European Parliament Report Risks Tarnishing Relations with ASEAN

The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has published a new report on EU-ASEAN relations. The report is supposed to be a tool for encouraging closer cooperation between Malaysia and the EU. In reality, this is a political tool for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to make poltiically-motivated statements about their feelings towards ASEAN countries, including Malaysia. As a result, the report contains major inaccuracies and untruths, and seeks to intervene in the domestic laws of ASEAN nations, where the EU has no power to intervene.

The report fails to recognise the well-known conservation efforts of countries like Malaysia, which still has over 60% of land under forest cover. Instead of praising the efforts of ASEAN countries, the report claims there is ‘widespread illegal logging’ and links this to forest fires and smog. This is not accurate and is out of place – it would have been more appropriate to recognize the commitment and actions that has been taken to tackle illegal logging where it has been an issue. Malaysia has cooperated with international partners to achieve excellent progress in this area and has made a commitment at the UNFCCC to preserve 50% of its land under forest cover in perpetuity. The aggressive statements in the European Parliament report do not recognise or support this important work.

A section of the report also specifically targets development of oil palm and rubber plantations, claiming there is a need to increase local law enforcement capacities to provide safeguards against expropriation of land. The implication that land is being illegally expropriated for production of rubber and palm oil in Malaysia has no basis. Land set aside for agricultural expansion is managed and developed in full compliance with domestic laws and regulations. Malaysia has no established problem of expropriation and to imply there are deficiencies in law enforcement in Malaysia compared to the EU, is prejudiced and fails to acknowledge the work of law enforcement agencies on the ground. The EU should not interfere in law enforcement in other countries. Malaysia is currently negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU, and such language from the European Parliament does not help this process move forward.

As the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee prepares to discuss the report, it should approach this exercise as an opportunity to strengthen EU-ASEAN relations and cooperation. ASEAN countries should not be falsely accused of such things, particularly when the evidence on the ground in countries like Malaysia paints a much different picture. If the EU is serious about closer relations with ASEAN countries, surely mutual respect is the place to start. This report falls a long way short of that standard, and we in Malaysia deserve better.

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Written by The Oil Palm