EU, China making an impact

Updated: 2012-09-20 07:51

By Herman Van Rompuy (China Daily)

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When Premier Wen Jiabao hosted the first EU-China Summit in October 2003, the European Union counted 15 member states, the euro had been in circulation for just more than one year and I was a member of the Chamber of Representatives in the Belgian Federal Parliament. At that time China was the EU's sixth largest trading partner with an income per capita of about $1,000 and was continuing its reform process, allowing for the first time private property ownership.

Today, the EU comprises 27 member states, I have become the president of the European Council and one of my responsibilities is to lead the EU and its member states through the first difficult test since the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. China, on the other hand, has become the EU's second largest trading partner, its per capita income is about $5,400 (2011) and it is on the way to becoming the world's largest economy.

Over the same decade the world has changed significantly too. It has become more complex and less predictable. A decade of global challenges - threats to peace and stability, climate change, mass migration, energy and water security, scarcity of raw materials - have revealed that no single nation can solve alone the many problems that go beyond national borders. Coordinated global answers are needed.

During this period EU-China relations have grown significantly and have evolved reflecting the increasing bilateral interdependence and the will to forge ties to be part of wider solutions. Since the 2003 summit, when the EU and China decided to enter into a strategic partnership, a strong framework has been developed.

On a regular basis, European and Chinese officials hold three high-level dialogues - the Economic and Trade Dialogue, the Strategic Dialogue launched in 2010, and the People-to-People Dialogue established in 2012 - underpinned by more than 50 sectoral dialogues and mechanisms of cooperation in areas ranging from human rights to innovation, research and education, infrastructure, energy, the environment and crisis management.

Every year Chinese and EU leaders meet to review the strategic partnership, to set new priorities and provide guidance - as we will do on Sept 20 when Premier Wen Jiabao will come to Brussels for the 15th EU-China Summit. This institutional architecture reflects the increasing intensity of bilateral relations, helping to deepen cooperation and manage differences.

The strength of this cooperation is enduring the test of time. The financial crisis, which began in 2008, triggered one of the most difficult economic periods for the European Union, even calling into question the lasting stability of our common currency. In China, following decades of spectacular economic and social development, the economic slowdown is challenging the future of the economic growth model in a more demanding international environment.

Against this difficult background the strategic partnership has shown two important characteristics: strength and adaptability.

Strength. Even in this difficult period our bilateral trade has developed positively. From 2007 to 2011 - in the most acute period of the economic crisis - the average annual growth of EU trade with China was 8.9 percent, nearly double the rate of EU trade with the rest of the world (4.7 percent). China is now the EU's second largest trading partner and current trends indicate it will become the largest one by the end of this year. The EU is also China's second largest trading partner, with total trade worth 428.5 billion euros. This trend is bound to grow further, and promote more investments in both directions.

Reinforced macro-economic and financial cooperation in the last two years has similarly proved the strength of the strategic partnership. An intense exchange of information - both bilaterally and in the G20 setting - has helped to ensure a deep understanding of the measures taken in the EU and in China to overcome the economic crisis, reinforcing confidence in the integrity and stability of the eurozone and in China's capacity to move from an export- and investment-led economy to a more domestic consumption model.

Adaptability. The strategic partnership has evolved along with the evolution of the European project, going beyond its original core business of bilateral trade. It is significant that since the enforcement of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, and in less than two years, the Partnership has added to its structure the Strategic Dialogue on security and defense issues, and the People-to-People Dialogue.

Above all, the Lisbon Treaty setting ensures a more thorough preparation and conduct of the annual summits, allowing me, as president of the European Council, to lead the EU delegation for five years. This helps to build good personal relations between leaders.

As our partnership becomes broader and more mature, we also gain the confidence to address areas of concern. A stronger and more predictable framework allows to constructively address the differences that exist between the EU and China in different areas of cooperation, like for example in the fields of human rights through our bilateral dialogue, or on climate negotiations.

Let me conclude on a personal note. Institutions and political leaders play a key role in shaping the relations between countries and their peoples. Premier Wen Jiabao has made an extraordinary contribution advocating stronger EU-China relations over the past 10 years, alongside the commitment of the many European leaders.

I am confident that the new Chinese leadership will find in this strategic partnership a key instrument that will help to address the political, economic and social challenges that lie ahead.

The author is president of the European Council.

(China Daily 09/20/2012 page9)