EU Interest Towards Indo-Pacific Through IORA

On Jan. 30, 2024, the European Union (EU) officially became a Dialogue Partner of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). The event was marked by the submission of a Letter of Acceptance by the EU Delegate to the Republic of Mauritius and the Republic of Seychelles, H.E. Mr. Oskar Benedikt to the Secretary General of IORA, H.E. Dr. Salman Al Farisi at the IORA Secretariat in Ebene, Mauritius. The EU is listed as the 12th Dialogue Partner of IORA and the first Dialogue Partner in the form of intergovernmental organization after previously all Dialogue Partners of IORA were states.

The engagement of the EU as a Dialogue Partner of IORA is a part of the EU’s targets as outlined in the EU Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) back in 2023 as updated by the Revised UEMSS and the EU Indo-Pacific Strategy. While EUMSS specifically mandates the EU to become a Dialogue Partner of IORA, the EU Indo-Pacific Strategy projecting them to strengthen ocean governance and security in the region.

On closer look, the EU has contributed to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for decades. The EU has played a significant role in the region by becoming a development partner of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) for more than 35 years. The EU has also been conducting security operations in the Western Indian Ocean since 2008 through Operation Atalanta.

As the third largest ocean in the world and home to 38 countries across most part of the Asia and Africa region, the IOR holds numerous potentials that should be protected. Its strategic location makes the IOR home to the world’s most important ports. 40% of the world’s oil production is also located within the Indian Ocean. In addition, with an area of about 20% of the earth’s surface, the Indian Ocean is critical to the habitat of marine life species.

However, with the wealth possessed by the IOR, it also poses many threats. The region is vulnerable to many traditional and non-traditional security threats. While the EU has made clear its interest in enhancing its role in the Indo-Pacific region as outlined in the EUMSS and EU Indo-Pacific Strategy, so does IORA.

In one of IORA’s priorities and focus areas, Maritime Safety and Security, IORA also has similar targets to the EU by suppressing systemic maritime crime in the region. In addition, IORA conducted several initiatives to combat maritime crime with the IORA Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security (WGMSS) and the IORA Action Plan. The addition of the EU as a Dialogue Partner was also outlined in IORA’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific which was adopted during the 22nd COM meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In the meeting, IORA expressed its willingness to support the initiatives of other regional organizations in the Indo-Pacific region to promote regional cooperation.

Remarkably, a distinctive feature of the IORA lies in the noteworthy fact that four out of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) are counted among its dialogue partners, while France is a permanent member of the regional body. This exceptional composition imbues IORA with a singular character, fostering expectations of the organization effectively harnessing its collective resources for regional betterment. Despite this, the realization of IORA’s inherent potential has been hampered by the suboptimal involvement of its influential dialogue partners. The efficacy of certain dialogue partners within the IORA framework has been critically appraised, revealing a spectrum of challenges impeding substantive contributions towards the overarching objectives of the IORA. A palpable discord arises as some partners grapple with the alignment of their strategic priorities with the exigencies confronting the strategically significant Indian Ocean region, thereby prompting debates regarding their overarching impact on the facets of regional cooperation and developmental imperatives.

The envisaged inclusion of the EU as a dialogue partner presents a prospectus for the rectification and alleviation of extant inefficacies within the IORA dialogue partner construct. The prospective induction of the EU is poised to engender a transformative paradigm, with its steadfast commitment to financial investments and technology transfer potentially establishing a precedent for adept and purposeful engagement. Beyond the palpable economic contributions, the EU’s wealth of experience in navigating the complexities of regional integration augurs well for the IORA member states and their dialogue partners. Through the dissemination of best practices and insights derived from the European integration model, the EU is positioned to impart valuable guidance in overcoming challenges germane to economic cooperation, governance, and institutional development.

The prospect of the EU as a dialogue partner signifies the potential initiation of a positive realignment in diplomatic dynamics. Its unwavering commitment to the principles of multilateralism and inclusive cooperation carries the latent capacity to instigate heightened engagement among other dialogue partners in addressing the multifaceted challenges. The participation of the EU is poised to engender a more intricately woven and interconnected network of diplomatic relations within IORA, cultivating a heightened sense of shared responsibility among dialogue partners. In doing so, the EU’s involvement is poised to usher in a transformative era wherein the collective endeavors of IORA and its dialogue partners coalesce synergistically to confront the intricate issues confronting the IOR.

Collaboration between the EU and IORA is a major step forward in creating regional security, stability and prosperity. This move is important going forward as EU expected to strengthen and optimize the role of IORA through cooperation in various aspects, especially combating various systemic maritime crimes and promotion of tackling global warming.

[Photo by IORA]

Yokie Rahmad Isjchwansyah is a master’s student in International Relations from Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy (PGSD), Universitas Paramadina.

Muhammad Estiak Hussain is a Research Assistant at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. 

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