Sep 21, 2018 02:27 PM

Mogherini: Time Is Ripe to Ramp Up Europe-Asia Connectivity

A train that began its journey in the German city of Hamburg arrives in Wuhan, Hubei province on Aug. 26. Photo: VCG
A train that began its journey in the German city of Hamburg arrives in Wuhan, Hubei province on Aug. 26. Photo: VCG

Editor’s note:

The European Union on Wednesday issued a joint communication that laid out its new strategy to better connect Europe with Asia. It declared that it will strive to create transport links, energy and digital networks and enhance personnel exchanges. It will also promote sustainable financing. The Chinese government on Thursday gave positive feedback on this plan, saying it echoes China’s Belt and Road Initiative in terms of Asia-EU connection. China and the EU will work together to connect their projects, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. The following is a commentary on the EU initiative by a top European Commission official.

Europe and Asia have a centuries-old common history. The ties between the two continents are today reaching an unprecedented level. Asian markets account for over one-third of exports from the European Union. Almost half of the goods and services imported by the EU come from Asian countries. Every year, thousands of students, academics and researchers move between the EU and Asia. The cultural exchanges between our cities are vibrant. And there is more to our mutual relationship than just economic or scientific exchanges: The European Union and Asian countries have a common interest in preserving a cooperative, rules-based and peaceful international system, where multilateral organizations are the natural forums for reaching common solutions. This relationship needs to rely on effective, functioning and sustainable connectivity — in other words, on the physical and non-physical infrastructure through which goods, services, ideas and people can flow unhindered.

While connectivity has always been a part of the EU’s policy toward Asia, until now the EU has not used its potential in this area to the fullest. That is why we have proposed earlier this week a new policy framework to step up the EU action, an EU strategy on connectivity between Europe and Asia.

Our message is clear: The European Union is ready to step up its engagement with Asian partners on an agenda for connectivity, based on mutual interests and common objectives. Connectivity is in the very DNA of the European Union, as a political project based on market integration. We can offer our regulatory experience, technical expertise and funding opportunities at the service of projects that help interoperability and convergence, promote fiscally and environmentally sound growth, and strengthen our connections in a way that will be beneficial for us all.

We can do this in three ways. Firstly, the EU is ready to support new connections and networks between Europe and Asia. For example, extending our Trans-European Transport Network — which facilitates trade and mobility by removing technical and regulatory barriers for transport networks and modernizing infrastructure to other non-EU countries — would be a positive step. We will also pursue a sustainable digital agenda with Asia in order to foster universal and affordable access to digital technologies and services. We will share our experience in creating regional, liberalized energy markets with a focus on market-driven transformation toward clean energy. And we will continue to promote human exchanges and mobility through programs such as Erasmus and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions as a way to build connections, mutual understanding and share ideas.

Secondly, in the EU approach, connectivity can only be built in partnership. Many such partnerships exist already. The European Union and China share an interest in making sure that our respective initiatives work well together despite the differences in approach and implementation. Connectivity is not possible if systems and networks are not interoperable. As we have already been doing, the European Union will continue to engage with China — in our bilateral Connectivity Platform, in the wider bilateral relationship, and in multilateral forums — to create synergies and to find commonalities. As the Joint Communication highlights, the EU will further step up its work within international organizations to set and enforce global rules and standards, which will create a level playing field and equal opportunities for all. We will work hand in hand with regional organizations and mechanisms existing in Asia, such as ASEAN, to identify and support projects.

Thirdly, we want to work on a connectivity based on shared principles: transparency, non-discriminatory market practices, a level playing field for economic operators, and protection for intellectual property rights. The best way to achieve this is not to impose anyone’s standards or rules, but to work together within international organizations on mutually acceptable ones. European companies must have a level playing field vis-a-vis their competitors and have the same access to markets abroad as others have in the EU.

Finally, we will mobilize all our levers to back projects with adequate funding, using to the full the potential of the European Investment Bank and of the new tools for external investment policy available under the EU budget. According to the Asia Development Bank, Asia will require over 1.3 trillion euros ($1.5 trillion) a year of infrastructure investment in the coming decades. The EU is ready to support Asian countries to meet such an investment challenge, leveraging public and private financing through a combination of grants, guarantees, lending and blending. Yet investment must be fiscally viable and financially sustainable. The EU will support only projects that mobilize domestic resources, create value for local communities, and are sustainable in the long term.

Together, Europe and Asia account for almost 70% of global population and over 60% of the world’s gross domestic product. There is space for making our ties stronger and more mutually beneficial. Sustainable connectivity, based on strong partnerships and transparent rules, is, for the EU, European and Asian countries, the best way forward.

Federica Mogherini is the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and vice president of the European Commission.

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