Last Word

Common approach

Updated: 2011-03-18 11:09

By Matt Hodges (China Daily European Weekly)

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Former European Commission chief says ties with China are only at 1 percent of their potential, pitches Africa as opportunity for collaborative action

Vested interests within the European Union are costing it valuable opportunities to claim a stake in China's future and capitalize on its growing market, says Romano Prodi, former two-time Italian premier and head of the European Commission.

Common approach

Romano Prodi says the European Union must be united to embrace
opportunities and challenges. Provided to China Daily

Prodi, who was in Shanghai last week at the invitation of the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), says a lack of common policy from Britain, Germany and the rest of the continent has helped put the relationship between the two strategic allies at "about 1/100th of what it could be".

"You could not say there is a European policy vis--vis China, nor a Chinese policy vis--vis Europe," he says. "There is sympathy, and more of a friendship aspect, but China, if you look globally, is looking more at the United States.

"If you take welfare policy, do you think China can find a better example in the United States than in Europe?

"Do you prefer the medical solution (of the US), in which you spend 17 percent of GDP, and not everybody is covered? Or do you prefer the Italian solution, in which you spend 7 to 10 percent, everyone is covered, and the average life span is much higher than in the US?

"For China's future, in terms of political structure, welfare policy, and the perception of its political future, I think that Europe is much more useful to China," says the robust 71-year-old. "But we lack the political harmony and attitude to capitalize on that.

"We are losing these occasions, because of the European division, because we don't have an autonomous strategic policy."

CEIBS appointed Prodi as its European Union Chair of Sino-European Dialogue earlier this month, meaning he will visit the school's Shanghai campus at least four times a year. It marked the occasion by bringing him and former French premier Laurent Fabius to China from March 8-15 to lecture its MBA students on such weighty subjects as the role of the state in the 21st century.

In mentioning healthcare, Prodi, who held the presidency of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004, in between two stints as his country's prime minister, strikes something of a chord.

Health issues were at the forefront of discussions at this month's convention of China's top legislative body in Beijing. Pundits believe health and leisure will be major new growth areas for business entrepreneurs in China over the coming years.

But fear of what China's rise represents for Europe is hobbling greater cooperation, Prodi says. As Europe watches glacial chunks of its wealth shear off from the continent and sail inexorably eastward - a trend confirmed by the latest Forbes list of billionaires last week - these fears need to be addressed, he says.

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