Felipe González

THE EUROPEAN UNION AND CHINA

A necessary dialogue

Every visit to China, whatever the frequency, never fails to cause surprise as a historic phenomenon reflecting the new world situation. We continue referring to China as an emerging country, together with the other BRICs, well aware that the expression does not convey the reality in which we live.

China has already emerged with unusual strength, while we – Europeans of the Union – fight to avoid sinking, without finding the way. Set against an ascending process, that appears unstoppable, is a descending one, a loss of relevance, which we are unable to stop, much less to reverse.

This time, the purpose of the visit was the start of a dialogue which should allow both parts to obtain a deeper knowledge of reciprocal realities.

For my counterpart, Minister Zheng Bijian, that initiative of mutual approach is reflected in a decalogue under a forceful and interesting idea: “To analyse the convergence of interests, with the aim of building lasting and solid communities of interests.”

The ten points of his strategy include China’s own challenges in the short, medium and long term; his vision about the problems of the European Union, including the debt crisis and the concerns about its more serious by-products of growth and employment; and also his analysis of the bilateral and global shared or shareable interests.

Minister Zheng Bijian spoke on his own behalf, but he represented a strategic approach assumed by the Chinese authorities. My analysis of the European challenges, the perception about China, the potentialities of the relationship between both parts and the points of reciprocal interest in other areas of the world, was personal, with no representation. Perhaps the assignment to the Reflection Group on the Future of Europe, which I chaired between 2008 and 2010, weighs on the invitation to dialogue.

The first imbalance for the progress of a fruitful relationship for both parts are the speakers. In the European Union there are common Institutions of representation: the Commission and the Council Presidency – there is even a common document to define the bilateral relationship, which is not comparable to the one I am mentioning on the Chinese part – but, make no mistake, the EU does not have a true common strategy with China. Beyond what the Treaties say, Member States prioritize their bilateral and direct relationship with China, according to national, and not common, interests.

It is very difficult, under the circumstances, that China may regard the EU as a true speaker for the European Area, shared by 500 million citizens. Not because they may not wish to do so, for they propose it and they analyse the realities and the potentialities of that relationship, but because we, the countries of the Union, take very scant account of common interests, and we continue prioritizing national ones.

The resultant reality of a Shared Public Space, with a single currency, the Euro zone, with the largest and most powerful domestic market without borders in the world up to now, but without a true exterior projection of these elements, together with the lack of a common economic and fiscal governance, is weakening us all, the bigger ones and the not-so-big.

To speak to China, as the first “emerging” power of the new world reality, one must do so with a single voice, on behalf of all the countries and the citizens of the Union. Or, at least, what is said and done from the Institutions that represent all of us, and what is proposed by each one of the countries of the Union, must be harmonized clearly and without contradictions. The current situation weakens us, confuses the speakers, and limits the advances in the interest of all.

China bases its strategy on two basic concepts: “CONVERGENCE OF INTERESTS” and “COMMUNITIES OF INTERESTS.” I will try to delve into these ideas, both contained in the long and interesting dialogue initiated, and I will save the analysis of the proposals of that decalogue for a later date and with more extension.

The idea of studying the “convergence of interests” between China and the EU has a pragmatic sense, a “Confucian” sense like the rest if you wish, stemming from the reciprocal knowledge of the realities and the challenges faced by both parts, in their own domestic or shared (EU) spaces, to which the outside ones affecting both must be added. For example, the Middle East.

I must say that I was surprised by the frankness with which my dialogue partner explained to me the internal challenges that China must face in the short, medium and long-term. Even with no representation, I expounded with the same candour my vision of the European issues, including the difficulty of finding an answer to the current crisis and to the adaptation of the EU to the challenges of globalization.

From his point of view, which I believe to be more effective, “the convergence of interests” should lead to shared positions in matters to be considered by both parts. This is an exercise of dialogue between officers capable of deciding upon those shared areas of interest.

Upon these coincidences, a second step would be taken to create “communities of interests” with long-term and solid prospects over time. Therefore, with a middle and long-term outlook.

I will offer a highly topical example of the latter. The EU has proposed that China participate in the Financial Stability Facility. Already in the G-20 meeting in Southern France, the Chinese presented reasonable objections to the proposal. Among others, the lack of clarity and decision of the EU to configure the facility and to make it operational. I would add, besides, that China already owns over 500 billion dollars of Sovereign Debt of the European countries.

I suggested, as an alternative, whether China would be willing to participate, with the European Investment Bank, in a FUND… but to channel 400 or 500 billion euros into investment, indispensable for the recovery of the increasingly depressed economy of the EU. Infrastructures of great significance for the competitive future of the EU would be a part of the package without affecting public debt, and overcoming this self-destructive obsession with adjustment at the expense of everything else.

Obviously, it belongs to China to state its opinion on something like this, if the EU is able to articulate the answer that we need to improve demand, employment and competitiveness. I can only advance that it is a more understandable language for China that the one being used to date, and that my feeling is that they would enter such an operation more easily and willingly than the one currently being proposed to them.

 Felipe Gonzalez is former Prime Minister of Spain

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)


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