The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is working towards establishing a common market in 2015. Thus, it’s members are currently facing a number of fundamental decisions – similar decisions the EU has had to face in the early stages of integration. In order to get an idea of what the integration process and specifically the development of the European Single Market looked like, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom invited a group of seven delegates from Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia to Brussels. They also took the chance to exchange views with representatives of the EU institutions on the Status Quo of the EU-ASEAN trade and political relations and acquainted themselves with important liberal actors in Brussels.
Cora van Nieuwenhuizen MEP, Member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, emphasized that all EU member states were able to prosper as a result of the Single Market. At the same time, she acknowledged that the integration process is not yet complete, especially when it comes to services. According to her, the harmonization of legislation is an important first step in the process of establishing a common market: “Free trade is only the best solution if there is a level playing field.” Ulla Tørnœs MEP, Member of the Delegation for relations with ASEAN and Vice Chair of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, pointed out that Liberals in the European Parliament are also pushing for a Digital Internal Market as well as European Energy Market to further integrate the European Market.
As several of the ASEAN countries are currently negotiating special trade arrangements with the EU, the delegates discussed the Status Quo of these negotiations as well as the potential of trade agreements between the EU and ASEAN with Urša Pondelek, Policy Advisor for the ALDE Group, who is following the Committee on International Trade. Pondelek explained that while the EU initially worked towards reaching a region to region trade agreement with ASEAN, the EU currently operates only on a bilateral level with individual member states, for example in form of Free Trade Agreements or a Generalised Scheme of Preferances (GSP).
Apart from learning about the European integration process as well as the Status Quo and future prospects of trade relations, the participants also took the chance to acquaint themselves with liberal institutions and the ways in which liberals contribute to the European integration process. They did so in meetings with Hans van Baalen MEP, former President of Liberal International and Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Philipp Hansen, Head of Political Unit at ALDE Party, Willem vanden Broucke, Head of the Interinstitutional Relations and Networking Unit, ALDE Group and Susanne Hartig, Executive Director of the European Liberal Forum (ELF).
Steven Everts, Counsellor in the Asia-Pacific Department of the European External Action Service (EEAS), repeatedly emphasized the importance of the relationship between the EU and ASEAN. That, so Everts, is reflected in increased financial assistance to the Asian region as well as growing efforts to move away from a simply economic relationship, for example by putting a special focus on human rights. According to him, “connectivity” is the keyword for further cooperation. As also several country representatives attended the extensive meeting, the delegates also took the chance to exchange views and ideas on country-specific issues.