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STRONGER: EU and Asean celebrate 35 years of relations
AS foreign ministers from Asean and the European Union gather in Brunei for the 19th Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting today, the sense of drive and ambition underpinning our partnership has never been stronger. I look forward to use this meeting to take the EU's relations with Southeast Asia to a new level.
Our shared goal is to make this partnership -- encompassing one-sixth of the world's population -- fit for purpose in the 21st century. There are several ways we can do that.
First, by boosting prosperity in our regions and the wider world. Thriving commercial ties between the EU and Asean -- with total trade reaching Euro167 billion (RM675 billion) last year -- are an engine for much-needed growth. We can do much more to unleash their full potential.
The conclusion of Free Trade Agreements with our Asean partners -- with a region-to-region FTA ultimately in perspective -- will remove impediments to doing business and increase investment.
The EU has developed its Single Market over decades: a process that has benefited not only our own 500 million citizens, but also those who want to do business within our borders. With this in mind, the EU fully supports Asean's plans to create an Asean Economic Community by 2015 and initiatives that will help to make that vision a reality.
Second, through an enriched political partnership and more practical collaboration. In Brunei, we will announce the launch of enhanced cooperation on crisis management, closer coordination on disaster risk reduction, the establishment of a regional network of early warning systems to respond to disasters, and capacity-building for the Asean Coordinating Centre for humanitarian assistance and disaster management. I also look forward to boosting our cooperation in maritime security and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
This political partnership has led to closer coordination between the EU and Asean in addressing global challenges, from terrorism to climate change, and from sustainable development to the fight against communicable diseases, and there is room to take our cooperation further.
Democratic and human rights values are a vital adjunct to the EU-Asean relationship. There is no single model. But just as the EU has expanded human rights protection and promotion in our domestic and foreign policies -- including through a Charter of Fundamental Rights and the creation of a Fundamental Rights Agency -- so the advent of the Asean Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights provides a new basis for collaboration in this important field.
The remarkable transformation that is under way in Myanmar will further strengthen EU-Asean relations. At the ministerial gathering, we will jointly commend the significant progress made by Myanmar towards a democratic future.
I will make my first visit to the country immediately after the ministerial meeting to launch a new phase in EU-Myanmar relations.
Technical and political cooperation cannot exist in a vacuum: it is contact between the 1.1 billion citizens of EU and Asean countries that will foster mutual understanding. That is why programmes such as the EU Erasmus Mundus programme, which awards 250 scholarships to study in Europe to Asean students each year, are vital.
Last but not least, the EU and Asean should continue to learn from each other's experiences in crafting regional integration.
The EU, which has gone through its own 50-year-old integration process, is pleased to be supporting Asean integration through a E70 million programme to implement the three "blueprints" for the Asean Community -- political-security, economic and socio-cultural -- and through E2 billion in total allocated for the period 2007-2013 to individual Asean member states to bridge the development gap.
The two-way exchange of acumen and experience will be further aided by the launch in Brunei of a staff exchange scheme for the Asean and EU institutions.
Asean's initiative of forming new regional fora, such as the East Asia Summit and most recently the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus, has confirmed its central role in the new East-Asian regional architecture. And the EU particularly looks forward to EU accession to the Asean Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.
As we mark 35 years of relations between the EU and Asean, the meeting in Brunei will pay tribute to an enduring relationship characterised by friendship, stability and co-operation. This enduring partnership can make a real difference in our respective regions and the wider world.