Meeting of ASEM foreign ministers

Monday, 11.11.2013 – Tuesday, 12.11.2013

Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, head of the FDFA, took part in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in New Delhi, India. The meeting of foreign ministers aimed at strengthening common interests between Europe and Asia. This was the first time that Switzerland took part in the discussions.

Location: New Dehli

Switzerland took part at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) from 11 to 12 November in New Delhi, India. The meeting brought together foreign ministers from both continents to discuss the topic "Bridge to Partnership for Growth and Development".

Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter took the opportunity to talk about counter-terrorism and water security.

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is an informal process of dialogue and cooperation aimed at defining themes of common interest to Europe and Asia.

A broad range of subjects are discussed, from the political, economic and financial situation of the two regions to issues concerning climate, migration and education. ASEM is the most important platform for dialogue between the two continents.

Thirty founding members established ASEM in Bangkok in 1996 which now has over fifty members. Twenty-seven member states of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway and the European Commission make up the European group of ASEM. The Asian group is composed of twenty countries - of which ten are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - as well as the ASEAN secretariat.

ASEM member countries account for 60% of the world's current population, almost half of global GDP and 60% of trade worldwide. Its ranks notably include China, Japan, Russia, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. ASEM also currently brings together four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (Great Britain, France, China, Russia) and twelve countries of the G20.

How does ASEM work

The Asia-Europe Meeting brings together heads of state and government from both continents every two years and, every second alternate year, their foreign ministers. Each participant has the possibility to make a statement in the plenum during the meetings.Parallel meetings between ministers and thematic seminars are also organised.

The discussions rest on the three pillars of political dialogue and exchanges in the economic and sociocultural fields. They serve to strengthen relations between Europe and Asia and to facilitate intercultural dialogue in a spirit of partnership.

Asia-Europe Foundation

Central to ASEM's mission are information-sharing, interpersonal relations and the building of collective knowledge. In this regard, Switzerland is also a member of ASEF, the Asia-Europe Foundation linked to ASEM.

The foundation carries out sociocultural projects between the two continents and benefits from the only funding that Switzerland provides in this context. A yearly maximum of CHF 230,000 is earmarked for the ASEF.

Switzerland as member of ASEM

Switzerland became a full member of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in November 2012. This status allows Switzerland to take part at the Summit of Heads of State and Government, ministerial meetings and thematic working groups bringing the two continents together.

ASEM meetings have demonstrated their usefulness in the past with regard to, for example, reform of the international financial system or preparation of the Climate Change Conference held in Cancún in 2010.
What is Switzerland's particular interest in participating at these meetings? Interview with ambassador Beat Nobs, head of the FDFA's Asia and Pacific Division.

Why did Switzerland join ASEM in 2012?

In 2010, Switzerland adopted a new political strategy on the Asia-Pacific region. One of the three pillars of this new strategy constitutes closer relations between Switzerland and regional bodies. Thus, entry into ASEM became an important step to strengthen Switzerland's relations with the region, one of the most dynamic in the world today. In fact, ASEM is the only forum outside the UN General Assembly where heads of state, ministers and senior officials from Europe, Asia and Pacific are brought together. Nonetheless, Switzerland had to launch a real campaign to become part of ASEM which historically, until last year, was limited to member countries of the European Union.

What can Switzerland bring to the table?

Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation in Asia thanks to its good economic situation and active involvement in the political, humanitarian and other spheres. Many Asian countries try to understand how a country with neither oil nor access to the sea can be such a success story. Switzerland's voice is also independent from that of the European Union, and it is interesting for the Asian continent to have a diversity of opinion.

What has been the outcome of this first year of ASEM membership?

By participating at various ASEM fora, Switzerland has been able to develop its contacts in the region at all levels. Last year, Federal Councillor Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf attended the ASEM Summit in her capacity as president of the Confederation. In so doing, she was able to enter into direct contact with her Asian counterparts, as were Swiss and Asian foreign ministers and senior officials attending the summit.

As a member of ASEM, Switzerland has also been able to express its opinion on numerous global issues of concern to Europe and Asia, such as the environment and human security. In addition, Switzerland plans to cooperate with certain countries through specific projects such as disaster risk reduction in the Philippines and air pollution in China. This first year at ASEM has therefore confirmed the ever-growing importance for Switzerland to be present on the international scene.