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Emil J. Kirchner’s Comments on Current China-EU Relations

Emil J. Kirchner’s Comments on Current China-EU Relations

Author:Def author From:Site author Update:2017-08-21 13:46:42

(Prof. Emil J. Kirchner is Jean Monnet Chair, Co-ordinator of the Jean Monnet European Centre of Excellence, and Associate Editor of the Journal of European Integration, Department of Government, University of Essex, UK.)

Q: How would you comment on the current China-EU relations? What are the major problems of this relationship?  What should be done?
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A: Different views might be held between China and the EU as to the cause and escalation of the Ukrainian crisis. But, judging from the current situation in the Ukraine, China-EU relations will not be significantly affected by the crisis. As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I see China and the EU hold similar positions with regard to an immediate cessation of the military confrontation and the establishment of a two-state (Israel and Palestine) solution. Current developments in Iran (election of a new President) and the incursion of the so-called Islamic State in northern Iraq might help to bridge the different views China and the EU have with regard to UN sanctions against Iran (over its alleged nuclear programme) and Syria.

I also see increasing complementary developments in the way China and the EU conduct their aid and development policy in Africa. These developments are supported, if not reinforced, by the continued institutionalization and furtherance of China-EU relations not only in trade, but increasingly in investment, energy, environmental, urbanization and cultural spheres.

Q: What should be done to further promote the China-EU relations?

A: Things which need to be resolved in China-EU relations and/or for which improvements would be desirable relate to the lifting of the arms embargo against China, the establishment of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between China and the EU, the strengthening of the China-EU human rights dialogue, and the facilitating of closer cooperation on the issue of maritime security in the East and South China Sea. 

Moreover, greater reliance should be placed on the China-EU people-to-people dialogue. Such furtherance will enable ordinary citizens, students and young people to meet each other and learn about the different perspectives that Chinese and Europeans have on many issues, such as on the Ukrainian crisis.

Q: Regarding the future of the EU after the debt crisis, there are different points of views.  What is yours?

A: The absence of a single EU government and the confluence of 28 different national interests in EU decision making, make predictions about the EU’s future a difficult undertaking. Whilst the Eurogroup has had some success in overcoming the debt crisis, the fall-out of this crisis has given rise to considerable economic problems in the form of low growth rates and high unemployment levels, especially among young people.

In turn these problems have affected the political landscape in Europe, as evidenced by the emergence and/or strengthening of extreme political parties within the EU. Whether the Ukraine crisis will provide a springboard for alleviating the intertwined economic and political problems is too early to say. In any case, the challenge for the EU is to decide whether further centralized measures are the correct medicine for overcoming these problems or whether a more decentralized/differentiated approach, which allows greater flexibility for member state economic and fiscal governance, is more appropriate.

My own feeling is that an in-between strategy will be adopted, much perhaps by default, rather than by design. The Euro-group will continue to strengthen monetary and financial matters amongst its members, e.g., through the Financial Stability Pact and the Banking Union. However, in the absence of a fiscal union, the transfer of large funds from the richer to the poorer Eurogroup members, or the establishment of Eurobonds (all only long term prospects), fiscal or budgetary relaxations will have to be allowed, at least for some of the weaker EU economies. These can be deemed complimentary measures to the centralized ones.  The consequence of this will be a further separation of the Eurogroup from the rest of the EU, which is likely to affect overall EU economic and political coherence. 

Q: Will the UK leave the EU? Why?

A: This question is tricky in terms of time and circumstances. In terms of time, if the Conservatives are not re-elected in 2015, there is unlikely to be a referendum on British EU membership in 2017. Apart from UKIP, which is unlikely to be part of a government after the 2015 election, no other main British political party has called for a referendum as an event on its own. The stance taken by the Labour Party, and to a large extent by the Liberal Democrats, is to have a referendum about British membership at the time of a new EU treaty, which entails significant changes to British sovereignty.

In terms of circumstances the chances of a British referendum with an outcome for continued EU membership are greater when the Conservatives are in power. In part this has to do with Cameron’s attempt to renegotiate favourable concessions from his EU partners which he could then (2017) put to the electorate in a wording that would ask the electorate: “Do you agree with the renegotiated terms yes or no”.

Cameron and most of the Conservative party would thus inadvertently become supporters of a positive outcome. Of course, this will depend on (a) whether Cameron will obtain a sufficient amount of favourable concessions from his EU partners, (b) and whether he will be in power in 2017. There is no doubt that Cameron is coming under increased pressure from both his own Eurosceptic wing in the party and from UKIP to bring forward the referendum and/or use it as a key factor in the 2015 British elections.

Given UK’s growing domestic pressures and the need for further Euro-group reforms which may require approval from all EU member states, there is a strong likelihood that Britain will have a referendum on EU membership within the next 2-4 years. Under these circumstances a reasonable question is: why may Britain leave the EU? The answer to that question relates mostly to historical and cultural reasons. The sense of empire and success in two world wars is still deeply embedded in the British psyche, together with an island mentality, a traditional transatlantic rather than continental European orientation, and a disproportionate GDP reliance on global financial engagements. All these factors set Britain apart from its continental European partners.

Q: What would you say to the young scholars of international studies?  How can they become good scholars like you?

A: My advice to young scholars would be to keep a broad conceptual perspective of international studies, put stress on the comparative aspects in international studies, make use of interdisciplinary study tools, engage with the international scholarly and policy making community, and always maintain a sense of intellectual curiosity. Good scholarship reflects output which is theoretically grounded, empirically tested and makes a significant contribution to the knowledge and debate on the subject of investigation in the scholarly and policy making communities.

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