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Prime Minister May’s hard Brexit

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The speech of the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, delivered on January 17 at Mansion House, foreshadows a new and more global Britain, but above all entails the end of the European Union as we know it today.

Thirty years after the speech delivered by Margaret Thatcher at Lancaster House in 1988, when the conservative Iron Lady accepted the European single market and the freedom of movement and trade within Europe, a new conservative Iron Lady states she is ready to leave the European Union and the European single market.

In the European Union, Great Britain has always experienced Germany’s marked hegemony that it has tried to control both by entering the European Union and then deciding to leave it, as it is currently doing.

Great Britain never wants hegemonic powers in its way: neither the EU nor the Franco-German Europe, nor even the possible EU of the South, with the alliance between Italy, Spain, Greece, the Balkans and Austria.

In fact, the documents of the Bank of England on the euro have always been very clear: we do not want the single currency because, as Great Britain, we are a global power and the only counterpart for the Commonwealth, and we do not accept a Mark disguised as European currency, namely the euro, which is the result of a pact – proposed by Margareth Thatcher herself – between those who did not want German reunification and Germany itself.

The core of the issue was as follows: Germany could be reunited but it had to give its currency as ransom.

At that time the Italian President of the Republic, Francesco Cossiga, was in very close contact with Margaret Thatcher, on the one hand, and Helmut Kohl on the other.

He carried out a strong and necessary mediation activity.

Hence, in his recent speech, Theresa May has made it clear that Great Britain wants back its full sovereignty on migration issues, which will be the axis of the future “engineering of nations” and the primary tool for controlling and managing the labour force, its complexion and cost. She also wants full sovereignty on customs – another essential factor in the relationship between Great Britain and the European Union.

Hence, following the traditional model of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), May’s government will manage a series of trade agreements with the individual EU and non-EU countries. Obviously what will be missing in the Euro-British regulations will be richly offset by the new economic relations between Great Britain and its wide Commonwealth, as well as between Great Britain and Donald Trump’s United States.

Let us wonder, however, whether the United States still need the European Union – this is currently the real question.

In fact, only the US weight and clout did enable France and Germany to create the first pan-European institutions and only Great Britain did act as a strategic and economic counterbalance to ”Rhenish Europe”, the one that Charles De Gaulle defined as “the United States’ Trojan horse”.

Indeed, before the vote on Brexit, it was precisely Great Britain to strongly support the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which was designed as a geoeconomic alternative to the probable fragmentation and disruption of the European Union.

Hence Brexit has had a long-standing gestation and it will completely change the EU strategic and economic landscape.

It was worth recalling that it was Prime Minister Edward Heath to bring Great Britain into the European Common Market in 1973 – a choice reaffirmed by the outcome of the referendum held by Wilson two years later.

However, throughout the 1980s, the European integration process slowed down significantly and, therefore, in those years the City of London created wealth with its monetarist policies of high interest rates. This enabled the holders of UK government bonds to make excellent profit and also enabled the City to stabilize its rates without adhering to the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).

In 1986 Thatcher’s financial reforms established a close link between the City and the US financial system – a link which will obviously make Brexit even stronger.

However are the United States really interested in having a “Little Britain”, which will no longer be the trusted channel with the EU, or will they strengthen the traditional ties of the Anglosphere between Britain and the United States?

And what will be the geopolitical and financial link between one of the largest economic areas of the globe, namely he EU, and the United States, which cannot certainly afford to neglect Europe?

Certainly Donald Trump was clearly in favour of Brexit and, after taking office, he will be the first world leader to receive Theresa May at the White House on January 27th.

Moreover, it is well-known that President Trump does not like the European Union. He prefers to deal with the individual EU Member States, but this does not mean that Europe is not still decisive in the US strategic and economic framework.

Do the United States want to keep united and friendly a great commercial and political area, namely the EU, which acts as a rampart vis-à-vis the Russian Federation and the Arab and Islamic world, or do they want to deal only with its Member States, thus destroying the Union and paving the way for Chinese and Islamic capital?

We will soon see Donald trump’s proposals in this regard.

Moreover, the origin of the European Monetary Union lies exactly in its unusual and asymmetrical relationship with the United States: the slow creation of the single currency stems from the crisis of the Bretton Woods agreements, created specifically by the United States, by the strong exchange rate volatility in that phase and, above all, by the US refusal to restore a global monetary balance.

Only China and, in other respects, the Russian Federation are currently interested in redesigning, with the EU, a new international monetary and financial system which will be based on a basket of currencies at variable exchange rates in a predefined range.

Furthermore today Germany does no longer need a highly regulated economy, mediating between capital and labour, as was the case until 2000 and up to the financial crises of 2006 and 2009.

Hence Germany can further financialize its economy by lending euro to its periphery and hence maintaining extremely high trade surpluses, as currently happens, or can invest directly in the US system through the City.

The United States will always have a growing share of high-interest and short-term “toxic” assets.

Moreover, regardless of Brexit, the City’s trading and transactions with the United States and the European Union have decreased significantly.

London’s financial centre does not yet know whether to invest in the EU or elsewhere in the world, especially in China or in the BRICs and the British government’s participation in the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank proposed by China has created strong tensions with the United States. Said tensions will persist if the North American financial markets maintain their growth.

Another problem not to be overlooked is that neo-liberal policies, from Thatcher onwards, have deeply divided Great Britain socially and geographically.

In Great Britain the Gini coefficient, a statistical measure of social inequality, has risen from 0.26 in 1979 to the current 0.4.

The gap between the rich London and the South of the country and the increasingly poor North is particularly evident.

All this could lead to an inherent weakness of the British political system, irrespective of the party in power.

Moreover, as many commentators have noted, also Donald Trump’s election is a kind of Amexit: the US unilateral withdrawal from the post-Cold War global system, which had not been well negotiated and was based on the Russian and Chinese strategic void filled by an America which was becoming the only global power.

This is no longer the case – the United States are no longer the “indispensable nation”. With President Trump, the United States will no longer act as the world’s policeman and, in the North American decision-makers’ minds, Brexit means that the EU shall either break up or rebuild itself as a real Union.

Also NATO which, until Barack Obama’s Presidency, denied to Russia and China the right to their natural spheres of influence – often with suicidal intentions – will be a US (and British) direct instrument or an inter-European mechanism which, however, the EU Member States shall pay largely by themselves – and today’s Europe has certainly neither money nor strategic ideas.

Moreover, Theresa May’s Brexit is not yet well-defined within the British political scene: the Supreme Court’s ruling has forced the government to seek approval from Parliament before formally starting negotiations on Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The Scottish National Party wants to remain in the EU and threatens to hold a second referendum on the separation between Scotland and England and it also wants to table over 50 new amendments to the law for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU according to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Labour Party itself wants to slow down the process of separation between Britain and the Union, although it will generally vote in favour of Brexit in Parliament.

The Tories have no majority in the House of Lords and the Bremain supporters could cause problems to Prime Minister May’s government.

Hence if – as currently everything leads us to think – President Trump manages the new relationship with Britain vigorously, the UK economy will be granted full and free access to the US financial and non-financial market, without forgetting that Prime Minister May wants better strategic and military cooperation with the United States, both for renewing the Trident missile system and for tackling the other matters relating to global intelligence.

As a result of Brexit and the consequent British full entry into the US economic and strategic sphere, the EU will be less effective also at military and intelligence levels.

Hence we will see what will happen on January 27 next, after Prime Minister May’s meeting with President Trump in Washington.

At technical and legal levels, the British Prime Minister intends to close the economic negotiations between her country and the EU Member States before the end of the procedure pursuant to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which also means she wants to avoid “cliff edge”, namely the tariff and economic cliff edge of spring 2019, the moment of real Brexit.

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister May talks about an “implementation phase” from now until 2019, before the end of negotiations with the EU on Article 50.

The political and strategic significance is very clear: Prime Minister May wants to stay on good terms with the EU area but, if Europeans want to “punish” Britain, London will become a centre for the trade, financial and political war against the European Union.

If the EU has a punitive attitude vis-à-vis the UK on Article 50, Britain will become a low-taxation and low- regulation economy; it will gradually acquire a large part of European industries and will wage a tariff and financial war against the EU and its Member States.

Not to mention the City’s finance, which will be directed against the euro area and will support any aggressive US dollar operation.

Or any aggressive operation of other countries, which will certainly come to the fore against an ever weaker Euro.

Currently the global economic trends are clear: increased uncertainty on global financial markets, which favours emerging economies and their countries of reference, such as Russia and China; reduced dependence of peripheral markets from those of the First World economies (the so-called decoupling) and the rise of China’s public debt.

Probably, the growth of public spending in the United States will add other crisis factors on the global scene, while we must not neglect the agreement between Russia and OPEC for reducing oil extraction and the related increase in oil barrel prices.

The EU may remain the old regional union of the Cold War and it will be bound to break up under the combined pressure of Brexit and Trump’s Presidency in the United States, or may become smart and hence start or extend negotiations with Israel, the non-EU Balkans’ area, South Korea and Singapore – obviously in addition to China and Russia – for a new Eurasian economic union.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Political will is needed to foster multilateralism in Europe

Guido Lanfranchi

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Dr. Fischler addressing the conference

On July 1st 2020, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered in Vienna, Austria, for the conference “From Victory Day to Corona Disarray: 75 Years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System”. The conference, jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe in the wake of its old and new challenges.

The conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from Canada to Australia, and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online – from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”.

The event itself was probably the largest physical gathering past the early spring lock down to this very day in this part of Europe. No wonder that it marked a launch of the political rethink and recalibration named – Vienna Process.

Among the speakers for the conference’s third panel – which focused on universal and pan-European multilateralism – there was Dr. Franz Fischler, a well-known figure due to his previous postings as Austria’s Federal Minister for Agriculture and Forestry (1989-1994) and as European Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries (1995-2004), besides being currently President of the famous European ForumAlpbach.

Dr. Fischler started his keynote speech by highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to fundamentally change Europe – and even the whole world. In doing so, he referred to the paradoxes outlined by Bulgarian intellectual Ivan Krastev in the wake of the pandemic. Contrasting pushes towards re-nationalization and globalization, the partial interruption of democracy but the decreasing appetite for authoritarian government, the mixed response of the European Union to the crisis – in short, a series of conflicting trends are making the future of Europe, as well as that of the whole world, very much uncertain.

It was against this backdrop that Dr. Fischler addressed the central question of the panel: What is fundamentally going to happen in Europe in the times ahead? The former EU Commissioner clarified from the very beginning that those who wish a further deepening of the current multilateral system should not be blinded by excessive optimism. An alternative to the current system does exist – clearly symbolized by the combination of nationalism and populism that we can see in many countries, but also by the problems faced by multilateralism in many fields, most notably trade.

This trend is evident in the case of the European Union too – Dr. Fischler warned. He highlighted that policy tools aimed at stimulating convergence across European countries, such as for instance the EU’s cohesion policies, are becoming increasingly weak, and inequality within the EU is currently on the rise. As a result, traditional goals such as the “ever closer Europe” and the “United States of Europe” do not even seem to be on the agenda anymore.

What can then be done to deepen the EU’s integration process and strengthen Europe’s multilateral system? Towards the end of his speech, Dr. Fischler outlined a few entry points for reform and further cooperation. His suggestions revolved around increasing cooperation on a number of specific issues, ranging from high-tech research to the development of a common European passport. He also proposed that European countries should strengthen their common diplomatic initiatives, including by speaking with a single voice in international institutions, as well as increasing the EU’s soft power. On top of that, deeper institutional and political modifications might be needed for the EU, Dr. Fischler hinted – citing as examples the relaxation of the unanimity voting procedure on some foreign policy issues, as well as an intensification of the EU’s enlargement process.

Closing his highly absorbing speech, Dr. Fischler – champion of multilateralism, and guru of the current EU CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) made clear which ingredient is, in his opinion, the cornerstone for reviving multilateralism in Europe: “All I would like to say is that there are possibilities out there. The question is, as always in these times: is there enough political will?”

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China “seems” to be moving closer to the Holy See

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The two-year provisional agreement which was signed on September 22, 2018 between the holy see and China for the appointment of bishops in China, with the pope having veto power over such appointments, is likely to be renewed by mutual consensus before the accord nears its expiry later this month.

The agreement was initially seen as a clincher for both China and Vatican, especially after diplomatic ties were completely severed in 1951. However, many observers and experts have claimed that, the agreement does more harm than good to the credibility and popularity of the monolithic Catholic institute. Besides the main propaganda campaign of the Chinese to retain unabridged control over bishop nominations, their ultimate goal is to get Vatican to discredit the government in Taiwan to assert its One-China policy. Although, the Vatican has agreed to support China on its One-China policy, it should still be weary and apprehensive of the Chinese politics.

How is Taiwan central to this agreement

Taiwan, a small island in East Asia, which China claims as part of its own territory, considers Vatican as its last partner in Europe. This puts Vatican in a critical situation while China is struggling to maintain cordial relations with the West.

According to Francesco Sisci, a senior researcher at the Remnim University in Beijing, China wants to be seen as an ally of the Pope because it realizes the soft superpower that the Catholic church yields over millions of followers within China and abroad. He says, When the pope speaks, everyone listens.

A logical conclusion thus one can derive from it, is that the Vatican’s endorsement of the One-China policy by discounting Taiwan’s authority to maintain independent diplomatic ties, will generate currency in China’s favour.

Two-years of signing the provisional agreement. What it means for China’s Catholics?

In a bid to renew the agreement, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson stated last week that the interim accord has been implemented successfully. However, the ground scenario provides a different factual story. Even after the deal was signed in 2018, there were several reports of harassment and detention of the underground Catholics and Clergy in China. Many Churches have been shut down, crosses and other religious symbols have disappeared from public spaces. These events have taken place even after the Vatican tabled such concerns during negotiation with China.

This is the direct result of the “Sinicization” policy of the Xi administration, that calls for showcasing loyalty to the state and the Communist Party during religious processions and practice. As per this restrictive policy, people below 18 years of age are strictly barred from entering places of worship and publication of any religious material is only allowed following a close scrutiny.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, retired cardinal of Honk Kong had expressed wide concerns for this accord. He had described the Vatican’s overtures with China as selling out of the Catholic Church in China. Zen knows that the agreement is largely going to benefit the Chinese authorities and the Communist Party in asserting its policies and international agendas.

It is also essential to highlight that the exact details and terms of the agreement are kept secret between the two parties. This may mean that if any violations of the agreement that may have taken place in the two years it was in place, it would become difficult to prove it in a court of law, owing to the confidentiality. This almost gives China full immunity over its inability to fulfill its obligation under the agreement. Vatican must therefore be cautious about China’s commitment towards the agreement and must device alternate ways to shelter and safeguard its priests and followers in China.

The EU-China angle

2020 was supposed to be the year for refinement of EU-China relations. The pandemic has however forced cancellations of governmental meetings, bilateral programs, and other scheduled events. And on the contrary, it has deepen the cracks between certain EU countries and China because of China’s propaganda campaign and geopolitical policies.

Last year saw a hard stance being adopted by EU legislators and policymakers, which was reflected in the policy paper released by the Federation of German Industries. The paper had described China as a “systemic competitor” and highlighted grave concerns over its international economic practices. The same line of charge was showcased in European Commission’s strategic reflection paper, where it referred to China as a negotiating partner with a need for finding a balance of interests and a systemic rival promoting alternative model of governance.

This position is attributed to China’s unfair and biased foreign policy that limited European companies from major EU countries to venture into the Chinese market. At the same time, China was employing economic tactics to woo smaller European countries to promote investments and improve trade relations with itself. The effect of this has been that many economically weaker countries have started looking towards China for monetary aid and trade related matters rather than cooperating with their fellow EU members. This has led to some kind of frustration and discordance amongst the EU nations.

The tensions might have heightened due to China’s diplomatic missteps, from its infamous wolf warrior diplomacy to its amoralistic mask diplomacy during the Covid outbreak. This will however not completely change the course in the relation between EU-China because there is too much at stake for both sides to risk everything. These instances must however caution Vatican about its handshake with China because, although it may have soft superpower but there’s nothing stopping China from pulling off an economical stunt.

A closer perspective

Taking the EU-China experience and the Sinicization policy collectively into consideration, it will be safe to assume for the Pope and his council of minister to rethink and weigh the merits and demerits of its diplomatic ties with China with utmost seriousness. Even if China promises more stability and monetary benefits in the short run, the Vatican must not forget that the deal indeed puts at risk, the values and principles that it has preached over the decades, to its people and followers globally, the repercussions of which may be beyond repair.

It needs to consider the plight of its brothers and sisters who have unlawfully been punished and detained in China and must push for more humane laws and remedies for them.This can be done by carefully executing a three-level approach. Firstly, the Vatican must put in place a strict mechanism to scrutinize and verify the inflow of investments so as to limit the interference of Chinese money in its decision making. This is similar to the foreign policy introduced by EU last year. Secondly, the Vatican must try to accommodate and align its interests with its European allies so as to strengthen the unity and solidarity in the region. It will also help them to collectively stand up against China if China tries to play hard ball against them, in terms of trade policy or indulges in any human rights violations for that matter. Lastly, the Vatican must push for transparency and openness with respect to the terms of the agreement that it has signed with China. This will allow the Holy See to rightfully claim any damage or remedy if any wrongful act or omission is committed by the Chinese side.

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EU acting a “civilian power”: Where & How

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Authors: Yang Haoyuan, ZengXixi & Hu Yongheng*

In 1946 when Winston Churchill addressed in Zurich, Switzerland, he called on urgent union of Europe, but not many people took his remarks seriously if not suspicious at all.This was because that economic recovery and social stability of the day were more urgent to the people across Europe. Since then in one decade, Europe has not only witnessed a rapid and robust social-economic reconstruction, but also an increasing integration of sovereign states coming of the age. It is true that throughout this process of the European integration, the United States has played a sort of patron role—at first as a passionate advocate publicly and then a powerful supporter through the Marshal Plan and finally a lead ally of the NATO.

In1963, the United States endorsed a fully cohesive Europe which, whether it functions as a grouping of nation-states or as the European Union, has shared America’s burden in terms of the Atlantic collective security. Yet, this strategic tie is not unconditional, for example, the EU support to the Washington’s policy decision depends upon only if its objectives parallel with America’s own and if it deems that without its contribution the common purposes will not be achieved. The diversions in policy between the two sides of the Atlantic are essentially more philosophical than technical. As a result, American unilateralism which usually comes out of Washington has been challenged by the EU involving three key structural issues: the EU’s self-image; the impact of the EU policy; and the U.S. attitudes toward the different options for European integration. As Henry Kissinger argued, in defining the role of Europe in the future world, the EU depends upon more their historical experiences than abstract concept of universal goodwill as a facilitator of diplomacy, or put it simply that “persuasiveness in negotiations relies primarily on the options the negotiator has available or is perceived to have at his or her disposal.”

 Since the beginning of the new century, the EU has become close to an equal to the United States economically, technologically and socially. In terms of soft power, European cultures have long had a wide appeal in the rest of the world, and the sense of a Europe uniting around Brussels has had a strong attraction to East Europe and Turkey as well. Samuel Huntington put it in the 1990s that a cohesive Europe would have the human resources, economic strength, technology, and actual and potential military forces to be the preeminent power of the 21st century. Although the EU has effectively constrained American unilateralism, it is out of the question that the U.S. and the EU would move on the road towards political conflict. Due to this, the EU has vowed to play a new role in the world affairs that might be termed as the “civilian power”.

According to scholar Helene Sjursen, civilian power is defined as playing a primary role in the international system but differing from the traditional great power which has pursued power politics by military means. The EU prefers acting a civilian power since it has committed to economic cooperation and social justice in the age of globalization. Accordingly, the acquisition of military means, or the EU’s ambition to acquire such means, might weaken at least the argument that the EU is a civilian power and could provoke a shift towards a policy more akin to traditional great powers. Despite this, this article opines that the EU has acted a civilian power in the world affairs. For sure, this is not an easy mission to achieve in view of the complexities of the world affairs.

On September 16 of 2020, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addressed her first annual State of the Union, painting a sober picture of Europe grappling with a pandemic and its deepest recession in its history and calling for EU members to build a stronger health union amid COVID-19. She laid out ambitious goals to make the 27-nation bloc more resilient and united to confront future crises. In order to demonstrate the EU’s resolve and sincerity, she doubled down on the flagship goals sheset out on taking office in 2019: urgent action to tackle climate change and a digital revolution. In addition, von der Leyen unveiled a plan to cut the EU greenhouse gas emissions substantially and vowed to use green bonds to finance its climate goals. She also called for greater investment in technology for Europe to compete more keenly with China and the United States and said the EU would invest 20 percent of a 750 billion euro economic recovery fund in digital projects. Meanwhile, she said that the coronavirus pandemic had underlined the need for closer cooperation since “the people of Europe are still suffering.” It is noted that the competition mentioned involves only the unconventional rather than conventional security issues.

As a matter of fact, solidarity among the 27 member states performed badly at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they refused to share the protective medical kits with the worst-affected and closed borders without consultation to prevent the spread of the virus. Also the EU leaders jousted for months over a joint plan to rescue their coronavirus-throttled economies. Yet, since last July,27 member states agreed on a stimulus plan that paved the way for the European Commission to raise billions of euros on capital markets on behalf of them all, an unprecedented act of solidarity in almost seven decades of European integration. Addressing the EU Parliament, von der Leyen pledged her commission would try to reinforce the European Medicines Agency and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, promising a biomedical research agency and a global summit. In effect, the EU has all the means and resources at its capacity.

Yet, externally the EU has to deal with the troubled talks with the United Kingdom on the future links after the Brexit divorce is done. All the deals and pacts between the two sides could not be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied. Von der Leyen reiterated that “This is a matter of law, trust and good faith… Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”The EU leaders also have the same attitude towards the United States and Russia since Europe is located between the two giants in all terms. Yet, the U.S. under the Trump’s administration has provided the EU with diplomatic rows. In a long run, the EU remains hopeful of improving relations and believes common ground can still be found, despite their current differences. As she reiterated “We must revitalize our most important relationships – we may not agree with the White House, but we must cooperate and build a new transatlantic agenda on trade and other matters.” Regarding the great challenge from Russia, she reiterated her condemnation of Russia over Navalny – though the Russian government has strongly denied any involvement – and said that the EU is on the side of the people of Belarus. They must be free to decide their own future and they are not pieces on someone else’s chessboard. However, the EU leaders seem to forget that the “color revolutions” have caused the disasters across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Under such circumstances, the EU has to deal with China strategically and smartly, which during the first seven months of 2020becomes the top trading partner of the EU, a position previously held by the United States, followed by Britain, Switzerland, and Russia on EU’s main trading partner list in the first seven months. As France has suggested that the EU and China, as the defenders of multilateralism in international order, should set the tone for multilateralism and lead the international society to cement cooperation in areas such as vaccine research and climate change. Yet, it was arguable that von derLeyen defined China a “competitor and a rival” although she previously admitted that the latest video summit between China and the EU was “frank and open”. In fact, she said that progress had been made on a host of key areas and hailed the potential of a fruitful future trading partnership with China although there was still much work to be done. Understandably, as one of the key leading figures of the EU, von der Leyen used her speech to again address the challenges both sides face in working together in the years ahead in spite of their conflicting political ideologies. But this is what she said, “The latest EU-China summit highlights one of the hardest challenges. China is a competitor and rival. We promote very different systems.”

In sum, the EU has several challenges ahead to deal with. First, it must update its long-term climate change goals to meet the targets laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement signed before. Second, the EU must manage the numbers of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe from Asia and Africa. As von der Leyen said that it is of vital importance that the EU’s member states work together to share the burden of taking in migrants and refugees and providing them with the tools for a brighter future. Third, since EU member states have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has much to be done and in its response to the pandemic and continued efforts to cooperate with other nations to find a vaccine. As she called,the EU stepp ed up to lead the global response. With civil society, G20 and the World Health Organization and others the EUhas brought more than 40 countries together to raise $19 billion to finance research on vaccines, tests and treatments for the whole world. This is the EU’s unmatched convening power in action.

Meanwhile, the EU leaders have openly called on China to do more to aid the world’s collective fight against all the challenges mentioned above. As von de Leyen said recently, China has shown willingness to dialogue on climate change and fight against pandemic. She also warned of the dangers of countries not working together on vaccine research, with the U.S. recently announcing its plans to withdraw from the WHO. Both China and the EU share the common ground that vaccine nationalism puts lives at risk, only vaccine cooperation saves lives. We endorse a strong WHO and a strong WTO – but reform of the multilateral system has never been more urgent.

In view of this, it is fair to say that the EU wants to lead reforms of the WHO and WTO. But it is possible only if it works together with other responsible powers including China.

*Yang Hao Yuan from the School of Governance, Technical University of Munich; Zeng Xixi & Hu Yong Heng from SIPA, Jilin University

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