As a member of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, Portuguese politician Ana Gomes continues to monitor developments in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. The EU is now preparing the groundwork for free trade talks with ASEAN, as well as an EU-Indonesia cooperation and partnership. Because of her keen understanding of Indonesia, she has been selected as the EU parliament's the key point-person.
Gomes was in Indonesia recently, as part of the process to draft a resolution on cooperation between the two regional groupings, EU and ASEAN. Before flying off to Dili to meet old friends, she met with Tempo reporters Natalia Santi and Seulki Lee for an interview. Excerpts:
What is the purpose of your visit to Indonesia this time?
The European parliament will soon have to adopt a resolution about EU-Indonesia cooperation and partnership agreement. It is an agreement that has been negotiated a long time ago, which is now being ratified by our 27 national parliaments and by the DPR (House of Representatives). But now it needs to be ratified by the European parliament through a consensus on issues of trade, investment, political dialogue and security. This will be a report by the foreign affairs committee and I was appointed to draft the report. Having been here as a dubes (ambassador), a friend of Indonesia, a great fan of the Indonesian democratic process, I am seen to be in a better position than any other members. It's important to interact with members of the Indonesian civil society, government officials and parliament to get their views on what the main challenges are for Indonesia today.
What are the changes that have caught your attention in this trip?
I've been very impressed by the Indonesian civil society. I remember back in 1999 and 2000, many of these human rights and civil society organizations were just developing, with mostly foreigners involved. Now I'm surprised how able and structured they have become. Kontras (The Commission for Involuntary Disappearance and Victims of Violence), Komnas Perempuan (Indonesia' National Commission on Violence against Women) and their interfaith dialogue is so amazing. Their analysis of the challenges is very interesting and clear. This is really a demonstration of the success of the Indonesian democracy. It's not just about development, about the society getting richer but it's about getting richer in terms of values and capacity of one's rights and public participation.
Does the European parliament understand what Indonesia is all about?
I feel privileged to have been able to watch Indonesia's transition towards democracy when I was posted here from 1999 to 2003. When I came back to Europe after living in Indonesia, I was surprised and disappointed that there was so little knowledge in Europe about Indonesia. In fact, there is a lot of ignorance about Indonesia. That's why I chose this assignment, contributing to the report, to put a positive and constructive perspective and not allow the wrong perceptions that often arise about Indonesia. I would say there are very few members, who know about Indonesia well. Each one of them brings their own perspectives but sometimes their perspectives are just one part of the reality.
How do you see Indonesia's role in the international arena?
I think Indonesia occupies very important role internationally. I know many people here are very content with Indonesia being a member of the G20. Frankly, I don't think the G20 matters so much, because it is an informal organization. It can always pass beautiful resolutions but then there's no implementation. It's good diplomacy for Indonesia and Indonesia should feel confident about nominating their candidates for positions of power. Do not be discouraged that Mari Pangestu was not successful (in getting the WTO chair). Try for other positions. I'm disappointed as well because I wanted to see Mari Pangestu supported by us (European parliament). I was actually lobbying for her. But then it was the time for Asia but not Indonesia. In 2006, I was here when the search was on for a UN secretary general. I was calling around my friends and saying why don't you put a woman candidate? I suggested Erna Witoelar.
Indonesia also plays a very important role in ASEAN and ASEAN is very relevant for global security. For many years, Indonesia was involved in solving Philippines' problems with the Muslims in the south, the peace process in Cambodia and encouraging the democratic transition in Myanmar. Indonesia should not be shy. I would like to see Indonesia become very active in reforming the Security Council. We should not fool ourselves that the Big Five have any interest in reforming the Security Council. The Security Council today is not functioning, as the veto system is outdated. I wish Indonesia would be more vocal and forceful, in pushing for (a membership) in the Security Council.
Gomes also spoke of what the European government and parliament think about the Papua issue, and her general vies on Timor-Leste today. She also shared her personal thoughts over reports that Xanana Gusmao is turning into some kind of a dictator in Timor-Leste. The complete interview is available in this week's edition of Tempo English. (*)