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INSIGHTS: The European Union in a Changing World

{Editor's Note: President of the European Commission Romano Prodi of Italy delivered this address today in Beijing to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences European Institute. He is visiting Beijing and Shanghai from April 13 to 16 at the invitation of the Chinese government, in the third official visit to China by a President of the European Commission.}

By Romano Prodi

BEIJING, China, April 14, 2004 (ENS) - I have been asked to speak today on the role of the European Union in a changing world. As you can imagine, after almost five years as president of the European Commission, this is a subject that is very close to my heart.

Prodi

European Commission President Romano Prodi (Photo courtesy European Commission)
In just two weeks' time, the EU will enlarge to 25 Member States, with a population of close to 450 Million and a GDP of nearly 10 trillion Euro. With this historic event, the European Union is at the crossroads. The choice is simple: to sit back, consolidate our position and become consumed with our own internal issues, or to move forward and look to play a greater part in global affairs.

But before looking to the future, it is worth spending a little time analyzing our accomplishments to date.

When talking about the achievements of the European Union one immediately thinks about the affirmation of its unique institutions, the achievement of a single European market and the euro.

But our outstanding achievement, above all others, is without doubt the stability that the creation of the European Union has brought to the whole European continent. Only five decades ago, countries that now form the EU were fighting each other in the Second World War. Today, they share an area of prosperity, democracy and peace.

The reason for our success is clear. The Union has succeeded in putting the highest ideals into practice:

  • peace, on which we have founded our Union

  • democracy, human rights and the rule of law, which we promote and defend through all our policies

  • greater opportunities for economic prosperity and, together with these

  • solidarity towards the least-favored regions and groups

With these fundamental underpinnings, the European Union has increasingly become a reference point in many countries for the development of civil society and political life. And while there are significant differences in our history, culture and experiences, I think China, with its myriad of languages, cultures and socio-economic diversity could also find much of interest in the EU model.

So what are the keys to integration?

Above all it is about respecting our differences while at the same time highlighting the many areas where we share a common interest. Rather than applying a melting-pot approach with the aim of creating a European national identity, the EU pursues a concept of unity in diversity.

This accepts that the aim is to give the EU the capacity for effective action in pursuit of its goals by sharing sovereignty, but also looks to preserve those elements of national, regional, or ethnic identity which our citizens hold dear, for example, the language problem.

These considerations lead the EU to develop positive policies designed to maintain and even promote national and regional identities and cultures.

These are not seen as something to be simply accepted as a constraint while pursuing integration, but rather as an essential ingredient in the European model and a prerequisite for its whole-hearted acceptance by its citizens.

The EU is also aware that it is only as strong as its weakest element. As a result a key focus of enlargement involves the balancing of uneven socio-economic development by encouraging transfers of investment to economically underdeveloped regions and countries.

But it is not just the theory of enlargement and integration that should be of interest to China.

commissioners

European President Romano Prodi (right front) with the 10 commissioners-designate from the 10 new European Union member states. For individual photos, names and countries, click here. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
This most recent enlargement, the largest in our history, with the accession of 10 new countries also provides China with better and simplified trade relations with, and market access to, 80 million consumers in the new member states.

Moreover, the experience of transition, as these formerly centrally-planned economies integrate fully into the European and global marketplace, could provide some valuable insights for China in relation to its own far-reaching economic and social reforms.

Here, I would cite the importance of our regional policy, which has made a major contribution to what you in China call balanced development, and which will now play a vital role in ensuring that the new EU Member states are able to fulfil their economic and social potential. I have discussed these matters with your leadership, which I know is preoccupied with this question and we agree that there is much that will be of interest to China in the EU enlargement experience.

Enlargement, however, comes with its own set of complications as it highlights the problems of an institutional structure which is now no longer adequate. In order to meet the challenges of an enlarged Europe and the needs of the 21st century, Europe must reform its institutions and procedures. Europe is changing, and the operation, rules and the very role of the European Union must change too. It was to meet these changing needs that the European Convention was born.

The European Convention was one of the most ambitious and democratic institutional projects in our history. And, thanks to the contribution of delegates from the national parliaments and governments, representatives of the European parliament and of the Commission, it did a very good job.

Its creation of a draft Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe - a single text with relatively few open questions - exceeds the expectations many had in the aftermath of the Nice European Council three years ago. That we were unable to get agreement on the Constitution at the Brussels Council meeting late last year was unfortunate, but a leaders' meeting in Brussels last month has revitalised the process and there is now a very good prospect of finalising the Constitution by mid-June.

With the challenges of enlargement and the debate over the future of the constitution, there is of course a danger that the EU will become preoccupied with its own internal affairs.

We are convinced that internal developments within the EU are closely entwined with developments on the world scene. Moreover, the world community expects the EU to play a rôle commensurate with its importance, not only in the economic area, but also on issues of global security and other concerns.

We have begun to make some progress towards this goal. For example, the European Union already speaks with a single voice in the WTO and on environmental policies. We also have a single vision among Member States on key global issues like good governance, democracy, sustainable development and social responsibility.

At the international level, the EU has been a leading partner in the global coalition against terrorism in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, both through international action and through the use of its new powers at home in the field of Justice and Home Affairs.

And following the reinforcement of its Common Foreign and Security Policy and its European Security and Defence Policy, the EU is playing an increasingly important role in areas such as conflict prevention and crisis management. In recent months we have also developed a European Security Strategy, which stresses effective multilateralism as the optimal way forward in ensuring global security. The development of these policies, together with the institutional changes ushered in by the new European Constitution will without question lead to an increasingly significant EU role in shaping and managing a more stable and just world order.

We are now completing the enlargement process and we are confident that Romania and Bulgaria will join the Union by 2007. We are working on the preparation of an Opinion that could lead to the opening of negotiations with Turkey. But we are already working on what I call the "second wave" of enlargement: I am referring here to the Balkan countries.

In a few days we will give our opinion on the opening of negotiations with Croatia. If the level of cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is considered satisfactory, I think that Croatia has good chances for starting negotiations very soon. In the mean time, Macedonia has also submitted its candidacy for joining the Union. And even if I know very well that for the other countries of the Balkans, it will still take time to get to this point, I am also sure that Europe is their home.

At the same time, we are working on the definition of specific Action Plans with all the countries neighbouring the European Union. This is the European Neighborhood, or as I am used to calling it the creation of a "ring of friends" around the Union aimed at becoming an area of prosperity and stability based on the same set of values on which the Union is based. To coin a phrase, what we want to share with these countries is "Everything but Institutions."

I am saying all of this to make clear that the Union is far from losing interest in the outside world. Quite the contrary!

Prodi

President Prodi makes a point. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
The EU is also looking to China to play its part. It is in both our interests to work together as strategic partners on the international scene to safeguard and promote development, peace and stability. Indeed, I have been greatly encouraged by China's increasingly active role in multilateral organisations and processes, notably within the UN and in the six-party talks aimed at defusing the dangerous crisis on the Korean peninsula. The EU and China share a deep commitment to multilateralism, and we hope to intensify our dialogue in this area, as China looks to play a role on the world stage commensurate with its relative size and influence.

International cooperation is already a fundamental part of our relationship. The EU and China increasingly exchange views and frequently co-ordinate positions on international issues and global challenges, such as terrorism, non-proliferation and regional conflicts. We hope to intensify and expand policy co-ordination in the future. By raising our level of cooperation, the EU and China will be better able to promote these shared visions and priorities, and to shore up our joint security and other interests, both in the Asian region and elsewhere in the world. We both share the concept of a multipolar world, because we think that this is a move forward in the direction of peace and stability.

But our relationship has a strong and substantial bilateral element as well. Last October in Beijing I met with the Chinese leadership at the sixth annual EU-China summit, where there was a clear consensus that EU-China relations have never been in better shape.

I am seeing President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao again during my visit this week and am looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Wen to Brussels next month. These, together with many other ongoing contacts with European leaders, are testimony to just how intimate and constructive our relationship has become.

The relationship has become multi-faceted, multi-layered, broader and deeper. Since our summit in October, we have further intensified what was already a very detailed and intense Policy dialogue. Indeed, our relationship has reached the point where dealings with China involve direct cooperation through formal agreements, cooperation, policy dialogues or exchanges with virtually all major departments of the European Commission, from Trade to Justice & Home Affairs, from Energy & Transport to Education.

And we are continually expanding the scope of our cooperation. Among many other new initiatives this year, just last week, here in Beijing, my colleague, EU Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin has, together with our Chinese counterparts, launched an exciting new initiative in the field of cooperation in Space. This comes on the heels of our important collaboration in the development of the Galileo Satellite Navigation System, signed at the last EU-China summit. Sharing the Satellite Navigation System is not only a strong message from the technological and trade points of view, but has a strong political significance too.

Added to this, our trading relationship has gone from strength to strength, to the point where China is now our second largest trading partner. On present trends, the EU will very shortly occupy a similar place in China's own trading hierarchy. Not much longer after that, it will probably be China's first partner.

And there are many EU-funded programmes underway here in support of China's reforms, in areas such as good governance, sustainable development and social improvement.

In this regard, the EU will continue to focus as a priority on activities which will support China's transition to an open society based upon the rules of democracy, an area of reform which has at times lagged behind China's efforts on the trade and economic front.

In order to develop a fuller relationship, both sides are also seeking to strengthen our people-to-people contacts, which are essential for fostering mutual understanding. As a first step we have concluded a landmark tourism agreement whereby as of 1 May, Chinese citizens will be able to travel more easily to the countries of the EU. Furthermore we are looking to significantly expand our new Erasmus Mundus scholarship programme to include a greater number of Chinese students and scholars.

As the level of our engagement and joint action increases with every passing month, in a thousand different ways it helps us to deepen our partnership with real substance.

To paraphrase your great philosopher, Confucius, "We hear and we forget. We see and we remember. We do and we understand."

Make no mistake, this is only the beginning. Developing a comprehensive, robust and enduring relationship with China is one of the EU's top foreign policy priorities for the 21st Century. We need to work together to consolidate our dynamic and comprehensive partnership, while at the same time supporting China's rapid and full integration into the international community, both politically and economically.

Achieving these goals will be central for both China and the EU to play their full part on the world stage. We are aware that many political and economic uncertainties lie ahead for us and for China, as it develops rapidly. And, while I know that we have our areas of divergence, there remains a profound EU interest in a stable, prosperous and open China that embraces democracy, free market principles, and the rule of law. And I believe that on the Chinese side, there is a strong and genuine desire to engage fully with Europe, as shown by the issuance of China's first ever policy paper on China-EU relations last October.

But allow me return to the main thrust of my speech. In this regard, it is not just China that faces uncertainty. As I said, today Europe too is at a crossroads. Europe's future depends on the way we decide to move ahead.

One option is to continue to put our trust in a system of international relations based on the balance of power and rely on the sovereignty and national interests of individual nation-states.

But that would be like "tackling the challenges of the 21st Century with the instruments and policies of the 19th." And it would be contrary to the very nature of the Union, which is based on dialogue, solidarity, multilateralism and an ethical dimension to politics.

As one of our founding fathers, Jean Monnet, said, as he worked tirelessly to reconstruct Europe after the most terrible war the world has seen, "There is no future for the people of Europe other than in Union."

And in that spirit, I suggest that a better way would be to give the EU the institutions, the instruments and the decision-making mechanisms it needs to build a political union commensurate with its economic, social and historical weight. A Union that will have unified and effective policies across the board, including international relations and defence.

And above all, a European Union that is fashioned in the knowledge that the challenges of ensuring international stability and security, global development, and safeguarding the environment for a sustainable future are far beyond the capacity of any State on its own, however powerful, and however limitless its resources may seem.

I am confident that such a Union will soon become a reality, and in so doing, will make its proper contribution to the welfare of us all.



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