‘B&R’ offers chance for China, Europe to grow closer together

By MAO LI / 07-27-2017 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France was illuminated during a light show in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in Paris, France on March 24, 2017.     

An international symposium themed “The 60th Anniversary of the European Integration: Challenges and Opportunities” was convened at Renmin University of China on July 15 to explore the dilemmas facing European integration and its future prospects.

In 1957, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC).

The signatories of the historic agreement laid the foundations of a closer union among the peoples of Europe to be built through a practical, gradualist approach to progressive political integration. And today, Europe once again stands at a critical juncture, confronting the fact that the momentum of European integration has stalled somewhat in the past decade.

Reinhard Heinisch, a professor from the University of Salzburg, Austria, pointed to the Austrian Freedom Party and the Italian Northern League as typical examples of Euroscepticism.

Though most of the European populist parties support the general ideas of European integration, many hold an overwhelmingly pessimistic attitude about the European Union’s capacity to achieve its goals, he said.

These parties exist on a continuum between the hard Eurosceptics, who oppose the European Union and European integration as a matter of principle, and soft Eurosceptics, who do not, Heinisch said.

Their ambiguous Eurosceptic position, which waivers back and forth between reforming and rejecting the European Union, enables them to simultaneously be potential partners for radical right parties at the European level and for mainstream ones at the national level.

Vice-President Liu Yuanchun of Renmin University said the European Union’s accomplishments in the past 60 years have served as a model of trade, investment integration and financial, monetary integration. “The legacy of the Treaty of Rome is worth preserving and further advocating,” he said, “The European Union’s achievements have relied on an open and rules-oriented regional integration and we need to be alert to populism and the rising hostility to globalization in the post-crisis era.”

“Brexit is definitely an unwise choice,” said Dan Hough, a professor from the University of Sussex. “Despite the great impact of Brexit and the euro zone crisis, the crises motivated the European Union and member states of the euro zone to aspire to a higher level of integration by means of more effective policies and instruments.”

Trade protectionism is growing in Europe as competition continues to intensify while internal demand is declining due to economic stagnation. Though these conditions have brought trade friction to China and Europe, it is in their common interest to maintain the forward momentum of globalization despite the pushback against it and US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy, said Ding Chun, director of Center for European Studies at Fudan University. He also pointed out that the “Belt and Road” initiative, a source of global public goods, is a positive response to the European Union, which has a negative outlook on the world economy.

Heinisch agreed that “Belt and Road” initiative has brought new opportunities for closer China-Europe ties. Boosting infrastructure connectivity and trade flows, the initiative will benefit all the parties involved, and European people are getting a deeper understanding of China through the initiative based on peace and common interest.

Emil Kirchner, a professor from the University of Essex, noted that regional security will become the focus of greater Asia-EU cooperation. Security is especially a concern with regard to Central Asia, where China and the European Union are pursuing similar aims via the “Belt and Road” initiative and the Juncker Plan, respectively. In addition, maritime matters, such as anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, also call for security cooperation between the two sides, he added.  




MAO LI is a reporter at the Chinese Social Sciences Today.