Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2009

Democracy and Human Rights in the European-Asian Dialogue: A Clash of Cooperation Cultures?

Howard Loewen

December 2008

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


Whereas the European Union (EU) favors a formal, binding, output-oriented, and to some extent supranational approach to cooperation, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is based on informal, non-binding, process-oriented intergovernmental forms of cooperation. This article addresses the question of whether these differences between European and Asian cooperation norms or cultures can account for interregional cooperation problems in the areas of democracy and human rights within the institutional context of EU-ASEAN and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). The author argues that a clash of cooperation cultures basically occurs in both forms of interregional collaboration between Asia and Europe, with slight differences due to the institutional context: while disagreements over the question of democracy and human rights between the EU and ASEAN have led to a temporary and then a complete standstill in cooperation, the flexible institutional mechanisms of ASEM seem, at first glance, to mitigate the disruptive effects of such dialogues. Yet informality does not remove the issues from the agenda, as the recurrent disputes over Myanmar’s participation and the nonintervention norm favored by the Asian side of ASEM clearly indicate. Antagonistic cooperation cultures thus play a significant role in explaining the obstructive nature of the interregional human rights and democracy dialogue between Asia and Europe. Keywords: cooperation culture, human rights, democracy, Myanmar, EU-ASEAN, ASEM Dr. Howard Loewen is a political scientist and senior research fellow at the GIGA Institute of Asian Studies. Contact: Website: