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24th Jan 2021

Barroso to China: EU is not falling apart

  • Barroso in Beijing: 'I understand when you see the news you may be putting some questions' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has told the Chinese public that the EU will become a fully-fledged "political union" after the financial crisis.

Speaking to TV cameras after a meeting with Chinese leader Wen Jiabao in Bejing on Tuesday (14 February), he noted the EU has recently suffered mass strikes and protests, including violent clashes in Greece.

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"It is true that in many of our member states there have been student protests and strikes. This is normal in our open societies where people have a right to protest," he said.

He added that the crisis has prompted a new wave of integration, however, citing the fiscal treaty agreed last month by 25 EU countries.

"I want to make this very clear to Chinese public opinion. Because I understand when you see the news you may be putting some questions. Is the European Union really going to progress? I say: 'Yes. No doubt about it' ... Precisely because of the problems in the euro area the conclusion has been to further integrate and to complete the monetary union with a fiscal union and, I believe, in the future toward a political union."

Barroso and EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy went to China to attract money for EU bail-out funds.

For his part, Van Rompuy highlighted a clause in the joint summit communique which says the EU is willing to "swiftly" give China market economy status - a move that would help it sell more cheap goods to Europe. "It's the first time we put this kind of agreement with this kind of langauge after an EU-China summit," he said.

Wen declined to give a concrete promise despite the charm offensive.

He said only that: "China is ready to increase its participation in resolving the European debt problems. We are willing to conduct close communication and co-operation with the EU side."

He also stonewalled on Iran and Syria.

Van Rompuy voiced "serious concern" about Iran's nuclear programme and violence in Syria. The EU last month imposed an oil embargo on Iran only to hear that Chinese firms are moving in to buy the oil at lower prices. It is also keen to send UN peacekeepers to Syria, but China recently vetoed UN action on the crisis.

Wen said nothing on Iran and indicated that China does not want outside interference in Syria. "The future of Syria is for the Syrian people to decide," he said.

Meanwhile, the summit communique was weak on human rights.

It mentioned that: "Both sides looked forward to the strengthening of the EU-China dialogue and co-operation on human rights based on equality and mutual respect."

The dialogue - a behind-closed-doors meeting of mid-level EU and Chinese diplomats which takes place a few days before each summit - is seen as a pointless exercise by NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, in terms of putting pressure on China to stop abuses.

Neither the communique nor the EU envoys publicly mentioned Tibet, even though another Buddhist monk set himself on fire on Monday in protest against repression.

Back in Brussels, a spokesman for EU digital affairs commissioner Neelie Kroes emailed journalists to promote a minor summit initiative - the launch of an EU-China Cyber Taskforce, which he called "good progress."

Asked by EUobserver if China - a country notorious for Internet censorship - is an appropriate partner for the EU on managing the Internet, the spokesman, Ryan Heath, said: "It's not a partnership. It's a taskforce to see how we can deal with these issues co-operatively."

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