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Excellences, dear colleagues and friends,
I think, I represent the feeling of all of us when I say that I am glad to be here today for the 13th ASEM [Asia-Europe Meeting] Foreign Ministers' Meeting. I am glad for this opportunity to continue to work together with our Asian friends. We have had many opportunities over the last months and years, all very important. And we feel that it is even more important in this time - times of great change and challenges for the world, when our cooperation on global affairs is even more important than it has ever been.
These are times of change, and also times of confusion. The global balance of power is shifting, alliances are evolving and changing, the system of multilateral global governance is often being questioned. And in a moment like this, we all need our cooperation, our partnership, more than ever. Asia is a continent of immense potential and great economic strength. And there are many issues where our cooperation and partnership can immensely benefit your entire continent: on security, on connectivity, on non-proliferation, on climate change – Asia needs Europe. And, let me say that Europe needs Asia, because our security is connected, our economies benefit enormously from our exchanges and our cooperation.
I remember very well last year’s ASEM Summit in Mongolia. It was a delicate moment for the European Union: it was just a few weeks after the referendum in the United Kingdom. One year on, let me tell you that we come here with a renewed feeling of self-confidence and also a sense of global responsibility, because we know that the world needs the European Union as a strong, reliable, predictable, cooperative partner in times like the one we are living in.
So, today, I am here knowing that we left the economic crisis behind us. Across the European Union, growth is up and unemployment is down. We have renewed our commitment to work together inside the Union, as a Union, for our citizens’ security and prosperity. On security, let me just mention that exactly one week ago, in Brussels, we have agreed – with Foreign and Defence Ministers – to take an unprecedented step towards a European Union of Security and Defence. 23 countries of the European Union will start a Permanent Structured Cooperation on defence, to develop new defence capabilities, but also to better train and deploy our European armed forces.
In a moment of global changes and confusion, we are confident, today, about our strength and our unity. And most importantly, we know and the world knows, and Asia knows, where we stand.
We know where we stand on global governance: we want to preserve and reform the global multilateral institutions, as a pillar of security and prosperity for the whole world.
We believe that nuclear proliferation is a danger for all of us, and we believe that diplomacy is the only effective way to prevent it, as well as to tackle all the international disputes.
We believe that climate change is real, simply because we see what is happening to our oceans and to the air we breathe and that tackling it together, is a matter of priority for all of us.
We believe that tackling global inequalities, and investing in sustainable development worldwide is our own interest as Europeans; it is not charity.
We believe that isolation and protectionism are not the answer to the problems of our times. And we believe that international trade has to be free and fair. Whoever shares these beliefs must know that they can rely on us, on the European Union. You know where we stand, that our choices and policies are and will always be consistent.
And in these times of global change, we increasingly look at Asia as a natural partner.
This is of course true in economic terms. We continue to invest in our trade deals – for our business, but also to better protect our consumers, to raise standards, to preserve and protect the environment. Half of Asia’s exports go to Europe and half of Asia’s imports come from Europe. Every year, millions of tourists, students, young people and professionals travel between our continents. This is what we talk about when we discuss connectivity. It is not only for structures, it is people.
We want to create opportunities. I am happy that this morning we will listen to young people from both Asia and Europe. This generation understands better than anyone else that challenges are global, but most importantly, that opportunities are also global. We have a duty not only to listen to them, and also to help translate their hopes and aspirations and expectations into reality.
So, Europe and Asia are also partners on our common security – because most security issues today are global. Some of you take part in our European military missions, and we have participated in ASEAN’s exercises. We work together to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran, and for the de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. We all want to prevent radicalisation and to tackle effectively the terrorist threats that our societies are facing.
The theme of this year’s meeting gets it right: we are “we are partners for peace and sustainable development”. And we, as European Union, want to make this partnership stronger, even stronger that it is now. In times of confusion and change, we need to invest in searching for win-win solutions. We can be a point of reference, Europe and Asia together: our partnership can help the international system hold up and navigate through the chaotic times of today, preventing and solving crisis and get the best out of our opportunities. This is our shared interest, in Europe and in Asia, and this is what the whole world needs from us.
Let me wish us not only a very successful foreign ministers' meeting here, but also invite you all to the next summit that will be held in Brussels next year.