Will Britain leave the EU on 23 June? Will any country leave ASEAN?

Photo: State Chancellery of Latvia

British voters will decide whether or not they want their country to leave the European Union (EU) in a referendum on 23 June this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.

Mr Cameron’s announcement came after a long and often ferocious debate on Britain’s membership of the EU, which can be traced back to Margaret Thatcher’s premiership in the 1980s.

This has come in realisation of his Conservative Party’s election promise, at the British general election last year, to give the British people a say on Britain’s membership of the EU.

According to the EU treaties, an EU member state wishing to leave the grouping simply has to notify the European Council – the body that comprises the heads of government of each of the EU’s 28 member states.

And then within two years, the seceding member state has to negotiate an agreement with the rest of the EU members, to set out the precise terms of the withdrawal.

ASEAN: no procedures laid out for member states to leave

For ASEAN, conversely, there are no provisions for member states to leave ASEAN laid out in the ASEAN Charter, a constitution-like agreement that entered into force in December 2008.

On membership, the ASEAN Charter only states that a country wishing to join ASEAN has to obtain the unanimous agreement of all current ASEAN members at a summit meeting.

ASEAN is of course vastly different from the EU. ASEAN has been built on the principle of “non-interference”. The EU and its member states, however, are governed by legally-binding treaties that run thousands of pages.

That presents a whole different incentive structure for countries to join or leave ASEAN, compared to the situation with the EU.

Nevertheless there have still been times of tension between ASEAN member states.

In 2004, Thailand’s then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra famously threatened to walk out of an ASEAN summit meeting in Vientiane, Laos, if fellow ASEAN member states were to raise the issue of Thailand’s handling of an intensifying Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand. Neighbouring countries saw the Thai government’s response to Muslim grievances as being inept and too heavy-handed.

“If there is any attempt to raise the issue at the ASEAN summit, I will fly straight home”, he said. In any event, that did not happen.

In a separate incident that same month in 2004, a group of ASEAN parliamentarians called for Myanmar to be stripped of its membership of ASEAN. Myanmar’s human rights record had been in the spotlight when the United States and the EU threatened to boycott ASEAN meetings if Myanmar would indeed take up the chairmanship of ASEAN, as then scheduled for 2006.

Myanmar was to pass over its chance to take up the ASEAN chairmanship in 2006.