Events & News


Is the EU an Actor in Asia?

Dr Fraser Cameron Director, EU-Asia Centre in Brussels

06 Aug 2012

ASEF Conference Room, Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), 31 Heng Mui Keng Terrace, Singapore 119595

3.00 – 4.30 pm


Euc 368 

Before answering the question as to whether the EU is an actor in Asia, Dr Cameron examined how the EU is considered an actor in international relations theory. Indeed the EU portrays itself as one, evident through its Eastern Partnership and its strategic partnerships. The EU even has the power to fine multinational corporations like Honeywell. But it is clearly a sui generis actor, different from the United States or ASEAN.

The EU has a range of interests in Asia. The colonial past that links the two regions provides the historical backdrop. More recently this has been articulated in documents such as the 2001 ‘Europe and Asia’Communication. The 2004 round of enlargement of the EU was seen by some as a setback for relations with Asia, as the EU became more preoccupied with its eastern neighbourhood. But things are changing due to the ongoing economic and financial crisis, which has had the effect of reigniting European interest in Asia again.

In Dr Cameron’s assessment, EU-Asia relations are ‘not very successful’. For him, the increase in trade and investment between the two regions would have happened anyway, regardless of governmental relations. The EU never had a debate on the nature of its ‘strategic partnership’ with Asia. Asians know little about the complex functioning of the EU (then again, neither may EU citizens themselves), while Europeans don’t consider Asia as a region, allowing China to dwarf the others.

There have been a number of high-level EU-China summits, but there has been little progress on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). The biggest problem between these two powers has been on the trade front. EU-India relations are tied strongly to the free trade agreement (FTA) currently being negotiated, but there are doubts on India’s ability to deliver and implement the FTA. India’s relations with the United Kingdom remain very close, perhaps to the exclusion of the other European countries. EU-Japan relations now seem to face competition from Japan’s interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

In summary, Dr Cameron noted that the EU has had a big impact on trade in the world, but little on issues relating to energy or terrorism. The EU had made impact on climate change during the time of the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, but there has since been a reverse in its impact made. On the aviation emissions issue, the EU has only managed to earn the ire of Asian countries in its push to include the aviation industry in the emissions trading scheme.