Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

How will the EU elections impact Southeast Asia?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Mains level: Pivot to South Asia

Why in the news?

A weak performance by green and left-wing parties, coupled with gains by the far-right, could lead the EU to adopt a more protectionist stance and a less environmentally focused foreign policy.

What happens in the EU parliament?   

  • Legislative Role and Trade Agreements: The European Parliament must approve all EU free trade agreements. For instance, it is currently involved in negotiations with Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. This approval process ensures that any trade agreement aligns with EU standards and regulations.
  • Policy Shifts Due to Election Results: The recent gains by far-right factions in the European Parliament could shift legislative priorities. For example, a more nationalist Parliament may prioritize protectionist policies over liberal trade agreements, potentially imposing tariffs or restrictions on imports from Southeast Asia, as seen with past tariffs on Cambodian and Myanmar rice.
  • Influence on Environmental and Human Rights Policies: With the Greens and Liberals losing seats, the European Parliament may place less emphasis on environmental sustainability and human rights. This shift could affect initiatives like the Just Energy Transition schemes with countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, which rely on EU support for their green agendas. Reduced focus on these areas could hinder such cooperative efforts.

Changes in the Commission

  • Commission Presidency and Coalition Dynamics: Ursula von der Leyen, the incumbent European Commission President from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), faces a challenging re-election. She needs to secure 361 votes from Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).
  • Shift in Policy Focus: The composition of the new Commission will significantly influence EU policy directions. If von der Leyen allies with the Greens, there could be an intensification of green policies and environmental initiatives, such as the European Green Deal.
  • Leadership and Foreign Policy Changes: The departure of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell opens the field for new candidates vying to lead the European External Action Service (EEAS). The new leadership could reshape the EU’s foreign policy approach, with potential changes in emphasis on development cooperation and international relations, including those with Southeast Asia. This could affect ongoing initiatives like the Just Energy Transition partnerships with countries like Vietnam and Indonesia.

Pivot to South Asia

  • Strategic Partnership and Economic Interests: Southeast Asia is an increasingly important economic partner for the EU. The region’s growing markets and economic dynamism offer significant trade opportunities. For instance, the EU is negotiating free trade agreements with countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, which could enhance trade flows and economic cooperation. Strengthening ties with Southeast Asia helps the EU diversify its trade partners and reduce reliance on traditional markets.
  • Environmental and Green Transition Initiatives: Southeast Asia is a crucial region for the EU’s global environmental goals. The EU has invested in green transition initiatives, such as the Just Energy Transition schemes in Vietnam and Indonesia, providing over €20 billion in concessional loans and investments. These initiatives support Southeast Asian countries in adopting sustainable energy practices and combating climate change.
  • Geopolitical and Security Considerations: Southeast Asia’s strategic location and geopolitical significance make it a vital region for the EU’s foreign policy. By engaging more deeply with Southeast Asia, the EU can strengthen its influence in a region where other major powers, such as China and the United States, are also vying for influence.

Conclusion: The EU’s evolving policies and leadership will shape its economic, environmental, and geopolitical engagement with Southeast Asia, highlighting the region’s strategic importance and potential for cooperation.


Mains PYQ:

Q Africa was chopped into states artificially created by the accident of European competition. Analyse. (UPSC IAS/2013)

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