Whining Europe loses out to China and Russia
Chinese Prime Minister Le Kequiang met leaders and representatives from 16 Central and Eastern European countries showing how keen the Chinese are in developing trade and economic cooperation in the region. But the three-day summit in Bucharest, Romania, at the end of November 2013, attracted no broader interest in Western Europe, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
On the other side the European Union, trade commissioner Karel De Gucht sent a letter to representatives of the participating EU countries, expressing some irritation about this meeting, which followed an EU-China summit in Beijing just days earlier. It seems he wants EU representatives to stick to the EU party lines.
The importance China on one side and the 16 Central and Eastern European countries on the other give to this summit might show:
- Increased Chinese economic and trade interests in this emerging area, including agriculture in Ukraine and manufacturing in Bulgaria
- A political, trade and economic inroad to the EU and its periphery for China
- A declining confidence in the EU from CEE countries following the fiscal, economic and institutional crises of Western countries.
The participating countries are keenly interested in the prospects of Chinese investment in business and infrastructure, even though Chinese involvement has not always been lucky in the past. An unfortunate example of Chinese non-performance is the Warsaw- Lodz motorway, which Chinese companies were to build.
The real European political disaster in this area is the decision by the Ukrainian leadership to turn their political orientation back to RussiaUnfortunately for the EU, the importance given to the Bucharest summit signals a declining trust in the EU’s capability and their western members’ willingness to provide economic and political support.
This message was clear before the EU summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on November 28 and 29, which should have demonstrated Europe’s interest in its eastern parts.
However, the real European political disaster in this area is the decision by the Ukrainian leadership to turn their political orientation back to Russia and not to sign the proposed association agreement with the EU.
A brave and robust opposition, mostly from western and central Ukraine, opposes this decision and stages street protests. Its activists believe the policy is not in the long term interests of the country. But Russian pressure, threats and "support" have proven more persuasive than prospects with the EU. Ukraine leadership is likely to overcome this opposition with backing from the Kremlin. This will result in Ukraine continuing to be hostage to mismanagement and corruption.
A prosperous eastern flank is crucial for Europe. This loss of influence results from more than 15 years of hesitant and weak European tactics and a lack of strategy. The Eastern and Central European countries perceive China as Santa Claus, Russia as flexing its muscles and Europe whining and complaining.