The area that our work covers in the region is extremely heterogeneous in terms of socio-economic progress and level of development and democracy. It encompasses the full spectrum of countries from highly industrialised to least developed.
Although development levels are uneven, there is a continued shift towards Asia becoming the centre of the global economy. Studies estimate that by 2050, China and India will be the largest world economies, with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries coming fourth. This means the future of the Asia-Pacific region could strongly impact the future welfare of the population of the entire world.
Even though the region is economically dynamic, it is also home to almost half of the world’s poorest people. There are significant inequalities, such as energy poverty and informal work where respect of labour rights and access to social protection remain a challenge.
The area is also widely exposed to the impact of climate change - to which it is also a major contributor. It faces all types of natural disasters and environmental challenges, including pollution, deforestation and rapid biodiversity/ecosystem loss due to human activity.
Several states are fragile, with a recent history of violent conflict and, in some cases, terrorism and extremism, or autocratic and undemocratic regimes. Human rights and democracy face therefore constant challenges. Gender inequality and child labour are still common in many countries. The region is also a major source, destination and transit area of migrants, refugees and forcibly displaced persons. The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic and social crisis pose additional enormous imminent challenges for the wider region.
European Union priorities in Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East are outlined by various EU strategies for the region, in particular the April 2021 Council Conclusions on an EU Strategy for Cooperation in the IndoPacific, the EU Central Asia strategy as well as the Joint Communication on engagement with Gulf countries.
The regional programme for 2021 to 2027 is outlined in the Asia-Pacific Multi-annual Indicative Programme. It is designed to support EU priorities in the following broad policy areas
- Green Deal
- Digital agenda
- Sustainable jobs and growth
- Migration, forced displacement and mobility
- Peace and security, governance and rule of law
- Enhancing multilateralism
Given the proportion of youth in the region who are determined to pursue education and research, specific activities will be implemented through the EU’s education and training programme, Erasmus+. These are outlined in the Erasmus+ Multiannual Indicative Programme.
EU priorities in Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East
The regional programme focuses on three priority areas.
As the wider Asia-Pacific region is too diverse to engage with through a single regional framework, the regional programme pursues a tailor-made geographic approach. Each sub-region has unique institutional, political and thematic entry points through which specific approaches can be created.
Central Asia, which comprises Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, is a diverse region of nearly 72 million inhabitants. It remains among the least integrated regions in the world. It has a large infrastructure gap in digital, transport and energy connectivity. The region’s largely undiversified economies are vulnerable to economic downturns, environmental degradation and the effects of climate change, threatening to undo the gains made in poverty reduction in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has put significant strain on public health systems, which threatens to jeopardise recent development gains.
In line with the EU’s Central Asia Strategy, this regional programme focuses on resilience and prosperity, taking into account the situation in Afghanistan, which may have a significant negative impact on regional stability. The strategy aims to forge a stronger, modern and non-exclusive partnership with the countries of Central Asia to enable the more sustainable, resilient, prosperous and closely interconnected economic and political development of the region.
In recent years, South Asia has seen rapid economic growth. However, the region faces a number of developmental and integration challenges, and its economic outlook has deteriorated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. South Asia remains one of the least integrated regions in the world (intraregional trade is at 5%, compared to 30% within ASEAN). Improved connectivity could bring economic dividends and foster growth.
In South Asia, a particular focus will be put on addressing regional integration issues and promoting cooperation between the countries of the region to tackle climate change and environmental degradation, enhance connectivity, peacebuilding, conflict prevention and security, and strengthen ocean governance.
South-East Asia is one of the world’s most dynamic regions economically and demographically. Home to approximately 700 million people, ASEAN countries are jointly the fifth-largest trading partners of the EU, which is in turn the third largest trading partner to ASEAN countries.
However, South-East Asia is among the most vulnerable regions in the world to the impact of climate change and environmental degradation and it is a hotspot for biodiversity loss, deforestation and pollution. It is a significant emitter of greenhouse gases and faces challenges of persistent high poverty rates, violations of labour rights, and growing energy needs which are currently still mostly met by fossil fuels, as well as challenges to the rule of law and human rights.
In this region, a particular focus will be put on regional integration and implementing the EU’s new Strategic Partnership with ASEAN, notably in the areas of green and inclusive sustainable development, decent work, sustainable connectivity, EU-ASEAN policy dialogue, and good governance, human rights, security, and resilience.
The Pacific region: a Green-Blue Alliance
The 13 pacific island countries (Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) face unique development challenges. Therefore, there is a specific multi-annual programme for the pacific island countries that takes the region’s challenges into account.
While the population of pacific island countries (PICs) is only 0.04% of the global total, they are spread over an ocean area equivalent in size to South America. As ‘large ocean states’, they will be the first to face the consequences of climate change as a result of rising sea levels, changing coastlines, groundwater salinity and changing mean temperatures, despite the fact they only account for 0.014% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The vulnerability of PICs is also increasing due to other effects of climate change (economic, social and humanitarian) and the escalating occurrence and severity of natural hazards. The Pacific has a high incidence of violence against women and girls, and women and vulnerable groups are the most affected by climate change and natural disasters.
The MIP proposes a “Green-Blue Alliance” between the EU and the Pacific, based on our shared vision of the European Green Deal, the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and the Pacific Regional Protocol of the Post-Contonou Agreement. The programme builds on our common ambition for an inclusive, low carbon and resilient global economy by 2050.
The Pacific Multi-Country MIP will focus EU support for the period 2021-2027 on three priority areas
- Climate action and environmental sustainability, encompassing
- climate action
- adaptation, resilience and recovery
- environmental protection and sustainable management of natural resources
- Inclusive and sustainable economic development, encompassing
- sustainable green & blue economy
- economic governance
- Fundamental values, human development, peace and security, encompassing
- strengthening of democratic institutions, the rule of law and protection of human rights
- mainstreaming gender and addressing violence against women and children
€117 million has been allocated to the programme for the period 2021 to 2024 (when a mid-term review will take place).
The pan-Asia component covers all Asia-Pacific countries and their maritime spaces. It will mainly aim to ensure complementarity with country and sub-regional actions. While most of the EU priorities for the region have cross-border dimensions only a few can effectively be addressed at a continental level given the diversity and the lack of matching counterpart structures for dialogue and pursuit of international partnerships
In line with the Joint Communication EU-China: A strategic outlook of March 2019, the EU pursues a multi-faceted approach towards China. The EU-China relationship is one of the most important but also one of the most challenging that the EU has. Reflecting this complexity, based on a pragmatic and principled engagement, the EU is dealing with this unique strategic partner simultaneously as a negotiating partner for cooperation, an economic competitor and a systemic rival. This relationship is sustained through annual summits, regular high-level meetings and over seventy different sectoral dialogues. The regional MIP promotes and supports the EU agenda in its relationship with China.
The EU Strategy on India of 2018 prioritises India’s sustainable modernisation as a key objective thereby engaging more actively with India on these issues to secure an effective global approach. A comprehensive Connectivity Partnership with India supports the principles of social, environmental, economic and fiscal sustainability, and a level playing field. It also reinforces bilateral cooperation on digital, energy, transport and human connectivity, including through cooperation on research and innovation, both in terms of the application of global norms and standards, and the promotion of sound infrastructure projects. India is also key for the success of regional integration in South Asia.
The Gulf region encompasses members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Yemen, Iraq and Iran. The EU pursues a flexible geographic and thematic approach with the objective of easing regional tension, preventing conflict and mitigating risks, and supporting social transformation. The EU seeks to support a stronger partnership with the Gulf to advance EU external priorities, stronger regional integration through dialogue and cooperation, diversified economies through greener and more sustainable consumption and production, and more open and inclusive societies. Engagement on the global agenda will also be reinforced.
Cooperation with High Income Countries is managed by the European Commission Service for Foreign Policy Instruments.
Conflict and insecurity, climate change and environmental degradation, and poverty and inequality all significantly contribute to migration and forced displacement. This has a knock-on effect on statelessness and citizenship rights - migrant workers are at high risk of labour rights’ violations.
Three of the current major forced displacement situations are in the Asia region, namely the Afghan displacement situation, the displacement situation in Iraq and the displacement of Myanmar populations, including the Rohingya refugee crisis.
The EU is establishing a comprehensive programme addressing migration and human mobility at regional level, covering a wide range of migration-related issues, complementing actions implemented at national level.
The programme will contribute to implementing EU policy priorities, in particular the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. A special focus will be given to key countries of origin, transit and destination.
All aspects of migration, mobility and forced displacement, including migration management, prevention of irregular migration and forced displacement, supporting border management, countering migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings, cooperation on return, readmission and support to the sustainable reintegration of returnees, supporting legal migration, and international protection, will be addressed.
Where possible, actions will be designed and implemented in coordination with EU Member States, their development agencies and European financial institutions, in line with a ‘Team Europe’ approach.
The humanitarian, development and peace nexus will be ensured, as well as compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law related to forced displacement and people seeking asylum. A strong gender focus should be part of all actions funded, in line with the EU Gender Action Plan III.
- Council Conclusions on an EU Strategy for Cooperation in the IndoPacific - April 2021
- EU Central Asia strategy and factsheet - May 2019
- Joint Communication on engagement with Gulf countries - May 2022
- Joint Communication EU-China: A strategic outlook - March 2019
- Region: Asia – European External Action Service
- Region: Central Asia - European External Action Service
- Region: Middle East and North Africa - European External Action Service
- Region: Pacific - European External Action Service