Former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker believes the European Union has to be “less naive” with China, saying that “Europeans have to organise their relations” better with other foreign powers.
“China, of course, is a trade partner of the European Union, a quite important one – depending on the different countries because European countries have different trade relations with China – but China is our rival and is our competitor,” Juncker said in an interview with Lusa.
In the office he holds in the Berlaymont, the headquarters of the European Commission, which he presided over between 2014 and 2019, Juncker stressed that China’s internal market is “large” and the EU should seek to “ensure” that it “remains open to European companies, in the same way that Europe’s internal market is open to Chinese companies.”
He said that the EU “needs better access to the internal market of China and all efforts spent in that direction are welcome”.
In this sense, Juncker considers that the EU-China investment agreement – whose agreement in principle was reached between the European Union and China in December 2020, after seven years of negotiations that had begun under Juncker’s presidency – is “a step in the right direction,” even though it is insufficiently robust on labour conditions.
In the agreement, China – which so far hasn’t ratified four of the eight core International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, including the two on forced labour – commits to “effectively implement” the conventions it has already ratified, to “work towards ratifying” the missing ones and to “make continued and sustained efforts to ratify” the two conventions on forced labour.
Juncker believes these references to ILO conventions are “very weak”.
“China has to realise that we expect our Chinese partners to respect all international standards and principles” on labour issues, he stressed.
Asked if he would advise the European Parliament not to ratify the agreement in question – one of the steps missing for the agreement to enter into force – Juncker said “no” because he believes that MEPs, “like the general public in Europe,” are “very sceptical when it comes to trade agreements and investment protection agreements”.
“The European Parliament is playing its role when it draws attention to the basic principles that should characterise European trade relations. But I think that at the end of the day, as always, after having protested, the EP will ratify the agreement,” he said.
He said that the “less naive” attitude towards China was part of a need to “better organise” relations between Europeans and “foreign powers,” which include Moscow as well as Beijing.
“With Russia, we have no relation for the time being, and that’s not the kind of relations we should have with Russia when it comes to European future issues,” Juncker said.
In this sense, the former Commission President called for the EU to “reconnect” with Moscow, without “giving up” its “main concerns”, namely its “firm opposition” to what “Russia has done in Crimea” and what “it is doing in the eastern part of Ukraine”.
“But we have to reconnect with Russia, which of course, presupposes that Russia will be willing to do so. I don’t have the impression that Russia is making the efforts which are needed in order to be able to establish normal relations with the European Union,” he said.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]