In March 1996, the leaders of twenty-five European and East Asian countries, together with the European Commission, convened in Bangkok, Thailand, for the inaugural Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). This historic summit paved the way for the establishment of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) one year later in 1997. ASEF is the only permanently established institution of ASEM and is funded by voluntary contributions from its partner governments and shares the financing of its projects with its civil society partners across Asia and Europe.
The Asia-Europe Foundation promotes greater mutual understanding between Asia and Europe through intellectual, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Through ASEF, civil society concerns are included as a vital component of deliberations of the ASEM. ASEF was established in February 1997 by the participating governments of ASEM and has since implemented over 600 projects, engaging over 17,000 direct participants as well as reaching out to a much wider audience in Asia and Europe.
At the 5th ASEM Summit in Hanoi (October 2004), the ASEM process expanded from twenty-six to thirty-nine countries, including the ten new members of the European Union, as well as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The second round of enlargement happened in October 2007, when India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Romania, Bulgaria and the ASEAN Secretariat was officially welcomed into ASEM. During the 8th ASEM Summit held in Brussels (October 2010), three new members joined the ASEM process: Australia, New Zealand and Russia. This third round of enlargement increased the membership to 48 partners. During the 9th ASEM Summit in Vientiane (November 2012), ASEM was officially joined by Bangladesh, Norway, and Switzerland, bringing the total membership to 51 partners.
In the past 15 years, ASEF has implemented over 600 projects, bringing together more than 17,000 direct participants and reaching out to an even wider audience in Asia and Europe.