At its March plenary session, the European Economic and Social Committee adopted an opinion on the Joint Communication Connecting Europe and Asia – Building blocks for an EU Strategy, issued by the European Commission and the EU High Representative in September 2018. The EESC considers it to be a seriously missed opportunity, with many significant strategic gaps, little ambition and no real depth of vision as to the development of EU relations and connectivity with Asia.
The EESC believes that key economic and geopolitical realities have not been reflected, with little overt recognition of the broad diversity or complexity of Asia. It points out "with deep concern" at least 17 areas where little if any reference is made to recent critically important developments affecting both the EU and Asia.
Among these gaps, the opinion points out that there is no mention of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a development strategy adopted by the Chinese government which is seen as a strong signal of China's desire to play a greater role globally and increasing its sphere of influence. The EESC believes that it is imperative that the EU make a formal response to the BRI.
The EESC also regrets that there is no reference to any of the existing civil society dialogue between EU and Asia in the Communication, especially the flagship civil society monitoring bodies set up under these significant trade agreements. As mentioned by Jonathan Peel, the rapporteur for the opinion, no one size can fit all, and Asia can never mirror the EU. However, the rapporteur also says that "the EU needs to do more to win hearts and minds in Asia" and that the Communication has disappointingly little to say about human rights, the rule of law, good governance and democratisation. (dgf)