The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is both an informal dialogue and a cooperation process between the 28 EU member states, two other European countries, the European Commission, 20 Asian countries and the secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN). The ASEM dialogue addresses political, economic and cultural issues. Its objective is to strengthen the relationship between the two regions in a spirit of mutual respect and equal partnership.
ASEM Summits have been held every two years since 1996. The most recent took place in Vientiane, Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) on 5-6 November 2012. Regular meetings of senior officials complement ASEM ministerial meetings, covering areas of mutual and global concern.
On top of official meetings, many initiatives have been implemented including numerous gatherings at expert-level, thematic working meetings and symposia gathering business communities and civil society groups from the two regions. From an initial emphasis on economic cooperation, subjects covered now include human rights, rule of law, global health threats, sustainable development and intercultural and interfaith dialogues.
ASEM has no secretariat. Foreign ministers and their senior officials play an overall coordinating role, assisted by a group of four coordinators. The European Commission/European External Action Service and the EU Presidency are the European Coordinators, while on the Asian side the coordinators change every two years and are composed of one ASEAN and one non-ASEAN partner. Supported by what are known as the ASEM Contact Points (usually the senior officials dealing with ASEM) the coordinators facilitate the overall coordination process and act as communication channels in their respective regions. The fact that the European Commission/ European External Action Service is the only permanent coordinator gives it a particularly important role in the ASEM process.
The EU is assisting the strengthening of the ASEM process through: the ASEM dialogue facility, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) and the Trans-Eurasia Information Network.
The ASEM Dialogue Facility
The European Commission has established in 2008 the ASEM Dialogue Facility as a Commission tool to support the ASEM process in few priority areas where ASEM partners see importance for dialogue.
The overall objective of the ASEM Dialogue Facility is to contribute to Asia-Europe collaboration on a global partnership for sustainable development. The specific purpose is to enhance partnership between ASEM partners by contributing to the official ASEM process in a number of fields relevant to ASEM partners, and in particular to ASEM developing countries.
Originally the priority areas were of a number of four: economic and financial matters, employment and social policy, environment, cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue. Additional sectors have been added following the developments of ASEM process such as development cooperation, information technology and maritime affairs.
Furthermore, the ASEM Dialogue Facility IV can be seen as complementary to the more traditional regional and national projects and programmes that are implemented as part of the European Commission's support in Asia such as the Erasmus Mundus Programme - partnerships between Asian and European higher education institutions, the Trans-Eurasian Information Network (TEIN) –collaboration between National Research and Education Networks, the SWITCH programme - sponsorship of demonstration and pilot projects in the area of sustainable consumption and production, the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) programme - cooperation on forest governance, or the HPED programme – focusing on human and animal health
The ASEM Dialogue Facility is currently under its fourth phase of operations; phase allocated in total with €3 million for funding activities such as conferences, studies and visibility actions up until 2015.
The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)
ASEF is the only official organisation of ASEM and is funded by voluntary contributions from ASEM partners. It has a Board of Governors made up of all ASEM partners, and receives funding from all these partners with the objective to promote better mutual understanding between Asia and Europe through greater intellectual, cultural, and people-to-people exchange.
EU assistance (€3 million for 3 years 2012-2015) enables the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) to organise conferences, lecture tours, workshops, seminars and to use web-based platforms and other channels for people-to-people exchanges and the dissemination of information on themes of common interest in Asia and Europe.
The Trans-Eurasia Information Network
The Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN) is providing high capacity internet connectivity to research and education communities across the Asia-Pacific region. With over 50 million users, TEIN is the world's largest research and education network; interconnecting universities and research centres throughout Asia. It also provides a connection with the 40 million European researchers and academics served by the GÉANT network – a pan-European research and education network co-funded by the EU – and supports joint programmes with Europe in such as earth observation, climate research, food security, delivery of e-health and e-learning. The EU has pledged €8 million to the fourth phase of TEIN (TEIN IV).