Delegation of the European Union to Albania

Connecting Europe and Asia: time to move up a gear

Fiji, 01/10/2018 - 23:10, UNIQUE ID: 181001_12
Op-Eds

Op-ed by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy & Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini.

Connecting Europe and Asia: time to move up a gear
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy & Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini.

Europe and Asia have a centuries-old common history. The ties between the two continents are today reaching an unprecedented level. Asian markets account for over one third of exports from the European Union. Almost half of the goods and services imported by the EU come from Asian countries. Every year, thousands of students, academics, researchers move between the EU and Asia. The cultural exchanges between our cities are vibrant. And there is more to our mutual relationship than just economic or scientific exchanges: the European Union and Asian countries have a common interest in preserving a cooperative, rules-based and peaceful international system, where multilateral organisations are the natural fora for reaching common solutions. This relationship needs to rely on effective, functioning and sustainable connectivity, in other words on the physical and non-physical infrastructure through which goods, services, ideas and people can flow unhindered.

While connectivity has always been a part of the EU's policy towards Asia, until now the EU has not used its potential in this area to the full. That is why we have proposed earlier this month a new policy framework to step up the EU action, an EU strategy on connectivity between Europe and Asia, which will directly affect also links between Europe and the Pacific.

Our message is clear: the European Union is ready to step up its engagement with Asian partners on an agenda for connectivity, based on mutual interests and common objectives. Connectivity is in the very DNA of the European Union, as a political project based on market integration. We can offer our regulatory experience, technical expertise and funding opportunities at the service of projects that help interoperability and convergence, promote fiscally and environmentally sound growth, and strengthen our connections in a way that will be beneficial for us all.

We can do this in three ways. Firstly, the EU is ready to support new connections and networks between Europe and Asia. For example, extending our Trans-European Transport Network, which facilitates trade and mobility through removing technical and regulatory barriers for transport networks and modernising infrastructure to other non-EU countries would be a positive step. We will also pursue a sustainable digital agenda with Asia in order to foster universal and affordable access to digital technologies and services. We will share our experience in creating regional, liberalised energy markets with a focus on market-driven transformation towards clean energy. And we will continue to promote human exchanges and mobility through programmes such as Erasmus or the Marie Curie Action as a way to build connections, mutual understanding and share ideas.

Secondly, in the EU approach, connectivity can only be built in partnership. Many such partnerships exist already. In the Pacific, the EU will continue supporting regional economic integration and promote people-to-people contacts, including student and academic exchanges between Europe and the Pacific Island States under the Erasmus+ programme. Better connectivity between Europe and Asia will directly improve links between Europe and Oceania and will therefore contribute to enhancing trade and economic development in the Pacific region. Importantly for the Pacific region, where climate change issues are on top of the agenda, the EU's approach to connectivity includes promoting decarbonisation of the economy and respecting high standards, based on environmental impact assessments, to respond to the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation and attain the targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.    

We will work hand in hand with regional and sub-regional organisations and mechanisms existing in the Pacific, to identify and support projects.

Thirdly, we want to work on a connectivity based on shared principles: transparency, non-discriminatory market practices, a level playing field for economic operators, protection for intellectual property rights. The best way to achieve this is not to impose anyone's standards or rules, but to work together within international organisations on mutually acceptable ones. European companies must have a level playing field vis-à-vis their competitors and have the same access to markets abroad as others have in the EU.

Finally, we will mobilise all our levers to back projects with adequate funding, using to the full the potential of the European Investment Bank and of the new tools for external investment policy available under the EU budget.  According to the Asia Development Bank, Asia will require over €1.3 trillion a year of infrastructure investment in the coming decades. The EU is ready to support Asian countries meet such an investment challenge leveraging public and private financing through a combination of grants, guarantees, lending and blending. Yet, investment must be fiscally viable and financially sustainable. The EU will only support projects that mobilise domestic resources, create value for local communities and are sustainable in the long term.

Together, Europe and Asia/Pacific account for almost 70 percent of global population and over 60 percent of the world's GDP. There is space for making our ties stronger and more mutually beneficial. Sustainable connectivity, based on strong partnerships and transparent rules, is for the EU, European and Asian/Pacific countries, the best way forward.

Ends.