European Union: Prospects and outlook for 2019
NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Franz Jessen (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2019 - 12:00am

The year 2019 began on a high note. What can be more refreshing than meeting with Mr. F. Sionil Jose, the National Artist for literature, and Mr. T Anthony C. Cabangon, publisher of Philippine Business Daily Mirror Publishing Inc.

 Over lunch hosted by my good friend, Mr. Jose, we discussed how history shapes identity. Mr. Jose stressed how the Spanish, Americans and Japanese had moulded, in part, the identity of today’s Filipino people and I could not but agree with him. Three very different impressions. Mr. Jose also spoke about his war time experience, I was curious to hear, also because I have just read the book Rampage by James M. Scott, which puts Mr. Jose’s experiences into a broader framework.

The issue of national identity is, however, a complex one. We live in a period where so many identify themselves by contrasting with others. There is an increasing worldwide retrenchment and a reluctance to learn across cultures and an averseness to understand and embrace the world around us. I have always believed that in order to understand others, one has to start by understanding oneself  – understand one’s own country and history which has shaped outlook and identity. This can be a very passionate process discussing history which my exchanges with Mr. Sionil amply showed. 

Happily, the first couple of weeks have also been fascinating in terms of work.

On 14 January, I was given arrival honors by the Department of Interior and Local Government. My discussion with Secretary Eduardo Manahan Año was fruitful as we talked about political agenda and options for collaboration in promoting good governance and peace and security. We went through the key priorities for DILG, quietly and constructively, focussing on overlapping interests and how to work together on those.  Later in the week, I heard Secretary Lorenzana addressing some of the same challenges such as communist insurgency, the Mindanao peace process and West Philippine Sea. 

My courtesy call on Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr held on 14 January was much more work than courtesy. Clearly the secretary wants to get things done, very refreshing. We discussed bilateral and regional issues especially in the light of the geopolitical (right-wing) shifts and his participation in the 22nd EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brussels on 21 January. The Secretary is a ‘new media man,’ he sees and uses its strengths. His tweets are obligatory reading for all diplomats in Manila.

It is encouraging that both the EU and ASEAN are strong in their commitment to the rules-based international order, free and fair trade and respect for and promotion of international law including the multilateral system. One way of ensuring all these engagements is through connectivity.

In the ministerial meeting next week in Brussels, it is expected that the EU and the ASEAN will discuss how to enhance connectivity. The development of initiatives in quality infrastructure and sound enabling environments is high on the agenda. Connectivity can augur well to push for sustainable development and to advance investment and trade among our economies with positive impacts on sustainable growth, jobs creation, enhanced competitiveness, technology sharing, environmental protection and people-to-people exchanges.

In the field of development cooperation, our onus is to seek ways of changing the way we work with the goal of achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

On the macro level, we are changing the way we do things inside the EU, we are also finding innovative ways to work with our local partners, the United Nations and regional organisations. The global political landscape is changing fast, and it is crucial that we work in a forward-looking manner with the new popular preferences.

The EU is an evolving macrocosm and we cannot simply continue to do things over and over again. It is our responsibility to turn the wheels and to find our own notch to see how to better forge better linkages with partner regions such as the ASEAN and the Philippines.

Over the recent years and in a context of internal and external challenges, the EU has demonstrated its resilience and steadfastness in pursuing its interests and living up to its values. I believe that cross-cultural understanding will continue to develop. Just like what Mr. F Sionil Jose said, we should always look to our past, remember where we come from, how we have been shaped, and how we are here to shape the future.

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