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I am very pleased to be here today together with Violeta [Bulc, Commissioner for Transport] to present our vision that we also presented today in the College [meeting of Commissioners] on how to better connect Europe and Asia.
I was just last week in Strasbourg at the European Parliament Plenary, discussing our relations with China: it immediately came up how relevant our work is – and must be - on connectivity from a European perspective. Because we are, as Europeans, very fortunate to live in a highly connected European Union. Our internal market; free movement of people; mutual recognition of qualifications; energy union; free roaming – all these connections have created opportunities for European Union citizens, businesses and investors, and contributed to a better standard of living across Europe.
These connections, these benefits, have been achieved through 'the European way'. So, today we have adopted our proposal on how to bring 'the European way to connectivity' in our work to increase connectivity between Europe and Asia.
It is based on three main principles, three main blocks: sustainability; a comprehensive approach; and a rules-based approach.
First, on sustainability. We believe that connectivity can work only if it is sustainable from an economic, fiscal, environmental and social point of view. Second, connectivity must be comprehensive, which means that it must focus on all aspects, from transport – which is obviously the key -, but also including digital, energy and human dimensions. Third, connectivity must be established according to international rules and regulations, which are crucial for goods, services, capital and people to move efficiently and fairly. And this is, I would say, specifically 'the European way' of moving forward on these points, as well as on others.
Today, together with Violeta, as well as other members of the College, we have set out how this EU approach to sustainable connectivity can be expanded, specifically in and towards the region with the biggest demand for infrastructure and the region with the highest predicted growth in the world, which is Asia. And to do it in a way that will be beneficial both for us, in Europe, in Asia, and also for the entire planet.
We will do this in three ways. First, we will build new connections and networks between Europe and Asia. We will do this through transport networks – and I will leave this to Violeta in a moment. We will also build digital and energy networks, and we will continue to promote human exchanges and mobility as a way to build connections, to facilitate mutual understanding and to share ideas. This is, at the end of the day, the basis of connections between Europe and Asia since thousands of years.
Secondly, we need to build and strengthen partnerships for a common approach to connectivity. Many of these partnerships already exist. With China, for example, we have a bilateral connectivity platform where we meet to discuss synergies, but also to discuss the different points of view we might have. On the regional level, we work together with ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations], and this shows, for example, that this cooperative approach, also on connectivity, works and brings results that are good for us, good for them and for the rest of the region. And at the international level, you know well that the European Union is at the heart of global cooperation and the strongest supporter of multilateralism and of the international rules-based global architecture. Once again, in a few days from now in New York at the [United Nations] General Assembly, we will have the opportunity to do so on different aspects far beyond connectivity.
Connectivity cannot be confined to regional pockets, cannot exclude legitimate actors and put environmental considerations last: we need common standards, we need common rules. For this reason, the European Union is working with international and European standardisation organisations, the International Energy Agency, the World Trade Organisation, and other key organisations with a global mandate.
Finally, we have looked at how to leverage sustainable investments for connectivity projects. Asia is estimated to need around €1.3 trillion per year for infrastructure investment – that is a huge amount of money. If we can support them, the opportunities for the European companies are clearly there. The European Union has over recent years developed innovative and sustainable ways of leveraging finance for investment – just think of the Juncker Plan [Investment Plan for Europe] but also through regional investment facilities.
In the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework, you know that the Commission has proposed to increase the European Union's external action budget to €123 billion for the period 2021-2027, which is an increase of 30% compared to this current period. And included in this proposal, there is an investment framework for external action, with €60 billion in guarantees for external investment.
So, connectivity in and with Asia would stand to benefit enormously from these proposals that are now going to be discussed by the Council and the Parliament, and I am sure that if the decision is confirmed in that direction, we will have three or four times more of the European Union investments compared to today as a result of this increase.
I finish here. It is something big, it is something consistent with our overall global approach, it is something that could be good, not only for our people, but also for our businesses. And I know that our friends not only in Europe but also in Asia are very much looking forward to start working on this.
Q: How much is this going to be a highlight of the upcoming ASEM Summit? Is this the response to the Chinese Belt and Road or the New Silk Road Initiative? What is the difference? You mentioned the international rules-based global order: does it mean that you do not see the previous mentioned initiatives as international rules-based?
A: This communication will indeed be at the centre of the work we will do during the month of October. It will be a very Asia-oriented month because - as you said - we will host here in Brussels the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit on the 18th and 19th of October and I believe that before that, the Foreign Ministers will agree on this strategy at the next Foreign Affairs Council.
I can tell you that, already in my last meetings during the last three, four months - over the summer in particular – I have started to discuss the content of this strategy with our partners in Asia, starting with China, but not only. I am also talking about India, about ASEAN countries - many that are interested in looking at the European way to improve connectivity and increase connectivity between Asia and Europe.
On the second part of your question, I think I have partially responded when I mentioned China among the interlocutors with whom we have started to discuss this strategy even before presenting it.
Our approach is confident enough, I would say, not to measure our proposals as reactions to others. There might be differences, there might be points in common. For sure, we share the same approach in the identification of the need and the priority. With China, we both share the strategic relevance and the will to increase connectivity between Europe and Asia.
There might also be differences. Indeed, we believe that any investment in increasing connectivity has to be based on international rules and regulations that are, for us, a guarantee that things are done properly, that players have the same opportunities, that communities benefit from the projects. This is another aspect that characterises the European approach to connectivity and that I have discussed a lot, in particular with Central Asian partners, but also with others.
Our project will also aim at creating jobs and economic growth and benefits for the local communities. Our approach is this and we believe this is sustainable and good for us, and also for the societies and economies of the countries where our companies operate.
I would not say if this is different from other proposals, but this is our proposal. Again, it is not a response, but it is a common need that we see; it is a common priority we identify; and there are - I believe - points of contact on which we can work very well.
There are also, as usual, differences in the approach, but this is natural.
Q: The Belt and Road Initiative was put forward in 2013. Why are you coming forward with this proposal now, towards the end of the Commission and almost six years after China?
A: Our proposals, our policies and our calendar is not determined elsewhere. We come with a proposal when we see the proposal is ready, when we have good ideas and we have resources to put into it, when we see things as a priority for us and I think Violeta [Bulc] explained perfectly well why this is interesting for Europe today.
It is not a reaction in negative terms to another initiative; it is not a reaction in positive terms to another initiative. I will never tire of saying and explaining that the calendar of our decisions, the statements we do, the strategies we put forward, the consensus we create inside the European Union is not based on calendars determined elsewhere - be it in Beijing, be it in Washington be it in Moscow, be it in Timbuktu.
We define European policies on the basis of what is in the best interest of Europeans. Most of the time this coincides also with the interests of the rest of the world - especially today. There is no link with the calendar nor with the timeline of others.
There is an interest we identify to work together, as Europeans, on this now, and putting at the disposal also of our private sector the financial resources to support their work in this field. Also, because we have been fostering in the last couple of years - as you might have noticed - not only the External Investment Plan, but what we would call "economic diplomacy" in an incredible manner that was not there before. So, I would say that this is also part of our increased work to support European investments and the economic presence of the European players in other parts of the world. Also because we see there is a demand for that.
Again, let me mention the fact that in some of my talks in particular in Central Asia, I clearly saw - for the first time probably - the need and the demand for not only economic investments but for quality standards in the investments; projects that can create infrastructures, that are not just cheap and affordable, but that can also resist the test of time, that connect with European standards of quality. Probably the demand or interest for that was not there before so much on the European side, and this is the result, I believe, of a good work that has been done including by Commissioner [Violeta] Bulc, on developing the European stand and presence in the global transport environment.
Q: I understand that you will take this connectivity model to Asia. What happens if Asia does not have any interest in the European way to see things?
A: From what I see until now, there is a lot of interest. In the last couple of months I have been traveling to Asia, I have had some 20 bilateral meetings with my Asian counterparts, different countries, including regional organisations – ASEAN, for example -, and there is a lot of demand and interest in having the European way to connectivity in the continent - not only in the continent, but also with the continent and with what is in between Europe and Asia. So the demand is there; the interest is there.
Obviously, we will need to discuss the details and once this proposal is on the table this will be done. On the on the transport aspects, this is not a job for me but more for Violeta, as well as other aspects of the proposal - I mentioned digital, energy - that are of the competence of other Commissioners. We will do this comprehensive approach now in practical terms and, as I said, October will be a month where we start - a month exactly from now with the ASEM [Asia-Europe Meeting] Summit. I am sure that connectivity will feature as the top priority for our common agenda. So this is also in preparation for the ASEM Summit and I can tell you for the time being the interest we are seeing from all our Asian partners - and I stress all our Asian partners - is very high.
Q: Quelle serait votre réponse à cette tendance populiste de qualifier la mondialisation - à ceux qui aujourd'hui sont bombardés de messages par des politiciens populistes, extrémistes et qui pourraient être sensibles à l'argument qu'avec cette connectivité, un nouveau danger de la mondialisation et demain on sera submergés en Europe - parce que la connectivité va dans le deux sens – par les périls chinois, asiatiques etc.?
A: Pensez à l'impact économique de la connectivité. Je pense que cela suffirait surtout pour certains potentiellement plus sensibles à ce type d'arguments, en laissant de côté les aspects plus humains de ces arguments.
Il suffit de penser à l'impact sur nos économies, sur notre commerce, sur nos investissements; le travail qui peut être fait par les entreprises européennes dans le secteur de la connectivité en Asie est énorme. Donc, je pense que ceci est l'argument peut-être le plus fort pour certaines parties de l'opinion publique européenne, qui peuvent être plus exposées à ce type de discours.
Mais je voudrais aussi ajouter que la connectivité, ce n'est pas seulement l'économie, ce sont aussi d'autres parties de l'économie comme le tourisme qui bénéficient beaucoup à l'Europe en terme de connectivité avec l'Asie. N'oublions pas que l'Asie est un marché énorme en développement - j'ai cité les données qui attestent le fait que c'est le continent avec la prévision de croissance économique la plus haute de la planète. Donc être bien connectés avec l'Asie est un intérêt économique pour l'Europe.
J'aimerais aussi ajouter l'aspect humain, culturel, social depuis le début de l'Histoire, l'Europe et l'Asie ont été connectées. Cela a toujours amélioré notre niveau de vie, notre niveau de connaissance, notre niveau culturel, même notre niveau de spiritualité – si je peux aussi aborder des éléments qui normalement n'entrent pas dans cette salle de presse – c'est un élément d'enrichissement humain qui ne peut pas être sous-estimé, je pense.
Sur les migrations, nous allons en discuter dans un autre contexte, mais un lien entre la connectivité et la migration me semble un peu exagéré.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I160475