Boosting economic relations, spreading tolerance
Retno LP Marsudi ; Foreign Minister of Indonesia
This week, four European capitals — Berlin, London, Brussels and The Hague — will welcome President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who has embarked on a five-day trip to the continent.
In Brussels, President Jokowi’s visit marks a historic new chapter in Indonesia-European Union relations. As the first visit by a sitting Indonesian president to EU institutions, the President will hold important talks with all three EU presidents, namely the European Parliament president, European Council president and European Commission president.
The visit will bolster cooperation between Indonesia and the EU, one of the country’s long-time traditional partners, as reflected in the 2009 EU-Indonesia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) — the first EU treaty in Southeast Asia and the first after the Lisbon Treaty.
Let us take bilateral economic relations as a yardstick. At US$26.2 billion in total trade, the EU is Indonesia’s fourth largest trading partner. Total investment from the EU — at around $2.3 billion — is Indonesia’s third largest investor. Almost 1 million tourists from Europe also visited Indonesia last year.
These figures show Indonesia’s position as a key EU partner in the region, and vice versa.
The visit from President Jokowi will not only reinforce formal economic ties through avenues such as the launch of negotiations for the Indonesia-EU Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). It will also promote business-to-business collaborative projects, as a good number of deals are expected to be signed during the visit.
The visit is also about meeting common strategic interests.
Both Indonesia and the EU are confronted with changing global and regional strategic landscapes, including the results of protracted conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. The two parties have to deal with the impacts of these changes including increased irregular migration and influxes of asylum seekers.
Both have also been victims of acts of terrorism, which in Europe has resulted in renewed negative sentiments against Islam — a growing Islamophobia.
As home to the world’s largest modern and tolerant Muslim population, a democratic Indonesia is a natural partner for Europe to confront such new challenges.
We can exchange our respective experiences and learn from each other in dealing with these pressing issues.
Accordingly, Indonesia can offer Europe its best practices and lessons on at least two issues.
The first is confronting the issue of terrorism and extremism.
The recent terror attacks in Jakarta’s Thamrin area and in Brussels have shown that Indonesia — a Muslim-majority country — and Europe, with a non-Muslim majority, are both victims of terrorism. No country is immune from this threat. Muslims and non-Muslims have fallen due to such heinous acts.
It shows that terrorism knows no religion and respects no nationality. It shows that the ideology of extremism and radicalism are influencing the violence perpetrated by those terrorists.
Therefore, the growing Islamophobia is counterproductive to our common pursuit of peace and prosperity. The Islamic world as well as the rest of the world must work together more closely to combat this common enemy.
In doing so, Indonesia practices a mix of hard and soft approaches.
The hard approach is conducted through law enforcement and effective counterterrorism methods. The soft approach, on the other hand, is carried out through sociocultural and economic empowerment, deradicalization programs and interfaith dialogue. In other words, winning hearts and minds.
The presence of an active and strong civil society in this regard is a must.
Indonesia’s assets such as the Islamic organizations Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, which have championed religious harmony by engaging other faiths, have been critical partners in this effort.
Furthermore, as home to the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC), Indonesia will continue promoting stronger law enforcement, information sharing and capacity building cooperation with its European colleagues.
Indonesia and Europe must work together to end this once and for all by continuously promoting the values of tolerance and moderation, as well as through better law enforcement cooperation.
Those are the messages that President Jokowi will take to the four European capitals.
Additionally, his visit can also serve as an opportunity for Europe to better understand the true meaning of Islam as a blessing for the whole universe.
The second issue relates to a better response to the matter of irregular migration.
The refugee crisis in Europe and the sudden movement of migrants in the Andaman Sea last May have opened our eyes to the magnitude and complexity of our common problem.
However, while Europe continues to face growing negative sentiments, sensitivity and concerns over the issue of irregular migrants, our region has managed to prove that dialogue, consultation and cooperation in response to immediate challenges, such as irregular migration through the Bali Process, can be very effective.
Against this backdrop, Indonesia last month hosted the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process, a regional consultative forum to address irregular migration, asylum seekers and refugee issues.
The conference agreed to establish a special mechanism to address emergency situations and sudden movements of irregular migration as well as working together to address its root causes. Without peace, stability and prosperity in migrants’ countries of origin, this problem will continue.
During his visit, President Jokowi will underscore that Indonesia and Europe can work together to address the problem of irregular migration, particularly in helping to address its root causes.
In cooperation with relevant international organizations, Indonesia and the EU can help to address the issue of irregular migration, putting humanitarian considerations first in responding to emergency situations and the sudden movement of persons.
To sum up, Indonesia and Europe can learn from each other, especially as we share many interests and face similar challenges. ●