1. Why is Myanmar important for the EU?
In 2011 Myanmar’s Government embarked on a path of democratic and economic reforms, breaking out of international isolation. Nobel Peace Prize laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in November 2010 and became a Member of Parliament in 2012*. A unique, nationally-led peace process between the Government and ethnic, armed groups started with the aim to put an end to more than five decades of conflict and raised hopes of lasting peace. The holding of credible and competitive elections in November 2015 and a smooth transition of political power to the new democratic government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, marked an important milestone in the country’s democratic transition. The EU has lent its strong support for Myanmar's democratisation, national reconciliation and economic transformation, which, if successful, can serve as an encouraging example in a strategically important region. The EU also has a wealth of experience to offer in democratic transition from authoritarian systems, building effective institutions and peace through reconciliation between diverse ethnic groups and transforming the economy.
2. What are the main challenges Myanmar’s new government faces?
Challenges include consolidating democracy, promoting ethnic peace and reconciliation, advancing constitutional reforms, institution building and security sector reform, and promoting the rule of law and human rights. Concurrently the government will need to address the people’s immense expectations to deliver higher incomes as well as quality basic services through economic growth and inclusive development.
3. How has the EU contributed to Myanmar’s transition?
The European Union has taken a leading role in responding to the political changes in Myanmar and has provided strong support from the outset for the democratic and economic reforms through a comprehensive approach. The lifting of sanctions, with the exception of an arms embargo, the reinstatement of trade preferences under the "Everything But Arms" scheme, and the normalisation of diplomatic relations with a full-fledged EU Delegation in Yangon opened the door for a new partnership. Bilateral relations have dynamically expanded as demonstrated by the establishment of a regular Human Rights Dialogue, the invitation of the EU to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement as international witness in October 2015, the deployment of an Election Observation Mission for the elections in November 2015, and the start of negotiations on an Investment Protection Agreement. The stepping up of our political engagement has been accompanied by the significant increase of bilateral development support with the adoption of the Multiannual Indicative Programme 2014-2020 for Myanmar for an amount of up to EUR 688 million.
4. Why are the High Representative and the European Commission presenting this Communication now?
The arrival in office of a new democratic government provides a historic opportunity for Myanmar to consolidate democracy and to work towards peace, national reconciliation and prosperity. The EU will continue its prominent role in support of Myanmar’s democratic transition and, against this backdrop, has taken a fresh look at its engagement on democracy and human rights, the peace process, the economy and sustainable development so as to align this engagement with the priorities of the new government. The early adoption of this Joint Communication, within the first 100 days of the new administration, sends a strong signal of the EU’s continued firm commitment to Myanmar, a priority country for the European Union's involvement in Asia.
5. What actions are you proposing?
The Joint Communication sets out a vision and concrete commitments in terms of the EU's political, security and development support to and economic engagement in Myanmar for the years ahead.
Areas of engagement include:
- Democracy, rule of law and good governance: To facilitate sustainable democracy in Myanmar with full respect for the rule of law, the EU will help build effective institutions, support the reform of the security sector, and enhance and differentiate its engagement across society - local governments, the justice sector, parliaments and civil society.;
- The peace process: In October 2015, the European Union was one of the few parties invited to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and Ethnic Armed Organisations, as an international witness. Despite this, peace in Myanmar is fragile. The EU will work with all concerned to set up and implement an inclusive peace architecture in order to achieve lasting peace. To sustain the peace, the EU will share its experience, and work on building confidence and fostering reconciliation between the parties;
- Human rights: Myanmar will need to address several human rights challenges, not least the situation in Rakhine State where Muslim minorities face various forms of discrimination. The EU will work with the government to combat hate speech and intolerance. Human rights resolutions should be implemented and legislation brought in line with international standards;
- Poverty reduction and sustainable development: Myanmar is one of the world’s poorest countries. The transition paves the way for an intensification of EU development cooperation in areas such as education, rural development and governance, possibly including through substantial budget support actions in 2016 and beyond. Targeted technical cooperation will be expanded to support the implementation of Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development as well as opportunities under the Erasmus+ programme and the Horizon 2020 EU Research programme.
- Economic engagement: If Myanmar can address the remaining challenges, its transition can unlock vast economic and business opportunities. The EU is ideally placed to help realise these possibilities. We will seek to conclude the negotiations of an Investment Protection Agreement, help improve the regulatory framework and labour standards, while providing for the highest standards of corporate social responsibility of European investors. The EU will also prepare for negotiations on a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA).
- Myanmar in ASEAN and the region: The country’s transition offers new opportunities for regional cooperation between the EU and ASEAN and between the EU and the Lower Mekong countries to strengthen the regional integration process and the substance of the EU-ASEAN enhanced partnership.
6. What are the next steps?
The Council of the European Union (Member States) and the European Parliament are now invited to give their views on the Joint Communication.
For more information:
IP/16/2008 : Taking the EU-Myanmar partnership to the next level: an EU strategy in support of Myanmar's reforms
MEMO/16/2010: The European Union and Myanmar: A special partnership for democracy, peace and prosperity
* Updated on 02/06/2016 at 14:32, changed “2011” to “2012”.