Let me start with a sincere thank you. First of all for the invitation: it is not to be given for granted, that the European Union – that for sure is not an Asian or a Pacific power – is considered relevant in this Dialogue. Still, it is. Very much so. We share economic relations, investments and trade interests – and that is evident to everybody, especially here in Singapore. But we share much more than that: political partnerships, security cooperation, global challenges to which we need to give responses that will be effective only if they will be joint ones. From terrorism to climate change, from natural disasters to cyber-attacks, the threats we face today have no borders – they are global by nature, bydefinition. And we need strong, global partnerships to face them.
That’s why it is natural to be here. To invest in our friendship. That’s why you find a lot of Europe, if you look at the people around you in this room.
And let me come here to my second big “thank you”: to my friends that here with me, in these days, have represented Europe. Because the EU is not just institutions in Brussels: it’s a family, a community, where we share values, interests, visions, a lot of history (often a difficult one) but most of all we share a lot of common future. And when you say “Europe”, you say all of us – each different, but all together.
So let me thank the Defence Minister of Germany, Ursula; of the UK, Michael; of Spain, Pedro; friends and colleagues representing other EU Member States like France, the European Parliament, European business, think tanks and research institutes, and last but not least the Chairman of the EU Military Committee, General De Rousiers, that is now an abituee of this dialogue.
Because yes, the EU has a military dimension as well: our economic face is the one most Asians (and also most Europeans!) are more familiar with. And this is natural. It is good, also: there are more goods and services travelling between Europe and Asia than across the Atlantic. That is amazing to us as well. We are one of the major investors in this continent, both in qualitative and quantitative terms, and the biggest development donor. But our engagement with Asia goes well beyond trade, investment, and aid. It’s political. It’s strategical. And it needs to develop more also in the security field.
Four out of ten of the EU Strategic Partners are Asian countries: China, Japan, India and the Republic of Korea. It is not by chance that I have personally travelled to the region twice in less than one month, and in the very beginning of my mandate: I was in Japan for our EU-Japan Summit just before flying here, in Seoul and Beijing a few weeks ago. And we are preparing to host the EU-China Summit in Brussels at the end of June, while a Summit with South Korea is also planned. I am here today, I will come back again in the region in August for the ASEAN Regional Forum in Kuala Lumpur, and I look forward to chairing the ASEM Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg in November.
So yes, we are here, even if we are clearly not part of the region, because we are partners of your region. And we believe it is our reciprocal interest to invest even more in our friendship and in the work we can jointly do for the security of our people.
So please, please don’t look at us just as a big free trade area: the European Union is also a foreign policy community, a security and defence provider. For our own people – within our borders and in the rest of the world; in our own region – that, we know, at the moment is one of the most turbulent ones, and we are ready to take more responsibility to bring security and stability in our part of the world, together with our neighbours; and with our global partners – Asia included.
As while the EU continues to be deeply engaged IN Asia, we want to be more and more engaged WITH Asia, to address together our common challenges, and to take full advantage of our common opportunities.
In today’s world no region is as dynamic as Asia. There would be really good reasons to be optimistic about Asia’s future. Still, the world of economics is closely connected to the world of security. And security threats are multiplying by the day. The most striking feature of Asia today is this unique combination of optimism, dynamism and fragility.
We see signals of rivalries among powers re-emerging. Some maritime disputes are far from being settled. I believe we cannot afford it.
We, Europe and Asia, have a strong interest in global security. A very basic interest regards the freedom of navigation on the arteries of the global economy: it is basic but essential, if you think of how integrated economic supply chains have become.
We have a direct interest in the respect for international law. We believe regionalism and multilateralism are the framework for cooperative international relations. And cooperation calls for everyone to play by the same rules. Agreed rules make states secure, people free and companies willing to invest. When some decide to play by their own rules, cooperation gives way to confrontation ̶ and in today’s world that is bad news for everyone.
The same applies to maritime disputes, too. We need to maintain a maritime order based on international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We are not getting into the legitimacy of specific claims, but we are resolute as Europeans on HOW they should be resolved ̶ that is, peacefully, without the use or threat of force.
We support the ASEAN-China negotiations for a Code of Conduct and we hope they can be concluded soon.
The region, and the world, can only benefit from a cooperative order. Our own European experience tells us that regional integration is about prosperity, but it is also about security. And it brings added value to all.
As Ursula just said this morning, in Europe “we partly gave up national sovereignty but we gained way more economic and political power”. Each region has and will have its own way to integration – for sure it is not about “exporting” models. But we can for sure be “partners in integration”, sharing experiences and supporting each others – in particular with ASEAN.
As we are working towards an upgrade in our cooperation with ASEAN, we have just adopted a policy setting out our vision of “a partnership with a strategic purpose”. Not just vague ideas on increased cooperation: this time we list a number of concrete commitments and priorities.
(1) The EU has unique means and expertise on what ASEAN calls Connectivity, or eliminating barriers among member countries. With no other organisation in the world can ASEAN discuss Connectivity at a continental scale, including issues as the single market, aviation, research, higher education.
(2) We are more than doubling our assistance to ASEAN, increasing itto €170 million euros. Add our bilateral assistance to ASEAN member states and the figure gets close to 3 billion euros. We also expect to use bilateral free-trade agreements as stepping stones towards a full region-to-region Free Trade Agreement.
(3) Our cooperation on non-traditional security is a huge growth area. The EU-ASEAN High Level Dialogue in Malaysia last month was an opportunity to exchange the lessons we learned on piracy, maritime surveillance, port security. We are enhancing dialogue on disaster relief combined with greater capacity-building, and we are increasing our engagement in the ASEAN Regional Forum (last year the EU organised the first-ever ARF training on preventive diplomacy and mediation).
(4) In this light, it is quite obvious that we are talking about substantive steps towards a strategic partnership, heeding the call from ASEAN for a greater EU involvement in the region.
And here we are in the region. We are here because we believe we have to work more and more together. Prime Minister Lee in his keynote speech on Friday reminded us all that we share common challenges, starting from terrorism, prevention of radicalization and violent extremism. This is a top priority in our European political agenda. And we can only benefit from working more on that together, because the threath we are facing has no borders, no State, no region: is global.
Defeating Daesh and other terrorist groups is not just about military power. It is necessary, but it won’t be sufficient. We will need a stabilised and inclusive Iraq, a Syria that finally heads towards national reconciliation, and a fully successful transition in Afghanistan. Just to start with. The only path towards stability, in the long run, is built on democracy and the respect for human rights. These tasks call for a truly global alliance among civilizations. And we need to work in our home countries, as the boundaries between external and domestic threats have quickly disappeared. Europe and Asia can do so much together, learning from each other, for example on confronting the terrorists’ recruitment practices, preventing radicalization, or supporting capacity building in partner countries.
Complex threats call for articulated responses, mixing military and civilian tools, good reflexes to act fast and foresight to prevent new crises. We know, in the EU, that we need to use our tools better. That we need to deserve our Nobel Peace Prize not only for our history – and stilllet me say, our history has a particular value today, a value that the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War reminds us every single day. But we need to transform the lessons we learned in our past, in willingness and capacity to play a role – a major role – for the future. I take this as my main responsibility: that of using all the potential that the EU has, all our tools, all our policies, all our strength, in a coordinated and coherent way. Not easy, but possible. And very much needed.
A big part of my job as Vice President of the European Commission is coordinating all Commissioners whose portfolio can impact on our common foreign policy – and we are finding out that that means potentially all Commissioners, as there is no field of work that nowadays is purely internal. It’s a team that is capable of dealing with trade, development, humanitarian aid but also energy, counterterrorism, climate and migration. The same goes for the coordination of our 28 Member States: a work we do not just with all European Foreign ministers, but also with those of Defence, the development ministers, and more and more often the Interior ones.
Let me confess that our machine can sometimes be a bit complicated, yes. But we do have the tools to ensure the whole is more than the sum of its parts. And we are finally starting to make good use of them. Including the military ones.
Maybe not many people in this part of world – and not even in Europe,and its part of my job – are aware that the EU has been deploying its personnel in crisis zones for more than ten years. We are currently running five military and eleven civilian missions on three continents; 7000 women and men are deployed under the EU flag, taking risks for peace.
Some Asian partners are contributing to our Common Security and Defence operations. Take the Atalanta mission, the EU naval operation in the Horn of Africa, which helped to bring down piracy attacks from 163 in 2009 to only two last year. And it is not a issue today, but it was some years ago. As part of this campaign, we have undertaken security cooperation with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Expanding our cooperation also in this field carries a huge potential.
The work we do together for our common security is not limited to the elements I mentioned. But I am afraid my time is limited, so I’ll stop here. And I’ll stop by saying that indeed, our security today in indivisible: thinking of zero sum games brings us completely out of reality. Our interdependence forces us to work together, to build partnerships – strong ones and when both parties are strong, partnership is strong – to defuse tensions and invest in cooperation.
That is why we are here. Not for an attempt to change geography and pretend we are part of the region – we limit our ambitions to the reasonable ones! – but because we know that we need each other, in today’s world. So, count on us. Count on Europe. As we count on you. We want to be engaged IN Asia; we want to partner WITH Asia; and I know that together we can work FOR Asia, for Europe and for a world more stable, prosperous and peaceful.
Looking forward to do that together in the next five years.