Members' Research Service By / December 6, 2022

ASEAN: The EU’s strategic partner in Asia

In the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, south-east Asia was an unstable region.

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Written by Ulrich Jochheim.

Founded in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is often compared with the EU. Both organisations brought together former adversaries and successfully resolved tensions through cooperation, helping to bring peace and prosperity to their regions. However, the EU and ASEAN operate in very different ways. ASEAN is a strictly intergovernmental organisation in which decisions are based on consensus. While this approach has made it difficult for south-east Asian countries to achieve the same level of integration as the EU, it has also enabled ASEAN to accommodate huge disparities among its 10 member states.

ASEAN’s impact has been uneven. The organisation is an effective platform for cooperation between its member states and the wider Indo-Pacific region, but its goal of promoting peaceful cooperation is undermined by growing geopolitical tensions, especially in the South China Sea and with regard to Myanmar. While there has been significant economic integration, the goal of an EU-style single market is still a long way off – something that partially explains why intra-regional trade remains relatively weak.

EU-ASEAN relations span more than four decades and have steadily deepened, building on common values as well as booming trade and investment. In 2020, the two sides upgraded to a strategic partnership. In the current environment of huge geopolitical challenges, both sides seem determined to take their bilateral cooperation to a higher level, as exemplified by the new plan of action (2023-2027), the first bilateral summit at leaders’ level and the ongoing and intensifying cooperation between the European Parliament and the ASEAN member states’ parliaments.

This briefing updates a previous one published in November 2021.

Read the complete briefing on ‘ASEAN: The EU’s strategic partner in Asia‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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