financial, environmental, and health sector. The next segment deals specifically with Indonesia, as it is pushing and outgrowing ASEAN (p. 46) and further calling for democratization in Southeast Asia. The book describes the Indonesian perspective, in which ASEAN may fall short on its pledge. Indonesia’s future foreign policy may therefore be more people-centered and globally oriented instead of trying to establish a strong institutionalism like the EU has.

David Treisman’s paper then analyzes the existing economic and financial bonds between EU and ASEAN by investigating trade, FDI and finance/PI (p. 81) and discusses how both should strategize given the lack of strategic influences through ASEAN. His findings suggest that the EU now should still favor bilateral talks instead of regarding the ASEAN as a core strategic ally, however, it remains open what the EU’s strategy could be after 2015. ASEAN might not have much institutional power today, but the Economic Community could be the starting shot for greater institutional developments, similar to the EU’s revising treaties, the latest being the Lisbon Treaty. This discussion leads over to the EU being a possible role model for a “union” of Southeast Asian nations in several fields. The merging of laws, markets and policies could also be a success story for these countries; the beginnings however will be doddery as Southeast Asia is still stricken by ethnic and regional conflicts and in some cases a poor, competitively unviable economy, whereas the EU historically comes from a standpoint of strong economic cooperation and post-war peacekeeping. Rachminawati and Anna Syngellakis describe the evolution of the EU’s human rights law and recommend ASEAN to incorporate human rights into its core objectives. Taking lessons from the EU, it could build up human rights institutions and pursue their acknowledgement more actively (p. 118).

Calling his chapter “ASEAN and the EU: Natural Partners”, Jan Willem Blankert makes an interesting statement in that they are “similar but very different” (p. 139). Whereas ASEAN started as a political project and included economic cooperation later, the EU formed just the other way round. In his view, ASEAN focuses more on widening, while the EU focuses more on deepening, which does not mean that the EU is “inward looking” (p. 142), or that ASEAN wants to become an EU-like structure (p. 147). Ong Keng Yong’s essay focuses on bringing Europe and Southeast Asia closer together. Naming the example of the ASEAN charter, in which case the EU was hoping for a more institutionalized association that would eventually adapt its ideas and structures, Ong shows that views can be vastly different. ASEAN definitely benefits from European experience and resources, but it wants to negotiate on the same level rather than being the “small partner”. Xavier Nuttin continues with the discussion of EU-ASEAN relations today, and what both should or should not envision together. The EU should not expect its model to be accepted by countries with a different history and culture and the many different regimes coexisting in ASEAN. Pascaline Winand wrote the closing chapter of the book on conclusions and recommendations, and steering the diverse previous chapters towards a clear ending. Specifically because both partners face different challenges in their respective regions, it is important to foster productive exchange. The EU must present a more coherent political strategy towards ASEAN and not fall behind other actors like the United States or China in establishing high-level connections. ASEAN must not be too brisk in this relationship so it can continue to utilize European experiences and knowledge. Their different paths have led to the same conclusion: in a globalized world with shifting regional powers, it is important to establish networks before others do.

If one were to take a summarizing message from the essays, ASEAN should focus on strengthening economic ties with the Northeast Asian nations (which also led to the formation of ASEAN+3 after the Asian financial crisis), because it should not undersell or let itself get rode roughshod over by the EU. APT is considered the latest step towards stronger East Asian regional cooperation. Although there have been long-lasting talks, the EU now has to step up or it might lose say in this quickly developing region, especially in questions of eventual FTAs, where ASEAN countries, united under AEC, could bring a stronger negotiating position to the table. For these reasons, the book’s subtitle “Strategic Partnership in the Making” seems to be highly accurate.

The book is an excellent read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in EU-ASEAN relations, as it manages to give an overview over current topics and possible future developments that could especially be of use for students of European or Asian Studies and scholars. However, further literature would be required to dig deeper into any chosen topic, as this book does not represent an in-depth study. It also was not made clear on which basis the presented topics where chosen, and why they are the most important ones. In this regard, the book could have had more value added to it, thereby making it a more comprehensive introduction to the topic. This issue may result from the international conference “EU-ASEAN Relations” at Monash University in Melbourne 2009 serving as a basis for this book.

Suggested citation:

Fabian Kozielski (2014). Review of “EU-ASEAN Relations in the 21st Century: Strategic Partnership in the Making” by Daniel Novotny and Clara Portela, East Asian Integration Studies Vol.7 , no. 38.