Hope Germany improves EU-China ties
By Hu Chunchun
China Daily

An attendant walks past EU and China flags ahead of the EU-China High-level Economic Dialogue at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, on June 25, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

Taking over the European Union's rotating presidency from Croatia on July 1, Germany will lead and coordinate EU member states' response to various domestic and foreign challenges using the slogan "Unite to Make Europe Strong Again" until Dec 31.

The last time Germany held the rotating presidency was in 2007. Dramatic changes have taken place since, not only in the EU presidency's role but also in the internal and external challenges facing Germany and the EU as a whole. No wonder countries around the world have high expectations from Germany as the rotating EU president. In fact, the majority among the international community believe Germany should play the role of an "active leader" for the EU and "honest broker", not least because it's the largest economy in the bloc.

To overcome the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, expedite the economic recovery and devise the EU's fiscal framework for the next few years, Germany has presented a satisfactory guideline.

Perhaps Germany's most striking move as EU leader is the abandoning of the traditional fiscal policy. Germany and France jointly launched the initiative for European economic recovery in May, and played a leading and mediating role in prompting 27 EU member states to reach a framework agreement on the recovery fund and the fiscal budget for 2021-27, and accept the sharing of the EU's debts for the first time in late July.

The economic, political and socio-cultural implications of these moves will become clear only in the long term, given that the fiscal measures Germany has taken will outlive its EU presidency.

Germany has achieved some success in containing the epidemic at home. After the initial anti-epidemic measures it took, including closing borders and restricting the export of medical supplies, drew sharp criticisms, Germany changed tack and resumed cooperation and mutual assistance in medical resources with the other EU states.

Aside from taking financial measures, Germany also promoted the reconstruction of "EU sovereignty" in medical supply, and formed a "vaccine alliance" with France, Italy and the Netherlands in early June, in order to prevent a second wave of infections, and reduce the pandemic's impact on the EU economy and people's livelihoods. Germany's blueprint contains the EU's future development program, including the vision for the EU's external relations, especially with China.

International observers widely believe that in epidemic prevention and environmental protection, as well as in the EU's digitalization campaign and redefinition of the bloc's role in the world, the EU's relations with China will be a key factor in deciding whether the agendas set by Germany during its EU presidency would achieve progress. This is because China is the first major economy to virtually contain the epidemic, resume production, and return to positive growth. Thus rising trade with China will, to a large extent, help Germany and the EU hasten their economic recovery.

Besides, with the United States withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, China is a natural partner to the EU in its fight against climate change.

Among its programs as EU president, Germany has listed cooperation with China as its third geopolitical priority-after the US and the United Kingdom. Perhaps the US' deteriorating relations with China have overshadowed Beijing's role in the EU and the development of broader China-US relations.

Thanks to the US administration's "America First" policy, which has been subverting the established world order, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was prompted to state that there has been a structural change in relations between the EU and the US, and stress that this will not change whoever leads the White House.

Yet the US could still influence the Western world when it comes to global discourse and setting agendas. An apt example of the US' prowess is the endless attacks it has launched against and fabricated lies to smear China. Washington also uses its hegemonic position to interfere in and prevent cooperation between the EU and its member states with China, including in 5G technology. And to achieve so-called decoupling from China, what the US values most is the EU's support.

The US is a big factor in China-EU relations. But US-style anti-China propaganda doesn't seem to have influenced Germany's action plan for the EU. And we hope that in terms of cooperation with China, the EU would adhere to its values and differentiate between right and wrong, and not be dragged by Washington into a new Cold War-type confrontation characterized by anti-globalization, protectionism and unilateralism.

The Enlightenment advocated reason. So Europe and Germany should adhere to reason in their relations with China. China has never stopped learning from Europe. Similarly, Europe should be aware of China's cultural diversity, and differences in social and economic development, and its history as a highly civilized country.

Any unprejudiced observer can see China's external moves are based on the pursuit of peace and development, not to interfere in other countries' internal affairs or hinder their development. History has repeatedly shown that crisis means reconstruction, and we hope Germany, following this principle, would lead the EU toward steady progress in accordance with a plan in which China remains its stable partner.

The author is a researcher with the German Studies Center and the Center for Sino-German People-to-People Exchange, Tongji University. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.