Puheenvuoro Asia-Europe People’s Forumissa, Helsinki, 5.9.2006


Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,

It is a great pleasure for me to address the Sixth Asia-Europe People’s Forum. Your gathering has marked the official launch of the ASEM week, which will culminate in the Summit next Sunday and Monday.

Asia and Europe constitute two of the world’s dominant regions in the so-called tripolar global order. ASEM was called to life to form a junction point where the two regions could meet, in order to strengthen their relations and fill in the  ”missing link” in the international structure. A decade has passed since ASEM’s birth. The Asia-Europe Meeting has offered us a unique and highly valuable forum for dialogue and cooperation. It has contributed to making Asia-Europe relations stronger and more dynamic, not only on the government level, but also in the field of people-to-people contacts. It is indeed a unique feature of the ASEM cooperation that it covers three pillars. Political dialogue, economic cooperation, as well as social and cultural interaction.  Looking back at the past decade, we may have achieved most progress in the so-called third pillar, socio-cultural and educational exchanges, and people-to-people contacts.

We can build on a solid foundation of ten years, in order to strengthen our partnership and take the process forward. The Finnish EU Presidency offers us the chance to contribute to that goal. Asia is a vital partner for the European Union, and many of our priorities on the agenda are also relevant for Asia. Strengthening and reforming the UN as the centrepiece of an effective multilateral system; responding to security threats; addressing climate change and achieving global agreement on how to take the UN climate regime forward; improving energy efficiency and promoting the use of renewable energy resources; and promoting intercultural and interfaith dialogue. All these issues are on the table during the ASEM6 Summit. Open and informal dialogue is one of ASEM’s prime aims. From the EU’s perspective it is furthermore very important that the meeting provides for an opportunity to have a frank and direct exchange also about sensitive and difficult issues, such as human rights and democracy in some ASEM partner states. And of course we Europeans should be prepared to listen to critical views of our role in the world as well. I think this is one of ASEM’s strongest features: we may not always agree with each other, but it is important to continue to communicate, and aim to achieve progress through a process of constructive dialogue.

The overarching theme of the upcoming Summit is ”Global challenges – Joint responses”. In order to translate this slogan into actions and effectively address these challenges through common responses, a bottom-up approach and multi-level participation are essential. If we want to deal with the immense challenge of climate change and other environmental issues, address the root causes of terrorism, tackle human trafficking, or promote human rights, the rule of law and good governance, we need to enhance multi-level participation. From the outset ASEM was created to function also as a bottom-up process, and the key documents referred to civil society as one of the main actors involved in the process.

The very purpose of the Asia-Europe Foundation, ASEM’s only institution, is to act as an interface between Civil Society and Asian and European Governments, and to develop this outreach. Also the Asia-Europe People’s Forum plays a vital role in enhancing contacts and exchange. The AEPF can furthermore help Asia and Europe to make an effective impact on global issues. The NGOs and civil society groups of European and Asian countries can do much under the AEPF agenda to rally support for tackling broad security issues, addressing economic security and social rights, and enhancing democracy and human rights.

Let me give one example. Raising support for the abolition of the death penalty is a very topical issue which will also be debated during this forum. It is also an issue for which multistakeholder participation is of crucial importance. The European Union opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances. We feel that an abolition contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and a progressive development of human rights. The EU therefore warmly welcomed the abolition of death penalty in the Philippines in June 2006. (Let me add, however, that we also want to see an end to the the political killings which still form a harsh reality of that country.)

 The AEPF also plays an important role in enhancing the awareness of ASEM among the wider public. Efforts need to be intensified to raise the general awareness and inform a wider public of the important work that is taking place in the ASEM context. I firmly believe that with your help we can make the people of our two regions feel more connected to the ASEM process.

Finland attaches great importance to a closer integration of the multi-stakeholder concept into existing mechanisms of global governance. We support a closer involvement of civil society in the broad sense to the ASEM process. We have been doing our best to support enhanced contacts with the business community, NGOs, and Civil Society in the broad sense. The Finnish government has furthermore provided financial resources to the sixth Asia-Europe People’s Forum in order to ensure a wide visibility and a broad representation of NGOs and people from both Asia and Europe. You will have the opportunity to convey your message to the host of the ASEM Summit.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Globalisation has gained enormous speed during ASEM’s first decade, and economic globalization and its effects is one the key topics on your agenda. The impacts of globalization is a subject for constant and sometimes stormy debates and will continue to be so also from now on. This is the case also in the Helsinki Process on Globalization and Democracy that the Finnish and Tansanian governments have facilitated during the past few years, and where several of you and your organizations have been deeply involved.  

But despite these inevitable differering views it is our hope that we could see increased global interdependence as an opportunity to promote multilateral responses to global challenges. We should also see globalisation as a change to enhance the well-being of the people and emphasise the rights of those in a weaker position. The work for a fair globalisation starts at the grassroots level. I sincerely hope that the AEPF will continue to work together with the governments of Asia and Europe to achieve this aim.

Before concluding, let me now briefly still turn your attention to the abhorring situation of Burma/Myanmar. The EU is dissapointed with the lack of democratic reforms and human rights in Burma/Myanmar. In this regard there has been no progress in the country.

As you know, Burma/Myanmar is one of the 39 partners of the ASEM process, because it joined the process two years ago. Because of that, it was also inivited to take part in the Helsinki Summit. However, this should by no means be seen as any kind of softening of the EU position. It is just that we should not let the Burma/Myanmar issue to dominate the agenda between Europe and Asia. It’s a problem for the whole international community, and the ASEM should not be held hostage by this problem.

It is also important to note, that the ASEM process brings together the representatives of the government of Myanmar, as well as other Asian countries such ASEAN member states China, Japan and Korea. Engaging the whole region will help to strengthen the international pressure on Myanmar.Serious human rights violations and democracy situation in Myanmar will be discussed in the ASEM6 Summit.

I thank you for your attention.