Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

EU on Asia’s Stage – between Expectations and Results

Zhaneta Kuyumdzhieva, trainee, September 6, 2012

Those who have fallen in the sea do not fear the rain. Or at least they should not. The popular Bulgarian proverb is fully valid for the European Union. The EU is increasingly pressed to reinforce efforts toward strengthening its key partnerships and re-positioning on global stage. The protracted financial crisis made Europe rather introvert and its external policies are almost edged out in the corner. In the beginning of the "Asian century", as Bernd von Muenchow-Pohl points out in an analysis for the Carnegie Endowment, the "effective multilateralism" as a priority for Brussels becomes an achievable goal if the EU is willing to go beyond the traditional scope of transatlantic relations and dialogues with its neighbours in the east and west, and turns toward the dynamically developing economies, particularly toward India and China.

The European business in Beijing and Delhi

The analysis notes a few key cooperation fields where EU has not yet seen materialisation of its expectations or hopes about the strategic partnerships with the two Asian giants. The shortcomings in the economic sphere are particularly visible. The European business in China is still hampered by various barriers: market distortions by subsidies for local companies, forced relocation of technologies, lack of protection for the intellectual property rights and even – contrary to the expectations – an even stronger role of the state in the economy despite China’s entry into WTO in 2002.

The situation on the Indian market is similar. Despite that it is relatively "more open" to Europe, the relations there are far from unproblematic. Besides the bureaucratic burdens and the corruption that hamper also the local business, the government still imposes bans and restrictions on foreign properties in a number of sectors and maintains public enterprises through complex schemes of cross-financing.

Are there reasons for optimism in the international and regional co-operation?

The increasing role of India and China in the global economy goes hand in hand with responsibilities in the global governance. In his analysis, Brend von Muenchow-Pohl recalls the optimistic expectations of the EU back in 2003 and 2004 for strategic partnerships with the Asian giants. The unforeseen events in Africa during the last couple of years, however, put to a test the political will of the two BRICS members to respect the visions that the EU manifested in UN. Beijing continues to block the EU initiatives on Sudan, Zimbabwe and Syria and definitely does not seem inclined to support a more decisive approach toward Iran because it does not wish to compromise its oil and gas import perspectives.

To a certain grade, India shares China’s attitudes about the issues in Africa. The record of its recent votes in the UN, however, shows that its solidarity with Beijing and Moscow concerning the Damascus conflict has its limitations. India supported the EU against Iran’s nuclear ambitions but – exactly like China – would not support tougher sanctions. This relatively bigger activity of India in peacekeeping does definitely open a niche for developing of strategic partnership ties with Europe. Regrettably, at this stage the opportunity lies only in the field of political intentions, states the author.

Where does the issue about democracy and human rights stand?

The EU hopes to turn New Delhi into an active supporter of democracy and human rights have not yet materialised too. Traditionally, India refrains itself from abrupt movements during voting in the UN Human Rights Council on resolutions that concern specific home affairs issues. Indeed, it participates in a number of projects aimed at democratisation in various countries but the pre-condition for its cooperation is the consent of the government of a country. Nevertheless, EU’s cooperation with India on the human rights topic is much more fruitful than that with China. Already in 2006 a Commission document prepared for the Council and the Parliament admits that the EU expectations toward the human rights dialogue with Beijing are "increasingly not being met".

The possibility for strengthening Europe’s requirements toward its Asian partner is unlikely. The shifting of economic powers and EU’s need for friends among the dynamically developing economies is a fact that is reasoned by China too. That is why Beijing is not likely to undertake manoeuvres in its policies to satisfy Europe's claims.

Together for sustainable growth and control of climate change?

In 2006, the EU clearly voiced its expectations toward China for prioritising environment related issues and those related to energy security and climate change. Despite the efforts of the Asian giant to limit its dependency on traditional energy sources, today Brussels and Beijing are on different pages regarding the sustainable management of the environment. China continues to identify itself as "developing country" and insists to be treated as such in the UN. That excludes it from the quantity commitments the developed countries are obliged to fulfil in decreasing the greenhouse emissions. The same position is shared by India whose contribution for the greenhouse emissions’ concentration is only a small part of that of China. Nevertheless, both countries are concerned about their own growth and use the European experience to diversify their energy sources and the use of new technologies for fuel production.

In the grey zone of the arms embargo and the nuclear co-operation

The European arms embargo against China is definitely not a Community policy. Exactly on this issue the EU's incapability to play united is most visible. Brend von Muenchow-Pohl states that this particular ban is nothing more than "a political declaration, left to the member states to enact according to their respective constitutional requirements and individual arms control legislation, as well as to monitor compliance on a national level." That is why – with regard to the particular interest of some member states such as France, the UK, and Germany toward China – the embargo is applied on a different scale. The EU – India relations in the nuclear co-operation field are similar. Despite the concerns about the use of nuclear energy following the Fukushima accident, the nuclear partnership agreement with New Delhi signed in 2008 by French President Nicolas Sarkozy is still in force and in 2010 the UK followed the French example.

Obviously, the response to the question about how dynamically the relations in the framework of the so called strategic partnerships EU–China and EU–India evolve depends a lot on their mutual economic dependence. The export member states have a serious interest in the Asian market and are relatively dependant on China and India. Growth in the last two years, however, was strongly influenced by the crisis in the Old Continent and the decrease of consumer demand. That is why the EU has to develop its economic presence in a pragmatic and consistent way if it wants to stay in the race. Some critics point out that the EU does not hold a very prominent position among China’s priorities exactly because it allows Beijing to freely benefit in economic and non-economic ways instead of applying the principle of giving as much as it gets in exchange.