Connectivity between Europe and Asia to remain ‘constant’

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Thomas Wiersing - The Philippine Star

While the “new normal” has made us physically distant from each other, the situation has also called for countries and their people to become interconnected more than ever.

A fitting illustration of this heightened interconnectedness is through the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). As the world is weathering through a global health crisis, Europe and Asia, through the ASEM Foreign Ministers, have come together in early September and reaffirmed the need for a “concerted international cooperation, effective actions by multilateral organizations, and support for multilateralism.”

ASEM is a unique intergovernmental process to foster dialogue and cooperation between Asia and Europe. It holds its regular biennial meeting and now comprises 30 European and 21 Asian countries, the EU and the ASEAN Secretariat.

Asia matters to Europe and vice-versa. The relationship between these two blocs is of global significance, especially in these trying times. Asia, with roughly 60 percent of the world population, accounts for 35 percent of the EU’s exports and 45 percent of the EU’s imports.

For both Europe and Asia, growing global interdependence is an opportunity for increased cooperation, peaceful political cooperation, fair and stronger economic relations, comprehensive societal dialogue and collaboration on international and regional security.

All these calls have, however, been made even before the pandemic came, as Europe and Asia have long stepped up their region-to-region cooperation through their connectivity strategy. Exactly two years ago, the European Commission and the Vice President/High Representative adopted the Joint Communication “Connecting Europe and Asia – Building blocks for an EU Strategy.”

Connectivity is now at the heart of EU’s partnership with Asia.

Increased connectivity benefits our people and our economies. It creates stability and prosperity for all as the EU sends its strong message: “We want to engage more and to reinforce connections between Europe and Asia in a mutually beneficial way.”

But it is within this large Euro/Asian context that the EU and ASEAN intend to cooperate to spur sustainable investments to facilitate financing of sustainable connectivity across regions. Top on their agenda is a series of regular dialogues to address all aspects of sustainable energy and to underpin sustainable energy connectivity.

Considering that the two economic blocs recognize digital connectivity as a powerful enabler of inclusive growth and sustainable development, both see the value of cooperating in the areas of digital economy, information communication and technology (ICT) security, digital innovation, adoption of technology by micro, small and medium enterprises and increasing access to digital services (i.e. e-health, e-commerce and e-governance).

The EU and Asia continue to enhance sustainable transport connectivity through interoperable networks and strengthening the safety, security and sustainability of transport while promoting high environmental standards.

Beyond all these, people-to-people connectivity remains a key pillar in ASEM’s platform.

Cooperation on research and innovation as well as on mobility programs such as the support to higher education in the ASEAN region continue to be strengthened.

Bilaterally, the EU and the Philippines have resolved to boost connectivity, particularly in the areas of trade, development cooperation, education and research.

The Philippines is no stranger to the benefits of connectivity as it has taken an active role in the EU-ASEAN dialogue to push for connectivity cooperation.

While a lot of work is yet to be done, the EU believes that through strong political will and cooperation with other like-minded economies and the private sector, the world will be able to ride this new wave of challenges.

Beyond this pandemic, connectivity is what could remain constant in EU’s relations with Asia and ASEAN as we all endeavor to ensure a robust recovery that is more sustainable, inclusive and resilient.

As what our EU High Representative and Vice-President Joseph Borrell said in his commentary about the partnership between the EU and the region: “In the European Union you will always find a trustworthy, reliable and predictable partner. We have no hidden agenda. Only a clear and public agenda: to defend the rules-based international system and ensure all can enjoy the security and rights we sometimes take for granted.”

The author is Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the EU Delegation to the Philippines.

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