NOW! Jakarta met H.E. Vincent Piket, EU Ambassador to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam in an exclusive interview.
Please tell our readers a little about your background and career so far. Where have you served before coming to Indonesia?
I joined the EU in 1992 and have virtually always worked on the EU’s foreign relations. Although I have covered many different corners of the world—including Central Europe, Russia, Asia and Northern Africa—I have always had a natural affinity with Southeast Asia. After being posted in Slovenia (before it joined the EU) and Russia, I served as EU Ambassador to Malaysia, Hong Kong and now Indonesia, from where I am also accredited to Brunei Darussalam. Both my wife and I feel very fortunate to be here. While I represent the EU, I am originally from the Netherlands, and so I grew up hearing stories about the special place that is Indonesia, with its vibrant culture and kind people.
You come at a time of great change in Indonesia and one of challenge for the EU–RI relationship. What is your take on the current situation?
The EU established its diplomatic mission in Indonesia in 1988. We have had a bilateral Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), signed in 2009 and in force since 2014. Indonesia was the first country in Asia to have negotiated and signed a PCA with the EU. This is an important indicator of the quality of our relations.
We see Indonesia as a vital partner for our engagement globally and regionally. If you look at the current global political picture, we see that the multilateral system is under pressure. The EU is committed to preserving and strengthening the multilateral rules-based order. So is Indonesia. We have a natural partnership here in pursuing the objectives of a multilateral world order together.
On current challenges, we constantly read, hear and are asked about a supposed EU ban on the import of Indonesia’s palm oil. Let us be clear: there is no ban, the trade statistics show it. Our industries need palm oil for a large variety of purposes. But indeed, we do not see eye-to-eye with Indonesia on one very specific thing. It is not about palm oil in general. It is about biodiesel made of palm oil. In the current EU legislation on renewable energy, EU Member States will not be permitted to count biodiesel based on palm oil against the performance target they have on renewable energy. This is because our scientists consider that biofuel made of palm oil is not produced sustainably. What the EU is therefore proposing is that we work together to try to make sure that the Indonesia-made biodiesels meet the sustainability criteria. Once we achieve that, we will jointly help attain climate goals, preserve Indonesia’s tremendous biodiversity, and boost socio-economic development in Indonesia, particularly in its rural areas.
What do you hope to achieve during your term of office here professionally?
I hope that I can help EU-Indonesia relations get out of the impasse we presently have over palm oil. I am convinced that dialogue can bring a solution. Once we do that, we can further build on our strong partnership. The world today is in a difficult spot with acute concerns like regional instability, climate change, persistent poverty and famine in some parts, and a continuing threat from violent extremism. And all of this is happening at a time when the multilateral system is weakened. In order to address these challenges, the EU and Indonesia need to reset their agenda and focus on the core essence of our partnership, for the benefit of our citizens. I hope to contribute to that.
And personally? (If we may ask!)
I want to really get to know Indonesian society and culture. I am fascinated by the diversity of traditions, religions, regions and landscapes in this country. I have started to learn Bahasa Indonesia and hope that towards the end of my mandate I can give you an interview in that language.
What are the most important things the EU can do to help Indonesia to its next stage of development as a country?
Both Indonesia and the EU aim to achieve the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. What is more, President Widodo wants to bring Indonesia into the world’s top ten of largest economies around the same time. We support that agenda, because both Indonesia and the EU would benefit from a more prosperous and sustainable world at large.
We try to help Indonesia in two ways. First, with know-how transfer and development cooperation, even though funding is limited because Indonesia has been “upgraded” to the status of a middle-income country. Secondly, through investment in the economy. To boost the latter, I hope that within my mandate we will conclude the negotiations of the Indonesia-EU Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and start implementing it. I am certain that the CEPA will bring our trade and investment relations to a higher level altogether. It will help Indonesia’s economy grow by bringing in European investors, know-how and technology, all the while creating jobs and giving new opportunities to young people. The achievements of our economic partnership agreements with other countries, including some in Asia, are evidence that this works.