- Language Tips
My first trip to the European Union started with a rather worrying announcement by the captain of my Lufthansa flight.
"We have just found that we are waiting for our departure on a wrong runway," he told the packed cabin.
It appeared the one we were on, was too short for our Airbus 380.
"We will keep on waiting, because I don't want to risk a takeoff. I'll get you there safe, though we might be delayed."
There was great relief among the passengers.
But when I thought about it, his broadcast nicely summed up what's happening in Europe at the moment, and the issues facing the relationship between China and the EU.
European leaders were gathering in Brussels on Thursday for two days of talks on the EU's Multi-Annual Financial Framework for 2014-2020, after discussions were suspended at the European Council last November.
That earlier meeting in November failed to reach a consensus on the long-term budget.
There were still important differences of opinion on a number of key issues, especially the overall size of the budget and the fairness of the distributions between member states.
Back then, the talks broke down because agreeing at the time would certainly have represented their own "risky takeoff", with Greece's financial crisis at its peak, and Britain's announcement of a possible referendum to quit the EU.
There was a need to find the "right runway", to make sure the route was right.
As for China, it has already become the right "destination" for many countries in the struggling economic area.
It has become the EU's second-largest trading partner, behind the United States, and the EU is China's biggest trading partner, according to official data.
Europe has claimed consistently that it is committed to open-trade relations with China. But in fact, the EU's China policy has seesawed continually.
Noticeably consistent, however, are growing efforts across the EU to improve communications with China, and a striking change has been the number of officials and employees starting to learn Chinese.
The number of trade investigations against Chinese goods and services may have increased, but so too have the number of people enthusiastic about learning all they can about China, and its influence on the global economy.
It used to be that French, German and Spanish courses were the most popular among EU commission staff, but as one education program official told me recently, Chinese and Arabic are now the new language lessons of choice.
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(China Daily 02/08/2013 page11)