Delegation of the European Union to Japan


15/06/2016 - 12:22
EU relations with Region

The emergence of Asia is of global significance. Getting EU relations right with this diverse and dynamic region is one of the major challenges facing Europe.

We are deepening our strategic partnerships with China, India, and Japan and negotiations are well underway on new partnership and free trade agreements with South Korea and with south-east Asian countries. Regular and wide-ranging dialogue takes place, leading to cooperation and convergence on global issues, regional security questions as well as regulatory policy and other economic issues. Many agreements in fields ranging from tourism to nuclear research are either in place or under discussion.

Asia comprises high-income industrialised partners and dynamic emerging economies but is also home to two thirds of the world's poor.  Development cooperation therefore remains high on the EU's agenda with Asia, and more than five billion euros have been allocated to Asia by the Regional Asia MIP 2014-2020. Policies are being put in place jointly to address common challenges, such as climate change, sustainable development, security and stability, governance and human rights, as well as the prevention of, and response to natural and human disasters.

The EU is stepping up its support to regional integration through the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), and intensifying cooperation with the Association of South-East Asia Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).


Asia matters – for Europe. And Europe matters – for Asia.

It is with this simple premise in mind that the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) was created in 1996 and why it has since become a key forum for dialogue and cooperation between Europe and Asia, with an ever-growing number of partners involved. ASEM currently has 53 partners (more than double the original 26 in 1996) and represents nearly 60% of the world’s GDP and more than 60% of the world’s population.

It provides a stable platform to foster political dialogue and reinforce economic cooperation as well as collaboration in various other areas, including in socio-cultural and global issues. ASEM enhances mutual understanding and awareness through dialogue and cooperation on priority issues and by working together to translate challenges into opportunities. ASEM is an informal process, based on equal partnership, mutual respect and benefit.

The origins of ASEM lie in the recognition, in both Asia and Europe, that the relationship between the two regions needs to be strengthened.

In July 1994, the European Commission published a Communication entitled «Towards a New Strategy for Asia», stressing the importance of modernising the EU’s relationship with Asia and of reflecting properly its political, economic and cultural significance. The Commission Communication of September 2001 («Europe and Asia: A Strategic Framework for Enhanced Partnerships») reaffirmed this objective.

ASEM is an open and evolutionary process; its enlargement is conducted on the basis of consensus by leaders. The ASEM family has grown consistently since its creation.

ASEM at work:

Every two years, ASEM Heads of State and Government meet to set ASEM's priorities. They are also attended by the Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission, and the ASEAN Secretary General. These Summits are held alternatively in Asia and Europe and serve as the highest level of decision-making in the ASEM process.

In the years between the summits, a meeting of the ASEM Ministers of Foreign Affairs (ASEM FMM) traditionally takes place to provide further momentum to ASEM cooperation and dialogue.

In addition to the summits and foreign ministers' meetings, numerous other meetings of ministers, officials and experts are held regularly to address political, economic, cultural, social and education-related issues. Dialogue topics cover a wide range of issues, including finance, trade, culture, education, human rights, disaster preparedness, transport, immigration, climate change, piracy at sea, information technology, food security, development, employment, energy security and global governance. Beyond government-level meetings, ASEM also brings together members of parliament, the business sector, civil society, academia and the media.

As ASEM has no permanent secretariat, the Foreign Ministers and their senior officials (SOM) have an overall coordinating role within the ASEM process, and are assisted in this by an informal group of coordinators (two from the Asian side and two from the European side).

ASEM is based on three pillars:

  1. The Political Pillar which addresses issues including the fight against terrorism, a common response to international security threats, global environmental issues, management of migratory flows, human rights, welfare of women and children, etc.
  2. The Economic and Financial Pillar to promote growth and employment, enhancing cooperation on global financial issues, dialogue in priority industrial sectors, fostering connectivity between the two regions, etc.
  3. The Social, Cultural, Intellectual Pillar which ensures a wide range of enhanced contacts and dialogue between the two regions on topics such as education, social protection and employment, and co-operation on the protection of cultural heritage.

The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) was established within ASEM in order to promote greater mutual understanding between Asia and Europe through intellectual, cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

EU and the ASEM process:

The permanent coordinator for the European Union is the European External Action Service. The ASEM Dialogue Facility was created by the European Commission in 2008 to enhance support for the ASEM process, to strengthen ASEM coordination and provide a solid platform for sustainable ASEM cooperation. Given the increasing number of countries involved in the ASEM process and their diversity, the Facility also aims to ensure balanced participation of less-developed countries in the ASEM dialogue.

The EU makes a substantial financial contribution to the Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN) which was launched at the 2rd ASEM Summit in 2000 and provides a large-scale research and education data-communications network for the Asia-Pacific region.

For additional information and a full list of documents regarding all summits and meetings, please consult the ASEM InfoBoard


The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was established by the Foreign Ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1993 and held its first meeting in 1994. The ARF objective is to foster constructive dialogue and consultation on political and security issues of common interest and concern; and to make significant contributions to efforts towards confidence-building and preventive diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region. It is the only political and security dialogue forum in the Asia-Pacific in which the EU participates.

The ARF has 27 participants: the ten ASEAN countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), plus seventeen dialogue partners (Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, EU, India, Japan, DPRK, Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, USA).

In 2009, the ARF Ministers adopted the ARF Vision Statement (and in 2010 a Hanoi Plan of Action to implement this Vision) which foresees the ARF as a central pillar in the evolving regional-security architecture by 2020 with ASEAN as a primary driving force. The ARF should move from confidence-building measures via the development of preventive diplomacy towards the ultimate goal of conflict-resolution and on the way develop cooperation on non-traditional security challenges.

The ARF conducts four Inter-Sessional Meetings (ISM) annually that represent focus areas of the forum: ISMs on Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime, on Disaster Relief, on Maritime Security, and on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. Other ad-hoc expert meetings (seminars, workshops, training) deal with various "non-traditional security issues". There are also meetings of heads of defence colleges and a yearly Security Policy Conference back-to-back with the Senior Officials Meeting in May.

The EU for the inter-sessional year 2015-16 offers the following initiatives in the ARF framework:

  • workshop on CBRN risk mitigation (EU together with the Philippines, Sep 2015);
  • training on Preventive Diplomacy (EU and Indonesia, November 2015);
  • workshop on cyber CBMs and incident management (NL on behalf of EU and Malaysia);
  • and – for the first time ever - co-chairmanship – together with Cambodia - of the ISM oncounter-terrorism and transnational crime issues.

On 22 June 2015, the Council welcomed the Joint HR/VP-Commission Communication: 'The EU and ASEAN: a partnership with a strategic purpose' that follows the guidance and decisions of the 20th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting held in Brussels in July 2014 and sets out priority areas for the EU's engagement, including with the ARF and security and defence related fora by ASEAN.


SAARC is an economic and political regional organisation of countries in South Asia set up in 1985. It aims to accelerate the process of economic and social development in its member countries through increased intra-regional cooperation. It has eight member countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri-Lanka) and eight observer status countries (China, the EU, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Mauritius, Burma/Myanmar and the US). The last SAARC Summit was held in 2010 in Thimphu (Bhutan), with Bhutan becoming the SAARC Chair. The Maldives will be chairing SAARC from 10-11 November, when the 17th Summit will take place in the capital Male.

The EU has observer status since 2006, and greatly values co-operation and regional integration in South Asia. The EU believes that it can help consolidate the integration process through its economic influence in the region, its own historical experience of economic and trade integration and of dealing with diversity, and its interest in crisis prevention. It is convinced that SAARC could play a useful role in regional co-operation and dialogue.

Cooperation between the EU and SAARC seeks to promote the harmonisation of standards; facilitate trade; raise awareness about the benefits of regional cooperation; and promote business networking in the SAARC area.

Key Milestones:

1996: European Commission and SAARC Secretariat sign Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation which has provided the background for technical assistance on trade matters.

1999: EU and SAARC agree to cooperate on improving market access for SAARC products into EU, working towards a cumulation of rules of origin for SAARC products for exports to the EU, giving technical support for the establishment of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement and supporting the harmonisation of SAARC standards.

2006: EU obtains SAARC Observer Status.

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