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It is called after Marco Polo and it is a “network of young leaders”aimed at Eurasian dialogue and becoming a bridge between Europe and Asia. The new project was founded at the XI. Eurasian Economic Forum in Verona and takes its inspiration from the Young Transatlantic Innovative Leaders Initiative Fellowship, supported by the US State Department. If the latter looks to the West, the Marco Polo Initiative points to the East.

Yuri Kofner, Research Assistant, Advanced Systems Analysis, IIASA, Austria: “Marco Polo was 17 when he left and crossed the countries of Eurasia and arrived in China”, says Kofner, a young man, clean cut, speaking several languages. “We want to invite young journalists, researchers, politicians and even representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament”, he adds.

The idea is to promote greater cooperation between Brussels and Eurasia. All under the aegis of the European Society for Eurasian Cooperation (ESEC), founded in April and with representative offices in Italy, Austria, Germany and Brussels. The new non-government organization has presented a project for the creation of a network of promising young entrepreneurs and future European and Eurasian political leaders, who support greater cooperation between the European Union (EU), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Chinese Belt & Road and other Eurasian actors (such as Turkey, Iran, India).

The organization was born on the margins of the International Youth Forum “Future for Eurasian and European Integration 2040” which was held in Vienna in December 2017 and was organized by the Institute for Economic Strategy in Moscow and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the working groups of the International Youth Forum “Future for Eurasian and European Integration 2040”, 4 – 8 December 2017 in Vienna, Austria.

“Then young European researchers, political scientists, economists have set themselves the aim work together to promote more cooperation between the European Union with the Eurasian countries: in the interests of Europe”, explains Kofner. “We do not look at political affiliation: we want to talk about economics. We think that solid and close Transatlantic dialogue with America must not be to the detriment of the prospects that are opening up with Eurasia. And this network of leaders named after Marco Polo is conceived as an analogue of the American projects that are in favor of Transatlantic dialogue: they are excellent projects and we think that it should also be done in the other direction, towards the East. And in the context of the XI. Eurasian Economic Forum in Verona we held our first official event: a panel session dedicated to the challenges and perspectives for Europe of closer ties with Eurasia”.

 

Speakers of the panel session in Verona and first members of the Marco Polo Young Leaders Initiative (from left to right): Elia Bescotti, Vice-President, European Society for Eurasian Cooperation (ESEC), Italy; Gregory Jullien, Advisor, European Parliament, EU; Victor Shakhmatov, Head, Consolidated Analytical Section​, Eurasian Economic Commission, EAEU; Praket Arya, Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation, India; Matvey Navdaev, Advisor to the Head, Federal Agency for Youth Affairs, Russia; Yuri Kofner, Research Assistant, Advanced Systems Analysis, IIASA, Austria.

A model (in the opposite direction) is that of the Young Transatlantic Innovative Leaders Initiative Fellowship, a program supported by the United States Department of State and the German Marshall Fund (GMF), which aims to offer new tools and resources to young entrepreneurs and European innovators, in order to turn their ideas into successful businesses. The program is also a vehicle for the creation of a Transatlantic network of leaders, able to lobby and strengthen entrepreneurial ecosystems and global innovation opportunities.

 

 

 

Organizational meeting of the European Society for Eurasian Cooperation on 1 September 2018 in Munich, Germany.

This is also what “Marco Polo” wants to do. But what we you looking at?

The past five years have witnessed serious steps towards more integration, connectivity and economic cooperation both within, as well as in between regions of the Eurasian continent.

In 2013 China’s head of state Xi Jinping announced the revival in the 21st century of the ancient Silk Roads under Beijing’s epochal “Belt and Road” Initiative (BRI).

A year later, the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia signed a treaty on the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the first truly supranational organization in the post-Soviet space after the fall of the Soviet Union. After the accession of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan it is now second only to the EU in terms of integration depth. Over 50 countries from all over the world have voiced their interest in signing trade deals with the new union.

In 2016 Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev co-proposed a more extensive “Greater Eurasian Partnership” involving the EAEU, the CIS countries, China, India, Iran, and other interested countries and associations of the continent. Since then, the EAEU has been working on the creation of a network of free trade areas in the wider Eurasian space. The Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) negotiated free trade areas with Vietnam and Iran (interim). More are planned with Singapore, India, South Korea, Cambodia and Serbia. As part of its conjunction with the Belt&Road Initiative, the EAEU signed a trade and economic cooperation agreement with China in May 2018.

At the same time, Brussels’s actions in wider Eurasia seemed less coherent, picking up pace only this year, when significant trade deals were finalized with Vietnam and signed with Japan and Singapore. Then, in September the European External Action Service (EEAS) finally presented a joint communiqué on the EU’s strategy for “Connecting Europe and Asia”.

India is also interested in playing an important part in the emerging “Eurasian concert”. As a major connectivity project it proposes the implementation of the international “North – South Transport Corridor” (NSTC). However, New Delhi, it seems, still has no clear cut vision for its engagement in the wider Eurasian continent.

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