Positive new consensus on China emerging in EU

By Fabio Massimo Parenti Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/14 19:53:40

Medical experts to Italy pose for a group photo before departure in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, March 25, 2020. A team of 14 medical experts from eastern China's Fujian Province departed on a chartered flight to Italy on Wednesday morning to aid the European country's fight against the COVID-19 outbreak. Previously, China had sent two medical groups with a total of 22 people along with more than 20 tonnes of medical supplies to support Italy's epidemic fight. (Xinhua/Wei Peiquan)

Many European authorities are criticizing the EU's weak and uncoordinated response to the current crisis. Recently, the New York Times criticized Trump's failure in crisis management. The EU and the US had both recorded covid-19 cases, but did not monitor the population and for a long time denied the severity of the potential crisis. In spite of this evidence, they blame China for their failure.  

Understanding the deep roots of the current Western crisis pushes me to immediately provide a list of needed macro-measures in Europe: accepting a physiological function of public debt to support the real economy; deleting Maastricht Treaty rules; share debt and showing concrete solidarity for disadvantaged people and businesses; establish rules that always put people first and profits second; harmonize accounting methods at EU level for each country; forbidding speculative financial circuits and promoting only medium and long term investments. With the current tools there is no way out. We have to abandon neoliberal ideology and related policies (for example, state financial discipline and speculative trading). In a few words, we need a Neo-Keynesian-Marxian approach to political economy.  

Multiple crises are emerging simultaneously; it is a mosaic crisis, make up of health, economy, finance, politics and ideas. I wrote in February that the Western hawks wishfully thinking of a possible "Chinese Chernobyl" was turning into a "Western Chernobyl" or a new "Vietnam-Iraq quagmire." This pandemic emergency is hurting the West more than China, confirming Western fears about "Westlessness." 

The West is a conceptual geographical category emerging from the history of hegemonic countries throughout modern and contemporary eras. A term invented to distinguish elite countries from the rest of the world. A cultural category coming from historical relations of powers, as Edward Said clearly explained in his Orientalism. Well known, the core areas of world domination plans are Europe and North America. However, through a combination of slow and fast phases, a multipolar world has been clearly emerging over the last 30 years. The current crisis is accelerating what was already in motion. 

Putting aside Trump's mismanagement of this current crisis, if the EU declines, the world is surely going to be less Western. 

Reading the Financial Times's article, "Coronavirus: Is Europe losing Italy?" or Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi Di Maio's letter to the same newspaper, "EU member states must not risk becoming trapped by pride and patriotism," it is clear that parties and people in Europe, especially those in Italy, are questioning whether Europe is a real community. Many do not believe it is. There is a wide shift in both public opinion and political representatives' perspectives in disfavoring the EU. Why? 

Due to a series of factors, such as the slow EU response to the crisis (we are still losing time now), a lack of European solidarity toward Italy and Spain which were first hit by the virus, and pieces of evidence of national egoism. Italian President Sergio Mattarella warned about the EU's lack of solidarity. Another pro-European voice, former EU Council president Donald Tusk, underlined the loss of EU reputation. France's Finance Minister. French Minister of the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire asked, "Shall we stand together?" If moderate politicians and pro-European parties are scared of the current situation, va da sé (it goes without saying) that the so-called "populist and skeptics forces" in Europe are gaining ground. 

Surveys are showing a massive people's movement that sees EU membership as a disadvantage (almost 70 percent of the Italian population according to a recent Tecnè poll). At the same time, trust towards China is increasing vis a vis the US. Recently, a poll released by SGW on Italian international alliances preferences ranked China first, with 36 percent and the US second with 30 percent. The general public opinion is changing.

European institutional integration was a dream, which evolved gradually. Unfortunately, it has become a nightmare in the post-Maastricht decades, with the consolidation of a monetarist-neoliberal apparatus at the foundation of its wider expansion. We can keep dreaming, however, we cannot turn a blind eye. The reality of the EU is the opposite of the original dream. We do not need this Europe, austerity Europe that has already deliberatively destroyed a country, Greece. To demonstrate we are wrong with this evaluation, many are asking to share our future as a community. It implies technical and above all cultural reforms, such as fiscal integration-unity and state-driven redistribution policies. Then maybe we can talk about an autonomous international political positioning of EU, related to European interests and not to those of the US. What is at the stake goes far beyond a "coronabond" debate.    

From a global perspective, this crisis is exposing all the structural flaws and weaknesses accumulated by the West in recent decades. The exhaustion of the driving force of Western globalization is increasingly evident. Conversely, a clear constructive force of globalization with Chinese characteristics is emerging. While the former has promoted global liberalization and privatization for decades (plus a series of war crimes), the latter has been instructive and is practicing more interconnection between states, through investment and cooperation strategies aimed at developing depressed areas and stabilization processes. These two models run along different and often antithetical tracks: unilateralism vs multilateralism, one-size-fits-all approach vs. respect of different development paths, hyper-competition vs. cooperation-mutual benefit, interests of capital vs. interests of societies, individualism vs. collectivism. Idiosyncrasies have brought out an alternative idea of globalization. 

A new era is rising and the China proposed Belt and Road Initiative will upgrade to provide health issues and management crisis coordination. No one can say no to this. In this sense, a wider consensus is emerging in Italy towards China, which will reinforce the building of a community of a shared future. Something we need, something we in Europe are asking for. 

The author is associate professor of Geography/International Studies (ASN), teaching at the International Institute Lorenzo de' Medici, Florence. He is also member of CCERRI think tank, Zhengzhou, and EURISPES, Laboratorio BRICS, Rome. His latest book is Geofinance and Geopolitics, Egea. Follow him on twitter @fabiomassimos

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