There is always a marked difference between what an institution says to those on the inside and the face it bares to the world. And when it comes to Asia, it would seem the European Union is no different.
Inside the pillars of Parliament, Europe is bitter. At Copenhagen, it was the United States who took the center stage, with only an after-thought for the European Union. The climate change conference last year dropped Brussels into a depression. Many MEPs are convinced that the rest of the world considers Europe "irrelevant", and that any change Europe wants, she'll have to do it alone. This general attitude is not helped by the East's rising sun. In internal study groups, the dialogue turns somber when China is brought up: the rapporteur usually has little more to say other than the used mantra, "we need to get far enough ahead of them, and fast."
Inside the meeting rooms of Brussels, the tense air of competition makes it hard to believe that, actually, Europe and Asia are on good terms. In fact, the cooperation between Europe and Asia is a considerable driving force in the initiative for ensuring sustainable development.
The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is officially a "forum for dialogue" between the Europe and Asia. ASEM began in 1996, underpinned by the European Commission and counting 45 partners today. The 45 ASEM partners make up almost half of the world's GPD, 60% of the world population, and 60% of global trade. The conferences held by the ASEM are heavily attended by experts from many fields and industries, and not lacking in their share of bureaucrats.
For such an unheard of organization, the ASEM is remarkably busy. ASEM government leaders meet at summits every two years, alternating between Asian and European locations. The last summit was held in Beijing, releasing a declaration on sustainable development. Then next summit is to be held this October in Brussels, with the theme, "Quality of Life, achieving greater well-being and more dignity for all citizens". Between the summits, ASEM hosts conferences every few months. The last conference just last month in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, was organized under the title "ASEM Development Conference II – Towards an Asia-Europe Partnership for Sustainable Development".
A pretty flashy title.
The surprising thing? The report, albeit being only two pages, actually lives up to it's name.
The report focuses heavily on climate change, low-carbon development, social cohesion, and policy coherence for development, as based on three reinforcing elements: economic, social, and environmental. There is a push in the small document for strong implementation – blending grants and loans, investment in R&D.
And what does all of this mean?
It means that China's Five-Year Plan from 2010-2015 is called the Green Plan. It means that Europe is pushing to reduce their carbon emissions by 30% instead of 20%. It means that Asia is willing to push, and Europe is willing to pull. Asia will push for sustainable development if Europe leads them, and Europe will lead with sustainable development if Asia pushes them.
That the wonder of EU-Asia relations. So perhaps those mutterings in the stuffy internal seminars are nothing more than ignorance dyed with prejudice.
When it comes to Asia, the European Union is different.
The dialogue between Europe and Asia seems like a sunbeam in a dark horizon. The Chinese representative was smiling when he cast aside North America and instead made it clear that for Asia, "the EU is a model for low-carbon emissions and a more sustainable life-style."
CONFERENCE: Ensuring Sustainable Development: A Common Challenge for Asia and Europe