The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union agreed on Monday to gradually resume all political re-engagement with Thailand and to possibly restart free trade talks with the country, now that the junta confirmed the general election will be held in November.
The Foreign Affairs Council "decided to resume political contacts at all levels with Thailand in order to facilitate meaningful dialogue on issues of mutual importance, including on human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the road towards democracy," it said in a statement.
- Full text: Europen Council conclusions on Thailand
The move came after the chief of the National Council for Peace and Order on Oct 10 called an election that would be held in November next year.
The council "welcomes" the decision, it added.
The bloc made clear the position of seeing the "urgent restoration of the democratic process" in Thailand and said Brussels will use the contacts to achieve the call and other issues including freedom of expression and the end of political gatherings.
"The EU looks to the Thai authorities to ensure a political environment in which opposition parties and civil society can function freely," the statement said.
The council also urged the EU to explore with Thailand the possibilities for resuming talks on an EU-Thailand free trade agreement, which, along with all political relations, have been put on hold since the May 22, 2014 coup.
The European Council is the EU institution that defines the general political direction and priorities of the EU. It consists of the heads of state or government of the member states, together with its president and the president of the European Commission.
Thailand welcomed the EU decision.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said it is the EU's principle to uphold democracy. The ministry welcomes the EU resolution and looks forward to forging a stronger Thai-EU relationship in the future.
Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said it is a positive sign for the economy because the country can resume bilateral trade negotiations with EU countries.
He said the EU decision means that all major power blocs in the world have accepted Thailand since US President Donald Trump recently invited Gen Prayut to visit the White House.
Experts believe the EU's move boosts the country's chance of seeing off the yellow card imposed by the EU in April last year after Thailand failed to address illegal fishing practices.
The EU said Thailand had taken insufficient measures to solve so-called Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing in the industry.
Chulalongkorn University professor Chaiwat Kamchoo is optimistic about the normalisation of ties, saying the move is sensible, since the political situation in Thailand has begun to improve, notwithstanding delays in the next election. He said the move will also benefit Thailand in the area of trade, since it will lead to the resumption of trade negotiations.
Mr Chaiwat also believes this will in turn further benefit the Thai political climate by binding the government to its commitment to follow its political promises.
"I think the EU may have predicted that the normalisation of ties with the government will compel the government to uphold its commitment to follow the roadmap and election. The government will have to follow what it has promised, since not doing so will harm its trustworthiness and reputation within the international community."
Former Democrat MP Rachada Dhnadirek said the government has tried to comply with the EU's requirement on IUU and human rights. The EU was showing good cooperation, she said.