Welcome Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Slovak Republic Miroslav Laj?ak and other EU colleagues to this ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting. Thank you for making the long journey to Southeast Asia. I am sorry to hear that High Representative Federica Mogherini could not participate in the AEMM today. We wish her a speedy recovery.
I thank DPM Laj?ak for his briefing on developments in the EU. I noted your point on the need for a stronger EU and the need to be oriented outwards. The EU project was created to make war unthinkable on the continent, and it has largely succeeded. Singapore strongly supports the call for a stronger EU.
In an increasingly complex global environment, ASEAN and the EU face common challenges. First, a sluggish global economy and increasing unemployment, especially on both ends of the spectrum - the youth and seniors. We know that the welfare state must provide adequate liquidity for our seniors in their old age. On the other end of the spectrum, youth unemployment is a particularly pernicious challenge. It affects not only the earnings of young people today; significant unemployment in their early years can have a great impact on future earnings as well. Therefore, there is a need to promote global growth and create jobs. However, growth alone may not generate all the jobs that we need. This calls for introspection and engagement between our two regions on a greater scale. This ASEAN-EU engagement is worth the effort.
Second, the growing pains of deeper integration and erosion of free trade. With deeper integration, we face the challenges of growing xenophobia and the erection of barriers. As politicians, we know it is easier to create slogans on these themes to win votes. The siren calls of populism, from both the extreme left and right, are becoming more effective at the voting booth. Deeper integration and free trade does bring benefits, growth and jobs to all of us. However, we also need to realise that there is a domestic challenge, that unless growth is equitably distributed and sufficient protection provided to those who are excluded from the benefits of integration, support for integration will be eroded. While we reaffirm our commitment to free trade, we have to ensure that at the domestic level, no one is left behind, by continuously refining our policies, both domestic and regional.
Third, the increased prevalence of traditional and non-traditional security threats. These include terrorism, which has affected us all, and other threats such as climate change, cybercrime, food security and irregular migration, to name a few. In fact, the transboundary and transnational nature of these challenges underlines the need for a coordinated and cohesive response.
We are also aware of other global events, which we have no say over, such as the US Presidential Elections and the policies that will emanate from the outcome, which will have a profound impact on all of us.
No discussion on the EU would be complete without some reference to Brexit. Brexit has reminded us that we need to get the scale and pace of integration right. We need to demonstrate the benefits of integration both collectively as well as nationally, and make sure that no segment of our society gets left behind and fears integration.
Our challenge as politicians is to communicate this effectively to our people, if not our two regional projects, ASEAN and the EU, will run into headwinds.
Singapore remains confident of the EU's commitment to broaden its footprint in this region, and deepen its engagement of ASEAN.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore