Gearing up for a full-fledged commitment

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION By Franz Jessen

Every relationship goes through its ups and downs, but on 22 January 2018 we definitely saw a huge step forward for the EU-Philippines relationship.

On that day I was invited to the Senate to witness the Senate giving its third and final approval of the EU-Philippines Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, or the PCA for short.

Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, in her sponsorship speech underscored the importance of the agreement as the PCA will serve as a “solid platform for dialogue to explore ways to achieve our shared goal of a stronger partnership based on mutual respect, trust and equality.” 

In her speech, Senator Legarda also explained how the EU has proven to be a committed development partner: “As of June 2017, the EU ranks 4th among sources of grants from official development assistance (ODA) and 8th among the combined sources of loans and grants of ODA.  The EU’s total ongoing ODA portfolio to the Philippines amounts to €190.48 million.” 

Senator Legarda also cited the EU’s role as a major contributor to the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF), a multi-donor grant facility that consolidates international development assistance for the recovery of conflict-affected communities in Mindanao and as a committed member of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in the Mindanao peace process. 

The relationship between the EU and the Republic of the Philippines is a longstanding one, which has broadened and deepened remarkably in recent years. While our relationship may not always be smooth, there have been continuous efforts on both sides to continue to strengthen the relationship through open and straightforward communication.

In this, the importance of high level exchange must be emphasized, and last year saw perhaps the largest number ever of exchanges between the EU and the Philippines. The President of the European Council Donald Tusk came to Manila, invited as guest of the chair to the East Asia Summit by President Duterte. Before him, the High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini took part in ASEAN ministerial meetings. At the beginning of the year, Trade Commissioner Malmström also attended ministerial meetings, and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and EU Special Envoy to the Philippines Edgardo Angara visited Brussels. European parliamentarians led by Ms Soraya Post also visited the Philippines in July. From the Philippines side, a 25-people delegation from MILF and MNLF delegates, youth and women and IP representatives visited the European Commission and also met with German parliamentarians in October last year. All these interactions gave ample opportunity to discuss the bilateral EU-Philippines relationship.

Constructive dialogue has always been key to any successful cooperation. EU’s bilateral dialogues with the Philippines have included periodic reviews of political, economic and cooperation issues in regular Senior Officials Meetings (SOM). The 9th SOM was held in Manila last August, and was chaired by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo and European External Action Service Managing Director for Asia, Gunnard Wiegand. 

A bit of history

 Europe’s formal dialogue structure with ASEAN began in the late 1970s, and was formalised in 1980 with the signature of an EC Cooperation Agreement with ASEAN. Twenty-four years after, the EU decided to upgrade its relationship with ASEAN countries through the conclusion of Partnership and Cooperation Agreements. 

However, formal PCA negotiations between the EU and the Philippines commenced in Manila only in February 2009. They were concluded at the seventh round of negotiations, held in Brussels on 2-3 June during the same year, and the agreement was initialled. Two years later, in 2012 it was then signed by HRVP Catherine Ashton and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario. The Philippines became the second ASEAN country to complete negotiations for a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU.

But what is the PCA?

What exactly will a PCA provide for? Basically, a PCA is a blueprint for the structures that will be used in managing and developing the bilateral relationship, and sets up structured mechanisms for dialogues on various topics and issues.  

The agreement will also provide the legal basis for both parties to cooperate in a wide range of areas. These include political matters, such as peace process and conflict prevention, human rights, and regional and global security issues, such as non-proliferation. They also cover trade and investment, including investment, SPS, TBT, customs and trade facilitation, as well as IPR questions. Justice and security, including the fight against drugs, money-laundering, organised crime and corruption, are other areas, as is migration, protection, admission, readmission, migration and development, and the fight against human trafficking. Maritime labour, education and training are other important issues, as are a wide range of economic, development and sectoral issues, including employment and social affairs, development cooperation, disaster risk management, energy, environment, agriculture, regional development, transport, science, ICT, tourism, health, and education.

However, it has to be emphasised that the PCA is not a free-trade agreement. While it enhances cooperation in various trade matters, it does not include specific trade concessions by either party. Negotiations for an EU-Philippines Free Trade Agreement were launched in 2015, and with the PCA about to enter into force, it will help facilitate the conclusion of the FTA negotiations. The aim is to conclude an ambitious agreement that covers a broad range of issues, including tariffs, non-tariff barriers to trade, trade in services and investment, as well as trade aspects of public procurement, intellectual property, competition and sustainable development.

Moving forward

Now that the Senate has concurred to the ratification of the PCA, the next challenge is to get this framework effectively implemented and operational.

I have directed my team here in Manila to do everything to help ensure that the relationship with the Philippines remains robust, dynamic and positive.  Colleagues in Brussels are also doing their share in pushing the relationship forward.

With mutual trust, respect and genuine commitment, the EU-Philippines relationship can certainly go no other way but upwards. 

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