Europe and the Asian Century

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Global Europe
Europe and the Asian Century


The need for a stronger strategic relationship between the European Union (EU) and Asia was the subject of lively debate at a Friends of Europe high-level policy summit in Brussels on 21 June 2011. Although the economic relationship between the EU and Asia is buoyant, dynamic and firmly established, participants highlighted the importance of fostering deeper political cooperation, with both sides sharing valuable experience in areas like human security and climate change. Giles Merritt, Friends of Europe Secretary-General, introduced the day’s debate by arguing that the EU needed to become more closely involved in Asia, saying Europe is “pressed to the windowpane to the East, looking in but not inside”. The aim is to develop stronger partnerships, he said.

Shada Islam, head of Friends of Europe’s newly-launched Asia Programme said that sustained Europe-Asia cooperation was “critical in tackling the key global challenges of the 21st Century”.  The EU and Asia had to set out a new agenda for future cooperation, she said.

Europe and Asia are important trading partners, together accounting for half of the globe’s GDP and over 60 per cent of international trade. The EU is negotiating a host of bilateral FTAs with Asian countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and India.  The EU-South Korea FTA enters into force on 1 July 2011 and just recently the EU and Japan agreed to start a “scoping exercise” on a bilateral FTA.

Several of the day’s speakers underlined the importance of these trade links, particularly in the face of the economic crisis which swept the globe in 2008-2009.  The global economic slowdown showed the resilience of many Asian economies which have managed to maintain high growth rates despite the downturn, overtaking the performance of many European states.  “Asia was the locomotive that drove us out of trouble,” according to Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, who delivered the keynote address.

The Commissioner, however, warned Asian countries against pursuing economic growth at all costs, arguing that one of the key challenges the region faces is how to mitigate environmental degradation. “Studies have shown that the ‘grow first, clean up later’ theory is wrong,” she noted. “Population growth, the expansion of economic activities and urbanisation mean we have to much more aggressively deal with the issue of environmental sustainability.” The need to mitigate and adapt to climate change is one of today’s most pressing global challenges, she added.  The Commissioner called on the EU to support Asia in preparing for and dealing with natural disasters. “We have the means to deal with the problems of the future. The question is whether we can muster the political will required to face these challenges,” she said.

Participants voiced a willingness to see Europe transform its economic muscle into political clout, with many arguing that Europe needed to deal with the growing perception that it was an “economic giant but a political dwarf” in Asia. Commissioner Georgieva asked Asian countries to give Europe a seat at the East Asia Summit, Asia’s leading security forum.  Asian panellists argued, however, that despite the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the creation of a European External Action Service, the EU is still unable to “speak with one voice”.  Europe would have to work much harder to boost its credentials in Asia, they said.

As regards Asian security, the audience heard that the EU’s soft power – so called hearts and minds diplomacy – is overshadowed by the military hard power of the United States.  Discussions focused on cooperation among Asian countries and the EU’s anti-piracy naval operation off the coast of Somalia, the situation in Afghanistan and the increasingly volatile political landscape in Pakistan.  India-Pakistan relations were discussed.

Drawing the discussions to a close, Giles Merritt argued that Asia is a “test bench” on which EU foreign policy should be constructed. “The elements we talked about related to security are very much in Europe’s interests, and we must really try to make something of the External Action Service”, he argued. “We now have the embryo of a foreign ministry, but we are a long way from having a foreign policy.”



Making sense of the Asian Century: A high level policy summit on EU-Asia relations organised by Friends of Europe



Welcome and registration
Session I - The quest for a new EU-Asia strategy
Expand Session I - The quest for a new EU-Asia strategy

The EU faces tough competition as it seeks a higher political profile, stronger business presence and more trade with Asia’s booming economies. The stakes are high: if current trends continue, Asia could account for half of global GDP by 2050, opening up new opportunities for EU-Asia political cooperation as well as trade and investment ties. Asia’s fast track to growth is conditional on access to cutting-edge technologies to deal with the challenge of urbanization, climate change as well as the establishment of stronger institutions and good governance. Is Europe ready to facilitate Asia’s growth trajectory or are Europe and Asia doomed to compete for markets and ever-scarcer resources? How can the EU correct the impression that it has ignored and neglected Asia and as a result is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the region? Just how can Europe rebuild its credibility and credentials in Asia? Can the EU correct the impression that it is still an economic giant but a political dwarf? Can the EU inject “strategy and vision” into its Asian partnerships?


Elmar Brok

Member of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs

Jochum Haakma

Huawei Chief Advisor, Public Affairs Department, European Region

Toyohisa Kozuki

Deputy Director General for European Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan

Philomena Murray

Professor at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne

David O’Sullivan

Chief Operating Officer of the European External Action Service (EEAS)

Edy Prasetyono

Vice Dean of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Indonesia


Giles Merritt

Founder of Friends of Europe

Shada Islam

Managing Director at New Horizons Project

Coffee break
Session II - Boosting EU-Asia economic ties
Expand Session II - Boosting EU-Asia economic ties

Asia’s rapidly changing economic landscape provides many opportunities for European companies seeking to increase trade and investments flows to the region. Asian companies, meanwhile, are emerging as strong global players, determined to step up their presence in Europe. Boosting EU-Asia economic ties, however, means dealing with a host of questions such as the obstacles European companies face as they compete for markets in Asia, especially against local firms? How can European companies sharpen their competitive edge in Asia? What are the key areas where Asia and Europe can share expertise, experience and technology? How effectively do Asian governments protect international trademarks and brands? What kind of a welcome does Europe extend to Asia’s leading global enterprises? Which are the most attractive European destinations for Asian investors? Can Europe benefit further from ongoing Asian economic initiatives, including free trade deals being negotiated by many Asian countries? How can the EU help European companies to export to Asia?


Sajjad Karim

Member of the European Parliament, Rapporteur on the EU-India Free Trade Agreement

Helena König

Director for Asia and Latin America at the European Commission Directorate General for Trade

Yeo Lay Hwee

Director of Nanyang Technological University’s European Union Centre

Mohd Munir Abdul Majid

Chairman of Malaysia Airlines and Member of the Malaysia-Europe Forum Board of Trustees

Chandran Nair

Founder and CEO of the Global Institute For Tomorrow, Hong Kong

Xiaodong Wang

Counsellor on Asia, World Trade Organisation (WTO)


Giles Merritt

Founder of Friends of Europe

Shada Islam

Managing Director at New Horizons Project

Networking lunch
Session III - EU and Asia partners in security
Expand Session III - EU and Asia partners in security

The jury is still out on whether Osama Bin Laden’s death at the hands of an elite US force will weaken the outreach of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in South and Southeast Asia. The failure of Pakistani intelligence services as regards Bin Laden’s whereabouts and the almost-daily havoc caused in Pakistan and Afghanistan by Al Qaeda, the Taleban and other terrorist groups spotlights the need for stronger international cooperation tackle the scourge of terrorism. Success or failure of international counterterrorism efforts in South Asia also impact strongly on NATO’s mission in Afghanistan and traditionally difficult relations between India and Pakistan. What kind of counter-terrorism expertise is the EU providing to India and Pakistan? Separately, what is the state of play as regards Asia-Europe cooperation to tackle piracy in the seas, especially in the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia and other key international trading routes? On a broader level, what are the prospects for Europe’s for membership of the East Asia Summit, Asia’s most influential security body.


Athar Hussain

Director, Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics (LSE)

Tim Jones

Principal Advisor to EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator

Brendan Nelson

Australian Ambassador to the EU and former Defence Minister

Rear Admiral Guido Rando

Deputy Operation Commander, EU Naval Force Somalia

Ummu Salma Bava

Jean Monnet Chair and Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for European Studies

Jamie Shea

Senior Fellow for Peace, Security and Defence at Friends of Europe, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)


Giles Merritt

Founder of Friends of Europe

Shada Islam

Managing Director at New Horizons Project


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