Cooperation with China to deepen as Europe marks milestone, says Italian Ambassador

By Zhang Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/23 21:18:39

Ettore Sequi, Italian Ambassador to China Photo: Courtesy of the Italian Embassy to China

Editor's Note:

March 25 marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of Treaties of Rome, which established the foundation of European Union (EU). While the EU is currently facing mounting challenges from Eurosceptic nationalists throughout the bloc, as well as under great pressure from Brexit and the unconventional Trump administration in the US, several of the founding nations, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, are calling for solidarity and cooperation among the group by working on a Rome declaration, which will be released on Saturday to set the vision for the future of the EU.

Global Times (GT) reporter Zhang Xin spoke to the Italian Ambassador to China Ettore Sequi (Sequi) about the challenges and opportunities the milestone brings to the EU as well as China.

GT: What do you think is the significance of remembering the founding of EU under the current circumstances?

The commemorations, which will take place in Rome at the end of this week, will provide an opportunity to remind the European citizens of the results achieved in 60 years of integration: peace, freedom, social protection levels never conceived before and of course, the single market, a true success story that led someone to define the EU as "a quiet superpower".

As a founding member of the EU, Italy hopes that these very challenges might provide new impetus for reforming the EU institution and deepening the solidarity among its members.

As the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Angelino Alfano pointed out, "the anniversary of the Treaties of Rome will not only be a celebration but also an opportunity to strengthen the idea of Europe and reinforce its ambitions."

We will renew the call not to abandon the ideals that inspired the integration project and, at the same time, we will provide the summit with concrete implications for the European integration process, with the agreement of all 27 member states.

GT: EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker recently presented a white paper with five future paths for the bloc. The proposals include a "multispeed Europe" to promote faster integration of the Western European countries, which, while applauded by major founding nations of the EU, is criticized by some that it would deepen the East-West schism. What do you think is the biggest challenge for the EU in holding the bloc together?

I would highlight two major challenges, which should be addressed urgently: the first is to recognize that Europe cannot stand still, but must go on and must do so by being flexible.

Italy will never accept a division between Eastern and Western Europe or between "First league" Europe and "Second league" Europe. Being one of the founding countries, Italy wants to move forward together with its 26 partners, but at the same time, Italy does not want the speed and direction of this Europe to weaken.

The second challenge is to provide effective responses to the most acute concerns of European citizens: economic growth and employment, security and defense, migration flows. In other words, the EU should restart from its people.

What should be clear, in our view, is the direction to be taken in the years ahead. For this reason, we are pursuing the agreement of the 27 members on the text of a "Rome Declaration", which would be signed by all the heads of state/government.

GT: On March 24, some celebratory activities for the anniversary will also be held in Beijing. What will be the highlights of the event? Why do you think it's important to celebrate an integrated Europe in China?

The key event in Beijing is a seminar, organized by the Delegation of the EU and the Italian Embassy, entitled: "EU at 60." The event will take place at the Renmin University of China, and is designed to explain to Chinese students what lies behind the integration process. There will also be a special exhibition realized with the contribution of the Historical Archives of the European Union and the Historical Archives of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

We hope that young Chinese people would be interested in knowing why the EU is the second largest economy in the world, the biggest development and humanitarian aid donor, and a global leader on the cutting edge of innovation and climate change.

Europe's role as a positive global force is more important than ever. And in an increasingly multipolar world, a strong and independent EU is an important balancing factor and an essential partner to address common international challenges, and also for China. In fact, Beijing has always supported European integration and counts as one of our main strategic partners.

So it's also important to celebrate this anniversary here and raise the awareness among the Chinese people about a unique and pioneering process of integration and growth.

GT: China-EU ties are boosted by smooth high-level communications, including Italian President Sergio Mattarella's visit to China in February, as well as economic and trade cooperation. But recently, there are criticisms from European Union Chamber of Commerce in China (EUCCC) about China Manufacturing 2025. In what way do you think the guideline on manufacture will threaten China's counterparts in Europe? Will the challenges impact the development of China-EU relations?

I will not overemphasize the comments made by the EUCCC in its latest report. On the contrary, I will take them as a sincere contribution put forward by representatives of European companies which are here because they want to do business in China and because they trust China's resolve to go ahead with reforms.

The EUCCC report highlighted some of the risks that may impede the progressive market-based reforms announced at the Third Plenum Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2013. But it also recognized the positive messages of President Xi Jinping's Davos speech and the State Council's No.5 Notice from January 2017.

It is very hard to plan and monitor the implementation of structural reforms, even more so in such a continental-country. The goals set forth in the 13th five-year plan (2016-20)are very ambitious, but let me say that Italy looks with optimism at the current transition and we encourage and support China in going ahead.

GT: Italy is one of the major EU nations that have the least frictions with China, with Italy becoming the main destination for China's investment by the end of 2016. What are the highlights of cooperation between China and Italy in 2016? In what way will Italy strengthen China-EU ties?

This is absolutely true. We've achieved a visible strengthening of our bilateral strategic partnership: 2016 has been a pivotal year for our partnership. In May, in Rome, we agreed on a concrete strategy of cooperation with a view to the 50th anniversary of our bilateral ties, in 2020. We jointly named this new path "Road to 50", which supports more in-depth collaboration in key sectors where our two systems can complement each other: healthcare, agriculture and food safety, environmental technologies, aviation and aerospace, sustainable urbanization.

In addition, Italy fully recognizes the great potential of the "One Belt and One Road (OBOR)" initiative. We see the project as a source of new opportunities, in terms of investments, trade and, ultimately, growth. The Italian ports have already entered into several promising partnerships with Chinese entities. The recent mission to Beijing of our Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Graziano Delrio provided a good opportunity to discuss with China's major institutional stakeholders about the effective inclusion of Italy in OBOR strategy. Italy will take part at the prime minister level in the upcoming Belt and Road Forum in May.

Newspaper headline: EU at 60

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