On 27 September the European Commission launched its Europa Connectivity forum – an innovative multi-stakeholder international conference aimed at a dialogue between EU and Asia and strengthening ties between governments, financial institutions and private sector actors in Europe and in Asia. The first Forum in the series that FinCEAL+ BRIDGES Asia participated was held under the theme EU-Asia Connectivity: Building BRIDGES for a Sustainable Future, at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.
High-level political leaders including the Prime Minister of Finland Antti Rinne, the President Emeritus of the European Council, Prime Minister of Croatia and Ministers from Republic of North Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and the Republic of Korea took part in the Forum. In addition, the Presidents of European and international financial institutions including Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank, Suma Chakrabarti, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the President of the Asian Development Bank and leading business and finance executives from Europe and Asia participated the Forum discussions and panels.
In his opening talk the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker said: “What we do politically must respond to the expectations and worries of our citizens. Increased connectivity is part of this response, because it benefits our people and our economies. Because it creates stability and prosperity for all.” He added: “Our European approach to connectivity is at the heart of our partnership with Asia, and we have a clear message: the European Union wants to engage more and to reinforce the connections between Europe and Asia in a mutually-beneficial way.”
At the invitation of President Juncker, Shinzō Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, was the Forum's special guest and delivered a keynote speech at the opening plenary. In his speech Prime Minister Abe discussed about EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement and EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in 2018 and their significance to both regions and globally in relation to democracy, the rule of law, human rights and freedom, and to the connectivity and how these agreements have linked EU and Japan by building bridges where EU and Japan can work together. Prime Minister Abe also mentioned some concrete examples where EU and Japan have worked/can work together e.g. in Western Balkans, Baltic States and in Africa. He concluded his speech: “It is by connecting with each other that humans can be humans. When we are connected, our societies and our countries become stronger. It is the truth that connectivity is a major bridge linking people, societies, and countries to the future. Moreover, Japan and Europe, linked by these agreements, are able to cooperate with each other to build a number of bridges to the future.”
After their speeches President Juncker and Prime Minister Abe then concluded a Partnership on Sustainable Connectivity and Quality Infrastructure between the European Union and Japan emphasizing the strategic importance of the EU-Japan partnership that both parties have been committed to strengthen over the years. This partnership highlights a connectivity as key priority in EU’s work as a global actor and confirms that Europe work together in promoting sustainable connectivity – fiscally, economically, socially and environmentally.
The Forum then continued with a connectivity “set-a-scene” talk by Paraq Khanna, the author of “Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization” and “The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, and Culture in the 21st Century” about Connectivity – “West meets East” and with high-level panel discussions related to the Geopolitics, Economics, Standards and Norms and Finance of Connectivity.
The Forum concluded with a view from the Presidency on EU-Asia Connectivity where Prime Minister of Finland, Mr. Antti Rinne and Prime Minister of Croatia, Mr. Andrej Plenkovic in conversation with President Emeritus of the European Council and former Prime Minister of Belgium, Herman Van Rompuy explored the pathways to further Strengthen EU-Asia Connectivity in view of the priorities of the current and future EU Presidencies.
In his speech Prime Minister of Finland, Mr. Antti Rinne said that Finland firmly believes in the EU strategy connecting Europe and Asia and connectivity is what the world needs today. Related to this Mr. Rinne talked about foreign and security policy and that the connectivity policy will help us in challenges of our time. The challenges mentioned were demographic changes and aging of population, and climate change as the greatest threat for the sustainable development, and he also pointed out that EU’s climate actions related to this are the “top actions” for the EU presidency of Finland. Prime Minister Rinne, in the spirit of Paris agenda and United Nations Agenda 2030, invited the private sector to participate as well. The third major challenge he mentioned was the shift of the economic power to the East. According to him the strategies call a role based multilateral approach from the EU with the sustainable development being at the center. He also added that the human dimension on connectivity is also important for Finland being the leader in education, research and innovation. He then said that the EU partnerships and cooperation should focus on key countries in Asia and the EU connectivity strategy should also be global.
Prime Minister Rinne talked about looking beyond Asia with EU’s sustainable connectivity with Africa and the importance of the Arctic regional connectivity, and trans-Atlantic connectivity with the USA. He was also discussing how the EU member states should discuss about how to focus on the European fund for sustainable development with additional national grants, and mentioned Finnish Finnfunds partnership with Finnish banks as an example of public-private partnerships for impact and institutional investors. Mr. Rinne finally concluded that in Europe we need to have a long-term view of our relationship with Asia and the respect for international law, human rights, gender equity in equality, democracy and must guide the EU foreign policy.
In the panel discussions Prime Minister Rinne emphasized Finland’s current agenda, the importance on focusing the investments and promoting innovation policy at European level, to help Africa to develop their infrastructure and their own education system, so we need to be as a partner with the African Union member states and together develop a better future for Africa and the EU. He also pointed out the importance of the “human dimension” that it is important to have a European level University network to focus on innovations and research to create a new world with the focus on climate change issues. Mr. Rinne added that we need the "ordinary people" to be with us for the better climate policy. The second panelist, the Prime Minister of Croatia, Mr. Plenkovic also emphasized the importance of the connectivity in the globalization process and understanding each EU member states and their agenda related to it.
* Picture credits: European Commission/European Union and Jarkko Mutanen.