Prince in Nuremberg for Asean-EU talks
By Sonia K

His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Her Royal Highness Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Zariah on Tuesday evening arrived in Nuremberg, Germany where His Royal Highness will attend the two-day 16th Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting that ends today.

On arrival at the Nuremberg Airport, Their Royal Highnesses were welcomed by Dr Hubert Siegler, Deputy Chief of Protocol, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany.

The meeting is part of a drive to improve relations long hobbled by discord over human rights and other sensitive political issues, Associated Press reported.

EU foreign ministers and their counterparts from Asean planned to endorse a statement calling for closer political ties and joint action in areas such as security, energy, environment protection and economic development, officials said.

The 27-nation EU planned to encourage further regional integration in Southeast Asia, after the region's leaders agreed in January to forge a free-trade zone by 2015 - five years earlier than previously proposed.

"Europe has led the way in exploring the possibilities and advantages of regional integration," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said before the meeting.

"We applaud the initiatives that Asean is taking to bring the benefits of deeper regional cooperation to Southeast Asia," she said. "We will continue to do all we can to support Asean in this to help bring greater stability and prosperity to the region."

Southeast Asian nations, in setting up the free-trade zone, would first include Asean's richer members, such as Singapore and Brunei, in the area by 2010, with others following later, according to agreements reached at a January summit in the Philippines.

Integrating the region economically is a huge undertaking, given the vast differences in economic development of Asean members and the fact that such integration requires Asian nations to shed some economic sovereignty.

The EU also wants Asean nations to sign political cooperation agreements committing both sides to regular consultations on democracy, human rights, terrorism and other political issues. (14th March 2007)