More than a billion people are preparing to vote all over the world in the next few months. The upcoming European elections will take place on 23-26 May 2019, and for the first time, anti-establishment and populist parties are expected to end the dominance of mainstream politics in the EU. Polls indicate that the next European Parliament will not have a clear majority and the real challenge will be to find compromises among more than two big mainstream political groups.

In India, where the general election will be held in seven stages starting on 11 April, about 900 million citizens are eligible to vote, and in Indonesia, 193 million voters will elect a new president on 17 April. This is the first time that parliamentary, presidential and local elections will be held on the same day in this country. Just like in 2014, Joko Widodo, the current president, known as Jokowi, is up against former general Prabowo Subianto.

Opinion polls show that president Widodo is holding a lead over his challenger. The Economist Intelligence Unit also expects that the actual president will win the elections. Jokowi has recorded some successes in infrastructure, health and education during his presidency. There is still a lot to do in these areas, but those are the three key spending areas he identified, and where even critics generally acknowledge some progress has been made.

Elections in Indonesia are of the most complicated in the world. India, with five times as many people, will be voting in rolling elections. Nevertheless, in Indonesia, the election will be taking place in a single day.  16 national parties have been approved to run, and there will be more than 20.000 seats contested by more than 245.000 candidates in the three parallel elections to be held.

It is mandatory by law for political parties to ensure that 30% of their parliamentary candidates are women. In the election of 2014, only 18% of successful candidates were women. In the 2019 elections, 40% of the candidates are women. Jokowi picked also a woman as minister of foreign affairs for his government, Retno Marsudi. She has been very competent and efficient. Indonesia won its bid for a nonpermanent seat in the UN Security Council for 2019-2020. That was a major success. Apart from Marsudi, Jokowi appointed seven other women as ministers, including minister of maritime affairs and fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti.

I do think that Jokowi will continue his pro-EU approach if he wins the elections. However, if Prabowo, who has a more nationalist economic position, is elected I don’t see any significant changes to be made in comparison to Jokowi’s EU policy.

The relation between the EU and Indonesia has been reinforced over recent years. During the last decennia, links have been developed in the frame of the EC Cooperation Agreement with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) which was formalised in 1980. Indonesia is the first ASEAN partner to have signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the EU which entered into force in May 2014.

EU relations with Indonesia reflect Indonesia’s position as a G20 member, the world’s third largest democracy and its influential position within ASEAN. As Indonesia’s status in the world increases, its partnership with the EU becomes stronger. The EU and Indonesia continue to deepen this relationship across a wide range of areas. The EU is negotiating a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Indonesia with the objective to facilitate and create new market access, increase trade between the EU and Indonesia as well as to expand direct investment.

Bilateral trade in goods between the EU and Indonesia amounted to €26.8 billion in 2017, with EU exports worth €10 billion and EU imports worth €16.7 billion – yet Jakarta is keen to increase this. One of Indonesia’s major export products is palm oil. This industry directly employs 4 million people and indirectly supports up to 12 million more. It provides vital income for poor communities offering possibilities to food security and prosperity. For Indonesia, the EU is the second-largest export market for palm oil, with significantly lower tariffs than other markets. Furthermore, Indonesian palm oil exports to the EU increased by 27% in 2017 compared to 2016. While environmental organisations are expressing concerns about deforestation caused by its production, there is no EU ban on palm oil and Brussels has no plans to introduce one.

EU-Indonesia

During last year, we saw many media outlets suggesting disagreements between EU authorities and Jakarta. However, while differences persist, there is few reporting about the potential collaboration that both the EU and Indonesia can undertake not just on palm oil, but on sustainability issues more generally within the frame of a broader relationship. The issue of palm oil will continue to be high on the agenda as it is a sensitive question. It plays an important role in the economy and tackling poverty. The way the EU and Indonesia deal with the palm oil issue will be a catalyst in determining the future of EU-Indonesia and EU-ASEAN relations.

In October 2018, a circular economy was the focal point at the EU-Indonesia Business Dialogue (EIBD) in Jakarta, as businesses and government officials from the EU and Indonesia explore ways to maximise economic growth through more sustainable practices. Adopting a circular-economy model could not only benefit Europe environmentally and socially but could also generate a net economic benefit of €1.8 trillion by 2030.

A circular economy is a large set of policies and economic approaches meant to minimise resource input and waste, energy loss and greenhouse-gas emissions by keeping the value of products and materials in the economy for as long as possible and minimise waste generation. This can be achieved through a combination of long-lasting design, maintenance, recycling and remanufacturing.

EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella shared the EU experience in moving towards a more sustainable circular economy model, highlighting its benefits for environment, prosperity and resilience in the society and for the economy.

“Indonesia is an essential ally for the EU to make the next step change toward a global circular economy. The circular economy model is a tremendous opportunity for business, but also for our societies and planet. The EU is leading by example in the transition to a resource-efficient, circular and low-carbon future. But we cannot thrive alone. The EU stands ready to work with Indonesia to support this transition. It is good for business, for the environment and for climate protection,” said Commissioner Vella.

Furthermore, the European Parliament plans to strengthen its activity and diplomatic presence in Indonesia by sending own staff to the EU delegation in Jakarta and the headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), based in the same city. The EU Parliament officials have a broad knowledge of parliamentary procedures and parliamentary diplomacy and could complement the activities of the European Commission and the EEAS in engaging the parliamentary dimension of regional bodies.

Europe faces considerable challenges in reducing inequality and social exclusion. 80 million Europeans are at risk of poverty and 14 million young people are not in education, employment or training. The EU hasn’t yet overcome the economic crisis which has led to unemployment rates of 12% in general and 20% among the youth. Inequality is also an issue for the government in Jakarta which is proactively working on addressing relative poverty and managed to cut it by more than half since 1999. Nevertheless, 28 of the 261 million of its citizens still live below the poverty line with approximately 10% of the population making significantly less than the median income.

Indonesia has come a long way since Suharto. It has implemented many reforms to transform the country into a major democracy.  It is time for the European Union to further strengthen its own political, economic and security profile in the region. Indonesia plays a key role in Asia as it is not only one of the most solid democracies in the area but also the host of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – still the centrepiece of its foreign policy. The EU and Indonesia have a common interest in working together and enhance further cooperation to tackling global challenges on issues such as climate change, poverty, regional conflicts, reducing social exclusion and safeguarding multilateral institutions, including the United Nations.