LIU Zuokui:France should be a bridge to better China-EU ties

National flags of China and France are displayed during an expo in Shanghai on Nov 27, 2018. [Photo/IC] 

The results of the general elections in 10 European countries including Germany in 2021 kept the balance of political ecology in Europe, but tilted a little toward the left. But due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Germany's policies have shown some deflections with the new government even raising old security and energy issues. As a result, Germany has significantly increased its defense budget, and appears to rely more on NATO and diversify its energy sources. 

This year Hungary and Serbia also just held their elections, while the presidential election in France started on Sunday and will continue till April 24. 

France, along with Germany, is the major proponent of European strategic autonomy and European integration, and the two countries have to weather the geopolitical crisis in Eurasia through closer cooperation. The ongoing French presidential election has acquired added importance also because centrist President Emmanuel Macron and far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who will contest the second round of votes, have adopted totally different political postures. 

In fact, the election could lead to evident changes in French policies, and even pose a big challenge to the European Union's unity and stability. 

The new French president, whoever it is, will be confronted with a troubled Europe and a France facing increasing problems and challenges, especially with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and impacts of the Ukraine crisis. Not to mention that France has already been struggling with surging prices, and security and immigration issues. 

While Europe as a whole has been flocking around NATO, Macron's warning that NATO is "brain dead" and France's quest for independent defense and strategic policies have put Paris in a dilemma. 

Despite the mounting challenges, however, France will not easily give up its diplomatic traditions. It is expected to keep promoting reforms in the EU and making efforts to consolidate European unity and strengthen its independent defense strategy amid the Ukraine crisis, in order to maintain its strategic and diplomatic independence from the United States. 

However, France is expected to maintain cooperation with the US in economic, energy and high-tech sectors, and the industrial chains, and continue to promote green and digital transformation of its economy, as well as spearhead global climate change negotiations and governance. 

More important, friendly relations between China and France will not change regardless of who wins the presidential election, because the two sides have much to gain by deepening cooperation, especially in the fight against climate change and green development, than opposing each other on unnecessary issues. 

As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and key promoters of the Paris Agreement, China and France have been coordinating their environmental policies. For example, on Oct 26, 2021, the heads of state of the two countries proposed in their phone call to establish in-depth green cooperation, including in biodiversity conservation and other fields, in order to deliver more results. 

Green cooperation has become a pillar of Sino-French relations through such platforms as the China-France strategy consultation and China-France high level economic and financial dialogue. The two sides have also established exchange mechanisms through the Green Manufacturing Working Group, the Green Finance Joint Conference and the Green Development Forum, which cover nearly all environmental issues. 

In addition to green cooperation, China and France have also deepened cooperation in technology, agriculture, aviation, nuclear energy and other sectors, which have yielded good results. With France holding the rotating EU presidency in the first half of 2022, the two sides have also expanded personnel exchanges, deepened mutual trust, and increased mutually beneficial cooperation. 

France carries much weight in the EU, especially after the exit of the United Kingdom from the bloc. And as the only permanent member of the Security Council in the EU, France is playing a bigger role at the regional and global levels. 

As for Germany, as the largest economy in the EU, it has close economic and trade cooperation with China, while China has organized China-France-Germany leaders' dialogues on many occasions, supporting Europe's strategic autonomy and hoping the two counties play a greater role in the multi-polarization of the international landscape and the democratization of international relations. 

Liu Zuokui, senior research fellow at the Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).     

The article was originally published in China Daily on April 13, 2022. The article has been authorized.