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Together with the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, we celebrate the 30 years of a programme, Erasmus, that has guaranteed youth exchanges and student exchanges, including between Europe and China. I was looking at the numbers now – and then I'll come to topic I promise – but, nearly 3000 students and professors have been selected to move between Europe and China in last couple of years thanks to this programme. So, we also have a framework for practical cooperation and not only for the very relevant and very useful exchanges at this level.
So, coming to the topic of our exchange today. First of all I would like to thank you for this opportunity to meet. For me, every time I visit a country and every time I visit China – now it's my third time in this capacity [as EU High Representative/Commission Vice-President] – I meet with students, with young people like you, also to listen to you and I always learn a lot. I always get great ideas, aspirations and hope – and we really need some hope in tough times like ours.
We all have the impression to live in times of global disorder, when instability seems to spread from one corner of the world to the other. If you take the conflict in Syria: events in the Middle East can destabilise the whole world. We are all concerned and we all have a responsibility to work for peace and reconciliation there.
And in the same way, if we look at this part of the world, everyone understands that a crisis with North Korea would have a global fallout. If I can share with you an anecdote – a personal one. My 12 year-old daughter – when she learned I was coming here – she told me, and she doesn't read newspapers very often, "You're going to a part of the world where a nuclear war is risked in these days". If a 12 years old in Europe understands the risks of an escalation in such a faraway place from home, it is quite self-evident that we have a common responsibility. In this case we have a common responsibility and an interest to avoid a military escalation in the Korean Peninsula, to push for North Korea to abide by its international obligations and re-engage with the international community, and work together for a de-nuclearised Korean Peninsula. This is a European interest as much as this is Chinese interest. And this is something we discussed at length during my excellent meetings yesterday and today.
With this in mind, there are three ideas I would like to share with you before we open our discussion and conversation. Three ideas that could help us move from the current global disorder to some kind of global order, and a more cooperative global order.
The first idea is the need for all of us, and particularly for global powers like the European Union and China, to engage: to engage constructively in world affairs. The second, is the need to look for win-win solutions. And the third, is the importance of rules, and of building a rules-based global order.
First, engagement. It might sound a very simple principle, but in the times we are living today it is not a banal thing to do to restate that isolation cannot solve any of the issues of our time. On the contrary, it can only make things worse – and this is true both for security issues and for our economies. When a crisis arises we can never turn a blind eye, even if it is at the other side of the world. No crisis is far enough in a globalised world – a world of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, where terrorist groups recruit across continents through the internet. There are no boundaries, there is no far away place in the world of today.
For this reason, I believe both the European Union and China have a global responsibility of engagement to play. We, the European Union, are increasingly active as a global security provider. It is of great importance, for instance, for us to be an international witness to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in Myanmar, just like China is. It is a great honor that comes also with great responsibility. Even if it is a far away place – because we know that this concerns also our security and the stability of the world. So we must both use, China and the European Union, our influence on all parties to stay engaged in the peace process, and to safeguard everyone’s human rights.
We Europeans have an interest in peace and stability in Asia, from Afghanistan to the South East. We are already the first investor and aid donor worldwide, and we are getting more and more engaged on security. Likewise, China has an interest in peace and security on our side of the world, in our region. And China’s engagement can play a very positive role in many of the crises we are now dealing with.
Just a few weeks ago I welcomed the Chinese Special Envoy on Syria [Xie Xiaoyan] to Brussels, for the international Conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region. And we have seen how crucial it is to build and preserve the unity of the international community, to try to bring this conflict to an end. Promoting the political talks in Geneva, under the leadership of the United Nations, because it is clear to all that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. This is something I will discuss at length also with my colleague Sergey Lavrov [Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation] in Moscow in a couple of days from now.
The unity of the international community is key. It is key to put an end to crisis and conflicts; it is also key to find agreements or deals that can preserve or build the security of the world. I think especially, in these days and hours, about what we have achieved together when it comes to the nuclear program of Iran. If you think of what the international community, united - including the very positive and constructive role that China has been playing and continues to play on the implementation of the agreement - has managed to achieve: after decades a nuclear agreement that was not only achieved but also implemented and certified five times by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] as fully implemented by all sides. It is something quite remarkable. We will continue as the European Union and I believe as China – especially after my talks in these days – to make sure that the deal is fully implemented and respected by all sides, because this is of crucial importance for the security of the world.
Also on the different opportunities we can build together. A greater engagement from China in world affairs can open so many opportunities, on so many issues of common interest. I know that some in the world would be concerned about a more confident and outward-looking China. I do not share this view. Europe and China can push for a more cooperative approach to global politics. We can work together, as we did on Iran, or on other crises, to find the win-win solution where others can only see conflict and competition. This is the second idea I would like to share with you.
In his speech in Davos, President Xi also talked about the need for an international model based on win-win cooperation, at a moment when – I quote – “mankind has become a community of shared future.” This was also the original intuition – the dream – of our founding fathers and mothers of the European Union. This is the intuition that led to the foundation of the European Union, exactly sixty years ago in Rome. European nations had fought against one another for centuries, if not for thousands of years. World War II – the greatest war in human history – was started in Europe by Europeans. After so much pain, we finally realised that war had had devastating consequences for all of us. No matter who was winning or losing, all of us were losing, while cooperation could benefit everyone.
I can share with you something that very much made an impression on me – also from an emotional point of view. I was some ten days ago in a remote place in Italy, Sant'Anna di stazzema – a place where there was a terrible killing of more than 500 people at the end of the Second World War. The few survivors, who were children at that time and who are now wise, elderly people, the first thing they were telling me was save the European Union because out of our tragedy came one good thing, and that is the unity of our continent and the political integration of our continent. Sometimes this was people not studying at the university, not even in secondary schools, very simple people living in the countryside but with this very clear idea in mind: out of war came sixty years of peace, economic cooperation and made the European Union the largest market in the world, the second biggest economy in the world, the biggest diplomatic power in the world with 140 delegations around the world coordinating 28 Member States – this will remain the case also when we will be 27, a super power.
So, seeing these 60, 70, 80 year-old people who have suffered from war, telling me the value of the European Union for peace and also for economic prosperity - I think that was something that we should all be reminded of.
So, at that time – 60 years ago – visionary Europeans with lot of courage invested in this: in finding win-win solutions instead of fighting each other, cooperating with each other. More convenient for all.
And this is even more true today, well beyond the European continent. Let me add that this is probably the greatest divide in today’s world affairs. Not the East-West divide, not the North-South divide. The real distinction today is between those who believe that international politics is a zero-sum game, where every victory corresponds to a loss for someone else, and those who work to find win-win solutions, where common ground is built. It takes time, it takes a lot of patience but it is always possible to see where every single actor can find its own benefit and work together in a cooperative manner.
If you apply a confrontational approach to trade for example, it is easy to see where it would lead. Protectionism, and no willingness to compromise, can easily spark a trade war. Let me quote again President Xi, who said it very wisely: “No one would emerge as a winner in a trade war.” These are very wise words that should make us all reflect. It would only cut opportunities for our companies and slow down growth in all our countries. We would all lose.
To prevent such a scenario we must engage together, we must look for win-win cooperation, and we must agree together on a set of rules shared by everyone. The cure to the current disorder, is a cooperative global governance based on rules.
Let me tell you very openly and frankly: there is a tendency today within our own societies, including in Europe sometimes, to see rules as a constraint more than a guarantee. Those of you who study social sciences or political philosophy know very well that the rules are a guarantee for all, are the framework within which a society can work. It is a guarantee. More power-politics is the perfect recipe for further destabilisation. International rules and guarantees, in particular, are not a threat, but again an element of certainty for everyone.
A violation of global rules makes the entire international system weaker, it makes conflict more likely and it makes all of us less secure. When it comes for instance to maritime disputes, rules are a protection for trade, business and security. We must in this field protect our rules, and look for meditations where conflicts arise.
In other cases, we need to expand and enlarge the current system of rules. For instance, on nuclear issues. The Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty has provided us with the most effective monitoring system for nuclear tests in human history. And we have seen the added-value of it exactly when it comes to the recent developments in the Korean Peninsula. On nuclear issues we have a duty to preserve unity in the international community – the unity that led us to the deal with Iran and to the full implementation of the deal with Iran. And we have a duty to preserve the existing treaties and to make them more global, more comprehensive, to make every person in the world more safe and more secure.
Finally, rules are the only way to make the most out of globalisation while protecting people in our societies. Humanity has never been so numerous, prosperous and healthy – and this has been possible because progress has spread beyond borders. It has been possible thanks to globalisation. This does not mean that everything in globalisation is good. We cannot ignore the impact of a more globalised world on some sectors of our societies or on parts of the world. The answer to the current imbalances is not an impossible de-globalisation of our world – but engagement with our partners, among partners, to make international trade for instance both free and fair. And this is a field where China and the European Union can definitely make the difference worldwide.
So I am sure that people of your age understand this very well: there is no way to roll back globalisation – and this would certainly not be a good thing. We all see that the opportunities of an open world can outweigh by far the threats or the limits. But progress doesn't come by itself; it is not inevitable. Peace is not guaranteed. Security is not guaranteed. We see very powerful forces in action for destabilisation and chaos. And these are forces that are not always easy forces to recognise by name.
Progress and peace will not happen without the full engagement of each and every one of us. We live in times where power is much more diffuse than it used to be. It is not only state actors but also individuals, societies, groups that can have an influence on global trends. Yet, the optimistic vision of a world that is able to progress - that was also set out by President Xi - will only become true, if we work to make it happen. I believe the European Union and China can be the most powerful forces to push towards a multilateral system, a rules-based global governance, where we cooperate towards win-win solutions. We are global powers with global responsibilities – responsibilities that I believe we can fulfil if we work together. I have to tell you that these two days of meetings here have been extremely reassuring for me in terms of seeing a common ground for further cooperation in this direction between the European Union and China.
And now I would be more than happy, honored to exchange with you, listen to your questions, but also to your comments or suggestions and have a very open and frank debate. I thank you once again for taking your time not only to listen to me but also to make me listen to you, which is for me always the most valuable time in any of my visits.
FM: I do not see a link between refugees and terrorist threats. Europe, as well as other parts from the world – from Asia, to Africa, to North America - has been hit by terrorist attacks. Attacks in Europe have been mainly conducted by European citizens. I know that this is not the message in the media we hear the most but these are the reality in numbers. So, this is a global phenomenon that is hitting everywhere in the world; it is a global phenomenon on which we need international cooperation, including counter-terrorism cooperation. By the way we are deciding at these meetings these days to increase the EU-China counter-terrorism cooperation as we do with other partners in the world. And we need to work on de-radicalisation of young people especially, both in our societies and in other parts of the world. And we also need to work seriously on cutting the financing of terrorist groups and on solving the crises that offer some ungoverned space like in Syria, or in Libya or in parts of Africa for terrorist organisations to spread.
Coming to refugees, we do welcome many refugees. First of all, because it is our humanitarian duty; we feel a responsibility also because Europe itself has been a continent of refugees. During our wars, many Europeans moved from their own country to other parts of Europe or to other parts of the world and we remember well what it means to suffer from war or devastation. On the other side, it's a legal international obligation according to conventions and treaties we are part of. It is not and cannot be only a European responsibility. It has to be a responsibility that we share with the rest of the world. This is why we believe that we need a global responsibility-sharing mechanism within the UN system for hosting and protecting refugees worldwide.
By the way, many times we refer to this as the European refugees crisis, but let me tell you two things: one, the crisis is a crisis for the refugees not for the Europeans; second, there are more people on the move within Africa or within Asia than towards Europe. We need to realise that this is a global phenomenon. There has never been so many people on the move in the world as today. We need to understand the scale, the magnitude of the phenomenon and put in place comprehensive policies to prevent crisis, to manage climate disasters, to empower people, to give human rights and rule of law, participation and create jobs. This is the recipe to manage globally in a sustainable and rational manner the large movements of people around the world. The European Union is doing its part; we also want others to.
Q. There are lot of internal conflicts within the European countries about refugees and the citizens,citizens think that some of the rights or duties have been given to the refugees. How do you think that the conflicts will be eased in different European countries?
You know, there have been tensions and that is only normal in times of - let's say – limited resources. We come out, the entire world comes out of an economic crisis that lasted for many years and in times of budget constraints, it is only normal that it might be some competition on how the budget is allocated. But there are so many stories of Europeans welcoming and working for guaranteeing protection to human beings everywhere that I wouldn't say this is a black and white picture. There are tensions, there are tensions not only in Europe - you see in the United States probably there are more tensions than in Europe nowadays – and I know that there are tensions in other societies as well. I think, again, for the Europeans what is key is to have a rational approach, an approach that delivers on results, sustainable where people are part and others do their part as well.
Q: What's your take on Brexit? And how does Brexit influence the conviction of European integration among EU leaders and EU members? So essentially, I guess it's about the UK …
I guess so! I am surprised it was not the first question! Well, first of all, let me say very clearly that my institutional role is somehow peculiar in the EU architecture. I'm Vice-President of the European Commission but I also chair three different formations of the Council of the European Union and that is where the 28 MemberStates come at ministerial level. So I chair Foreign Ministers, Defence Ministers and Development Ministers, and we're still 28 of them and this will be the case for another couple of years.
This is something important to understand, because we think that the referendum last year meant an immediate effect. It took nine months to the UK to go from the results of the referendum to asking for the beginning of negotiations. So sometimes the European Union is accused of being slow. Well, democracy takes its time. The UK took nine months to go from the result of the referendum to the beginning of the negotiations because they needed to prepare. Now, we're starting negotiations that will last for a couple of years. It will be critical negotiations; they will have to dismantle their belonging to the community. We will lose an important Member State. Let me tell you that to me all Member States are equally important because one can be contributing more on some policies and others more on others. But I'm afraid our British friends will lose more than what we will lose, because as I mentioned the European Union - even after the UK is out - will continue to be the first market in the world, the second largest economy in the world. Some, for instance, take the reference to security and defence. True, the UK is a valuable player on security and defence but the contribution the UK is giving to our military operations is not more than 5%, so we can live without it. It will be painful and I would prefer for them to stay, but the European Union will continue to be the power that it has been so far and even more, because I'm seeing all our partners in these months telling us Europeans that the European Union is needed. This is the message I also get from here, in China: that the European Union is an indispensable partner in the world today.
So there is a determination to continue the European Union integration process. We celebrated the Treaties of Rome with this very clear idea in mind. We will continue. We will increase cooperation and integration in some fields, from defence to the economy to foreign policy, to other issues. And we took the responsibility for that, also for our citizens who start to realise now what is at stake, what do they risk if we start playing with the disintegration of the European Union. Again, I will go back to what the survivors of the killing in Sant'Anna di stazzema told me: we risk to lose a lot and I think that European citizens now start to understand that one thing is listening to slogans, another thing is turning them into real politics, and it is painful.
I have the privilege of having served as a Minister of one of the Member States and I would tell you that the dynamics that you see in the European Parliament or in the Italian Parliament are very similar. You don’t have in the European Union one country against the other. You have different political agendas that are the same as the different political agendas you find within the Member States – right, left, centre, [pro-]system, anti-system agendas -, so you have a lively democratic political debate that is reflected in institutional cooperation. So I do not see conflict within the European Union. I see a dynamic of fruitful exchange. In some cases we have divergent views. For instance you were mentioning the refugees or the migration flows. In that respect, you could see that some Member States had different approaches than others, across Party lines, probably because of geography or history. Countries that have known more migratory flows from those countries towards the outside might have the memory of what it means than others that did not experience that, or geographical proximity can expose one country more than others to be ready to find a common position. But what I see inside the European Union is never conflict and we take all or almost all our decisions by unanimity. This is alwayspossible. So there is more a representation of divisions than a reality of divisions. As I told you, I am chairing three formations of the Council. Many people ask me: is it difficult to find consensus at 28? It is not the easiest and simplest thing of life, but it is not more difficult than other institutional exercises. Exactly on defence we took very important decisions in the last nine months, by unanimity, still at 28, that became operational in these weeks on having an increased defence cooperation in the European Union. So I do not see conflicts. Conflicts outside the European Union - I see many and this is worries me the most. Fom Syria to - still - the conflict between Israel and Palestine, to Libya, to the Horn of Africa, to the Sahel, you name it. Afghanistan is still very much high on our agenda, the rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula and I could continue with the situation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. This situation tells us again that we have built in the European Union 60 years of peace, but peace is far from being achieved in our region and the rest of the world. So conflicts outside the European Union are definitely what worry me the most.
Q. What about Turkey for example? The tension between Turkey and the European Union?
First of all, Turkey is an important partner for the European Union and for the Europeans. It is not only an institutional relation, it is also a link between people, economies, businesses, energy, universities, intellectuals… We have so much, you name it. So there is a big connection again. And also an emotional connection, because there is a lot of history between Europe and Turkey on all sides. But now Turkey is going through a complicated period of its history. They just had a referendum that was on the institutional changes that was showing a very divided country, with a very close result. This is what makes us suggest to our Turkish friends to be extremely cautious in the follow-up of the referendum, trying to reach out to all political forces, all sectors of society and trying to reunite the society for the sake of Turkey, first of all, and we will have a reflection together with them – we started already somehow - on the future of our relations. We will have next week a Foreign Ministers meeting of the European Union, we will also reflect on our future relations with Turkey, but first of all we will also discuss with them what is the next phase.