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[Josep Borrell] Time for real Europe-Asia partnership

A few days ago, I chaired the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). What might seem to be a rather bureaucratic acronym, actually is a politically highly relevant event for our continents. I had offered to host this meeting in Madrid when I was still Foreign Minister of Spain and I chaired it as EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. It underlines my personal interest in the fast-moving continent that is Asia today. The meeting confirmed my conviction in a world of accelerating change. Simply put, Asia and Europe need each other much more than ever.

ASEM brings together 53 partners made up of the 28 EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and the EU, and on the Asia side, 21 countries and the ASEAN Secretariat. Together we represent: 55 percent of global trade, 60 percent of global GDP, 60 percent of the global population and 75 percent of global tourism.

ASEM matters for the sheer weight it represents. However, simply bringing countries together does not, of course, guarantee any results. But it creates opportunities. In recent years, ASEM has become increasingly relevant and strategic.

There is a clear willingness from ASEM countries to engage on global issues and to take on more responsibility -- from supporting sustainable development, to rules-based global trade, to information sharing on cross-border threats, to the prevention or peaceful resolution of conflicts. ASEM has acquired a new rationale and momentum as a key platform to uphold and promote rules-based, multilateral approaches. In the challenging world of today, this kind of cooperation and leadership is imperative.

However, we cannot be multilateralist alone. To be multilateralist we need each other, Asians and Europeans, to uphold the system – and ensure it is fit for purpose. It is for this reason that we chose the overarching theme “Asia and Europe: Together for an Effective Multilateralism,” and decided “Sustainable Connectivity” between Europe and Asia to be the central theme of our meeting.

In applying this principle to uphold multilateralism, we address security challenges, promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. We cooperate on the most pressing issues on the international agenda: the situation on the Korean Peninsula -- insistence on denuclearization and a political and diplomatic solution -- in the Rakhine State, the Middle East Peace Process, Iran and the wider region, and efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan -- to name just a few.

In recent years, sustainable connectivity has been a key theme of our discussions. The same goes for combating climate change. We adopted last week the EU Green Deal and made the ground-breaking commitment to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. But our ambition must be global and we need collective action. To safeguard our planet and to promote sustainable development, cooperation with our Asian partners is key.

All of these issues were discussed at our political meeting. But the real Asia-Europe meeting happens every day: when students from our respective continents swap Europe for Asia, or vice-versa, to study at university; when business transactions take place between European and Asian companies -- big or small; when we visit each other’s continents, either as tourists or as friends, to take in the best that Asia and Europe have to offer; and when researchers from our two continents put their minds together to work toward ground-breaking innovation.

At meetings like ASEM we create the environment and the conditions to enhance the connections we have between our societies and our citizens. This is the real goal of frameworks such as ASEM.

During my mandate as high representative, I will conduct EU foreign policy with realism and a strong sense of partnership. And I want to work closer with our Asian partners on key priorities such as our partnership with Africa, the Western Balkans, finding a solution to the situation in Libya, or a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, on Iran and many more.

I look forward to doing this with Europe’s Asian partners and friends in the years to come. It’s time to translate Europe and Asia’s power into a real partnership.

Josep Borrell
Josep Borrell is high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy. -- Ed.