Europe should engage more firmly with Asia not only in trade but also in foreign policy, climate issues and resource efficiency if it is to regain its powerful role in the international arena, argue Giles Merritt and Shada Islam from Friends of Europe. Giles Merritt is secretary-general of Friends of Europe, a Brussels based think tank, and editor-in-chief of Europe’s World. Shada Islam is head of policy at Friends of Europe.
“Tempting as it may be, it would be wrong to write off Europe as yesterday’s power. Europe still matters even though this is not the message some EU policymakers have been sending out to a watching world. The impression that Europe is too busy dealing with internal challenges to play a strong global role is especially strong in Asia.
True, China gets a great deal of EU attention. And the EU’s outreach on trade remains strong. But there is more to Asia than China – and trade and investment agreements must not be made a substitute for a more pro-active EU foreign policy. The EU must engage more strongly with South Asian and Southeast Asian countries on foreign policy and security questions, not just trade.
This means top-level EU participation in Asian security meetings such as the ASEAN Regional Forum. It means showing up and seriously participating in ministerial meetings with Asian countries such as the EU-ASEAN gathering of foreign ministers in Brunei in April. It also requires regular and consistent high-level conversations on global and regional challenges with India and other South Asian nations.
Apart from trips to China, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has been a rare visitor to the rest of Asia. Her decision to stay away from the ASEAN Regional Forum last year, for a second year running, was a serious faux pas. Not surprisingly, Asians have put Europe’s request to join the East Asia Summit – the region’s prime security club – on hold and insist that Europeans must first prove they are ready for a serious conversation with Asia on security.