China-Europe Relations

Faith in Europe, faith in China

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-06-14 07:59:39

 Faith in Europe, faith in China

Ambassador Markus Ederer says the best way for Chinese to know Europe is to see it for themselves. Wu Chuanjing / China Daily

Markus Ederer's first two years as EU ambassador have been eventful, with visits by high-level European officials, dialogue and partnerships with China, and even his wedding to organize

EU ambassador Markus Ederer is only about half way through his tenure in Beijing, but his first two years have given him plenty to be happy about.

The EU delegation celebrated Europe Day on May 9, beginning a series of "open house" events at European embassies across Beijing. And he organized a China visit by Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative for security policy and foreign affairs, one of many recent high-level visits on both continents.

He has been proud to support efforts to "strengthen and broaden the strategic partnership, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year," he says.

"Who, two years ago, would have imagined that we would have a partnership for sustainable urbanization, an EU-China water platform and that we would engage in a dialogue on cyber issues, defense and security?" he says.

"These are all issues that challenge our development individually, jointly and globally. They are also issues where we owe it to the next generation to find good solutions for them."

In the middle of all that, Ederer also married his longtime sweetheart in a cross-cultural ceremony on the Great Wall.

"Almost 10 years into our relationship we decided to tie the knot in China," he says of the ceremony he planned with Beate Grzeski, the economic counselor at the German embassy. "It was spiced by my Bavarian relatives coming dressed in dirndl and lederhosen, which raised a lot of attention when the whole group of about 100 went up on the Great Wall. I think the Chinese were almost as amazed at how we looked as the Europeans were amazed at the great edifice of the Great Wall.

Faith in Europe, faith in China

The couple built some Chinese elements into the wedding ceremony too, including a bow and arrow to bring good luck, "but we didn't go overboard because after all we are not Chinese".

Fast forward to last month, when Europe Day events celebrated unity and peace in Europe. It goes back to the Schuman declaration, by then French foreign minister Robert Schuman, on May 9, 1950. After the two world wars, Schuman's call for France and Germany to basically pool their coal and steel industries was designed to make war between the historic rivals "not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible".

That first step to create a permanent peace was "the building stone for the first European Community", Ederer says. "But it holds a lot of symbolism for another reason: May 9, 1945, was the first day of peace on the continent after the last day of World War II."

Today Europe is both very diverse and unified, and he says proud to make a cause out of "leaving our children a world which is worth living in".

"So we have developed a sustainability policy and philosophy which has made us a green power, and this technology is something we very much share with our Chinese partners. [It] very much characterizes the products and services we export to China. When you think of European cars, European machine tools, European planes, even the chemical products and the food we export, it's all very environmentally friendly and safe."

Ederer says the EU will have a "massive mission for green growth" next month, with two commissioners bringing 60 green businesses to China. That leads to a political EU-China summit, which the ambassador predicts "will very much be marked by this theme of green growth".

The Chinese government's confidence "has been and is an important factor" in restoring and keeping confidence in the euro and the euro zone, Ederer says.

"Most importantly, Europe has to do its homework, and we have started massively to reform the system. You see the member states restoring budgetary discipline, their competitivity. You have seen the European Central Bank saying it will do what it takes to keep the euro. We have established a European stability mechanism worth 500 billion euros in case an intervention is needed, and we are moving towards a banking union.

"We know as Europeans that any crisis we have strengthens the EU, strengthens its ability to reform itself," he says, "and we came out stronger from the crisis than we went into it."

Ederer concedes that the debt crunch is the biggest crisis to hit the EU in its existence.

"But almost paradoxically, it has not reduced in its appeal. Especially in China, I have noticed an increased interest in the EU. And that's understandable, because we are China's biggest economic partner.

"Also, look at the EU itself: we will welcome Croatia as the 28th member state in July."

In the eurozone, Latvia and Lithuania are seeking entry, and Poland has announced a referendum on entering the eurozone. "All of which," he says, "demonstrates the attractiveness of the EU".

He notes that just last month, before Ashton's visit to China, she brokered a deal between Serbia and Kosovo over a long-standing dispute. "Ultimately," Ederer says, "that happened because both countries wanted to have a prospect to enter the EU. So I think that proves that the EU's appeal has not suffered. But of course we have to overcome the crisis and sustain the attractive supranational organization, and the biggest peace project we have created."

As the EU ambassador, Ederer's top wish is that Chinese come to the continent and see for themselves.

"We welcome Chinese visitors, be they students, researchers, tourists, businessmen and women, and we have been very active in trying to improve the visa facilitation. China was the first country where we created a common Schengen visa procedure, and we have worked hard to create visa centers outside the embassies and consulates, which has increased the capacity to give visas.

"If you look at our website, we have an interactive visa information dialogue going on," he says, noting that last year there was an increase of 18 percent in Schengen visas granted to Chinese applicants. That includes 50 percent more individual visas, and the envoy says his team is eager to generate a similar boost every year.

"I have been here about two-and-a-half years - it seems shorter since time is flying by. That has to do with the dynamism of China and its society and its people."

His work has taken him around the China, but "unfortunately there is often very little time to enjoy the beauty of the place, the culture and the landscape. When I have some free time here I like hiking, biking and skiing - that's what I do around Beijing on weekends. But my wife and I plan to do some hiking in Xinjiang this summer.

"My Mandarin could be better," he adds ruefully. "I am struggling, but I have survival Chinese. I keep the ambition maybe for a quieter time in my life when I can re-engage with the Chinese language."

Meanwhile, he says, "I would like as many Chinese as possible to come to Europe, and experience our diversity of peoples, cultures, languages, landscapes. I would like them also to understand better our value system.

"I would like China to understand that the European Union holds a promise and an offer for China. That is, when it comes to building global peace, social development and democracy, when it comes to major power relations, the EU is China's best partner."


(China Daily European Weekly 06/14/2013 page23)

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