EU-Philippine relations: Moving a notch higher
NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Franz Jessen (The Philippine Star) - September 20, 2018 - 12:00am

While Europe and ASEAN are geographically many miles apart, ASEAN always holds a significant spot in the European Union because of similarities in outlook and objectives. 

Official “Dialogue Relations” began in 1977 between the EU and ASEAN and in 2015, the EU adopted a new strategy “The EU and ASEAN: a partnership with a strategic purpose.”   Along with these efforts, the EU has decided to further its relations with ASEAN individual countries to forge Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCAs).

For me personally ASEAN has always been close to my professional heart. My first job in foreign relations was on EU-ASEAN issues, where I worked closely with the Philippine Ambassador in Brussel when he chaired the meetings of the group of ASEAN Ambassadors. This early encounter with Philippine diplomacy gave me my long standing respects for the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs.

EU and the Philippines

Formal PCA bilateral negotiations begun in 2009 and were concluded during the same year. It was signed in 2012 and the Philippines became the second ASEAN country to complete negotiations with the EU. But even before this signing, the relationship between the European Union and the Philippines has been a longstanding one which has strengthened remarkably in recent years.

And this particular year 2018 I like to describe as a year when our bilateral relationship is undergoing a  maturing process between equal partners who share common values and interests.

Let me share with you that following the concurrence of the Senate to the ratification of the PCA early part of this year, a conference was held on 29 August dubbed “Reaping the Benefits of the PCA.”

I was very pleased that the former Chief PCA negotiator James Moran from the European Commission and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo accepted our invitation to speak during the conference.

It was attended by almost 100 interlocutors and key officials from government, business, civil society and the academe. Officials from the Philippine government attended including Secretary Dureza, National Security Advisor Esperon, Chairperson Bucoy (Philippine Commission on Women), Major General Paje, Undersecretary Catura and Philippine Ambassador to the EU Ed de Vega.        

The conference was a very good opportunity to define how the bilateral relations would go forward. More concretely, there was an agreement on the establishment of a Joint Committee and of specialised committees, on the promotion of people-to-people exchanges and continuing support to the Mindanao Peace process.

An open and constructive dialogue ensued for both the EU and the Philippines and in the course of the conference, I emphasised that the PCA will serve as the general framework of bilateral relations on political matters, human rights, justice and security, trade and investment, migration and development and other economic development and sectoral issues.

Mr. Moran said that the PCA would provide a platform for the two parties not just to discuss candidly common concerns but to transcend differences. Undersecretary Manalo underlined the importance of the Joint Committee to be composed of senior levels officials to implement and to promote the objectives of the PCA.  Ambassador de Vega affirmed the need to work together for the benefit of the two parties. 

Thematic areas were discussed including trade and investment, sustainable development goals, peace process and human rights, among others. The FTA negotiations, the importance of geographical indications, taking away non-tariff barriers to trade and investment liberalisation as well as social inclusiveness were highlighted as important subject matters in further discussions. Effective, respectful and meaningful healthy exchanges on the issue of human rights would also continue.  

Collaboration for the Mindanao peace process and strengthening of cooperation in security, counter-terrorism and the fight against illegal drugs would likewise form part of the agenda for succeeding engagements. No less than Secretary Dureza said that it is important the EU continues its commitment to and support for peace work in the Philippines.   

People-to-people links was cited as a positive boost to the relationship. The ongoing Erasmus+ programme, the EU SHARE programme, the Cine Europa film festival, the Viva Europa festival were mentioned as programmes which reinforced the cultural relationship. Cine Europa has become one of the largest festivals in the country spanning nine cities and four months of public free screenings. Viva Europa started anew in line with the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage. These events could definitely boost cultural exchanges and I hope other endeavours like these would continue further. 

Next steps

Continuing colloquy is always essential in any bilateral relationship and what transpired in the PCA conference was a genuine willingness from both sides to move the relationship further. Relationships have to be nurtured and cared for in order to blossom. The PCA is one way of doing so, progress on the EU Philippine FTA is another, additional, way. Our overlap in interests is very large and we should exploit that overlap to jointly promote our interests.

The European Union has always been a steward of peace, rule of law, human rights, democracy, multilateralism, rules-based free and fair trade, social inclusion and cultural diversity. 

I believe that with the EU and the Philippines whose relationship is a now a notch higher after the PCA, both can produce concrete results and better synergy. The capacity to make the relationship flourish is still very huge.  While there are past humps and challenges ahead in EU’s relations with the Philippines, there are always new opportunities to create as long as the dynamism, political will, openness and communication will be sustained between and among our peoples.

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(Franz Jessen is the Ambassador of the European Union.)  

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