The Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument

Posted by Written by Alexander Chipman Koty Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument (E-READI) is a cooperation program between the EU and ASEAN that aims to facilitate policy dialogue on a range of political, economic, and social issues.

Along with the Enhanced ASEAN Regional Integration Support from the EU program (ARISE Plus), E-READI is one of the flagship programs in EU-ASEAN development cooperation.

E-READI launched on September 1, 2017 and will be implemented until 2023. Already, E-READI has led to increase EU-ASEAN engagement on issues ranging from trade to environment to security.

In this article, we look at the priorities of the E-READI program and how it is being carried out in practice to foster closer EU-ASEAN cooperation.

What is in the E-READI program?

E-READI is an extension of READI, which was a similar effort by the EU to support ASEAN’s regional integration agenda from 2011 to 2015. READI, however, had a budget of just EUR 3.3 million (US$3.8 million), compared to EUR 20 million (US$23 million) for E-READI. The significant increase in budget for E-READI, which is funded entirely by the EU, reflects the program’s higher ambitions.

E-READI aims to enhance EU-ASEAN dialogue and cooperation in support of priority policies of joint interest in accordance with the ASEAN Community’s three pillars: political and security, economic, and socio-cultural. Policymakers also designed E-READI to correspond to actions in the broader EU-ASEAN Plan of Action, which guides cooperation between the EU and ASEAN. These are:

  • Promoting cooperation on human rights and good governance;
  • Expanding trade, business, and investment;
  • Strengthening the role of the private sector and public-private partnership;
  • Strengthening micro, small, and medium enterprises;
  • Strengthening cooperation in transport, energy, and ICT;
  • Enhancing cooperation in sectors on food, agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture, and forestry;
  • Enhancing cooperation on research and innovation, and science and technology;
  • Promoting gender equality, well-being, rights, and welfare of women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and migrant workers; and
  • Addressing regional and global environmental challenges and promoting sustainable development.

In pursuit of these various areas for cooperation, E-READ has four thematic focus areas:

  • Economic and trade connectivity, and business enabling environment: digital economy, trade, business, road transport, euro-codes (construction standards);
  • Environment and climate change: circular economy, natural capital, climate action, sustainable clean energy, fisheries;
  • Human rights and gender equality: dialogue on human rights, gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, safe migration and labor mobility; and
  • Science and research: Research & Innovation Policy Exchange Platform.

The focus areas may apply to multiple pillars or action items. For example, environment and climate change issues may apply to cooperation on human rights and good governance as well as on agriculture and fisheries simultaneously.

What does E-READI look like in practice?

Like READI before it, E-READI seeks to leverage the experience of EU policymakers in building effective regional governance. While ASEAN is not as integrated as the EU, ASEAN has taken heavy inspiration from the EU in structuring regional cooperation and integration.

In addition to encouraging dialogue between EU and ASEAN policymakers, E-READI looks to increase interactions in civil society, the private sector, and other areas. To do so, E-READI offers organizational and logistical support for meetings, workshops, and study visits, as well as supporting expert studies and technical assistance.

For example, E-READI supported a study on the circular economy in ASEAN, which was later discussed in regional workshops and then the ASEAN-EU High-Level Dialogue on Environment and Climate Change. This case is an example of how E-READI supports research and fosters dialogue, with the hope for it to inform actionable policy decisions.

Another example is the “EU-ASEAN High-Performance Computing Virtual School”. This program saw students from ASEAN countries participate in a week-long learning experience where they learned from experts from the EU, ASEAN, and Japan on high-performance computing. In this case, E-READI facilitated knowledge exchange between experts while training students on practical skills for in-demand technology.

What is next for E-READI?

In practice, E-READI has shown to be flexible in its focus areas. For example, E-READI applied its commitments to foster collaboration on science and technology to address the COVID-19 pandemic when it emerged in 2020. Accordingly, the exact concentrations of E-READI are not set in stone for the coming years.

The nature of E-READI in promoting exchange and linkages reflects the EU’s unique position with ASEAN as a model for regional integration. Once E-READI ends in 2023, it is possible that policymakers will develop a third version of this program, as both the EU and ASEAN have indicated they plan to continue engaging with one another.

Recently, the EU and ASEAN announced that they are restarting talks on a free trade agreement, after suspending negotiations in 2009. While forming a free trade agreement may take years, programs such as E-READI will help facilitate momentum towards engagement and cooperation until the two sides strike a deal.

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