Solutions for Europe’s crisis of confidence

By Cui Hongjian Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/24 21:03:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Europe has bucked up and returned to the spotlight. French President Emmanuel Macron not only succeeded in defeating his country's far-right forces and carried the banner for mainstream politics under fire from a strong populist movement, but has also stood his ground against both America and Russia, demonstrating an élan for great-power politics.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's approval ratings continued increasing and she showed a harder line toward the US. The G20 summit went smoothly despite some street disturbances.

France and Germany took advantage of the disarray of the UK's Conservative government to claim a favorable position in Brexit negotiations. Merkel and Macron interacted frequently and vowed to restart the Franco-German axis.

Slightly relieved from political challenges that dominated the last few years, Europe has presented a rarely-seen confidence in domestic and foreign affairs. Treating Europe as an all-round diplomatic and economic partner, China gave Europe political and economic support when the continent was confronted with serious debt crises and problems with integration. What does a confident Europe mean to China?

A confident Europe will hasten the pace of multi-polarization. Europe will place less importance on its allies and struggle to find its own footing. China and Europe will have more common ground in global affairs, enhancing their strategic cooperation. The two sides will counter unilateralism and de-globalization, support free trade and open economies, share positions in climate change and safeguard the global governance system.

But a confident Europe may also find a false target to antagonize. Unfortunately, China has been that target, given the way Europe has dealt with the bilateral relationship.

Europe not only acted dishonestly on WTO rules, but also imitated America's tactics for dealing with trade frictions with China. Europe copied Trump's demand for so-called fairness and reciprocity, and found excuses for raising its trade barriers. Europe also copied America's method of establishing agencies to limit foreign investments using the pretext of safeguarding "national security."

In spite of crises, Europe is still one of the few advanced economies, based on its economy, trade, wealth and advanced research and development.

China is developing quickly, but it is still a developing economy with a weak foundation and many problems. Europe's requirement for an equal footing with China demonstrates its anxiety over its decreasing global competitiveness and its desire to fix the gap between China and itself through changing the rules of the game.

Competition is the core of global relations and a major driving force of humans. It can encourage innovation and shape rules. Europe was once a major impetus of innovation and a rule maker. But it is now impeded by expensive social welfare programs and complex internal and external affairs, so it is no longer at ease. Its comfort with its role as a rentier is wearing down its drive to innovate.

Europe is full of anxiety. It will under no circumstance give up its advantage of being a rule maker. It either refuses to share the right to make rules in bilateral relations or arbitrarily interprets rules or makes new ones to its own advantage. The example for the former is Europe's taking its own trade rules and investment regulations as the basis for Sino-European trade. The example for the latter is evading obligations of WTO rules under the pretext of "market distortion principles."

For Europe, its "confidence" won't last long amid its anxiety. Two fundamental problems can't be avoided. Its arbitrary interpretation of rules will greatly hamper Europe's image as a rule maker, which will eventually lead to the rules becoming invalid.

Europe's actions will do harm not only to free trade but also to the integrity and authority of WTO rules. Only caring for its own benefits and not adhering to rules will harm Europe's credibility. As for trade deficits, Trump can accuse Merkel and the EU of not adhering to "fair trade." The EU can accuse China of the same thing, but that would be an embarrassment to Germany, which has a trade surplus with China.

Profound changes in the international landscape have created a huge space for cooperation between China and Europe. Europe should understand the following things if it wants to grasp the opportunity.

First, Europe needs to maintain its drive toward an open economy, and make the integration process a model for joint development instead of a haven for self-protection.

Second, Europe needs to take competition as a driving force for innovation instead of an excuse for conservation.

Third, Europe needs to face its own problems rather than avoiding talking about reform.

Only in the above ways can Europe eliminate its own anxieties and develop genuine self-confidence.

The author is director of the Department for European Studies of the China Institute of International Studies.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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