Events & News


The European Union in Southeast Asia

H.E. Mr Marc Ungeheuer Ambassador and Head of the European Union Delegation to Singapore and Ms Sabina Santarossa Director, Cultural Exchange The Asia-Europe Foundation

13 Sep 2011

Possibility Room (level 5), National Library Building 100 Victoria Street Singapore 188064

3.30pm – 5.30pm


EUC-NLB Series on the European Union & Singapore: Culture & Identity

The symbiotic relationship between Europe and Southeast Asia was celebrated at an event jointly hosted by the National Library Board (NLB) and the EU Centre on 13 September. As the guest-of-honour, the EU ambassador H.E. Mr Marc Ungeheuer delivered a keynote speech. He also gave out prizes for the EU Centre’s video essay competition on the theme of ‘The EU in Southeast Asia’, in his additional capacity as chairman of the competition jury.

In his speech, Mr Ungeheuer recognised the primacy of trade that characterises relations between the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indeed Singapore has been the EU’s biggest trading partner inside ASEAN, while the EU has typically been placed in the first or second spot in the list of Singapore’s top trading partners.  This has spurred the EU and Singapore to embark on negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) in March 2010, a move followed closely by neighbouring Malaysia.  Additionally in the diplomatic sphere, the EU was ASEAN’s first dialogue partner back in the 1970s.

The event also featured a presentation by Sabina Santarossa, Director of Cultural Exchange at the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), on cultural exchanges between the two regions. While an ‘international market of entertainment’ – that is, pop culture – appears to be increasingly pervasive around the world, she emphasised that there will always be a place and need for cultural diplomacy, even if one disdains state intervention in the arts. For some, cultural diplomacy – understood as state-supported promotion of the arts and culture of a nation – is integral to upholding national pride and identity, but it is nonetheless important in lubricating the processes of international relations beyond of the confines of conventional ‘soft power’ promotion.

In this sense, governments are moving towards cultural cooperation, where culture is the subject of multilateral dialogue rather than unilateral promotion. The manner and content of the Fourth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Culture Ministers meeting in Poland in 2010, where issues surrounding cultural heritage were discussed was raised as an example of this trend.

Ms Santarossa also emphasised that cultural diplomacy now involves a wider range of actors than just governments, thus leading towards more sectoral dialogue between Europe and Asia. This reaffirms, for Ms Santarossa, the role of the arts and culture in adddressing a wide range of issues including political and economic ones, since human development and well-being are ‘not just about the GDP per capita’. In ensuing question and answer session, she spoke of her plans for ASEF to collaborate further with Singaporean cultural institutions like the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum.

After the presentations, the audience was treated to the screenings of ‘Strange Brew’, the winning entry (3rdprize) for the EU Centre’s video essay competition by Singaporean Yeo Siew Hua, and ‘Intramuros: The Walled City’, an entry by Tosca Domingo and Jennifer Riesgo of the Philippines which won the audience choice award.