Saturday, May 28, 2005

Chinese View on the EU

Just back from a trip outside the EU, to Norway as a matter of fact, to ask questions of a bunch of Chinese telecoms people who just put in the first US-type (CDMA-450, fact fans) network in Europe there.

Sitting in Oslo airport, waiting for a colleague to rock up from Stockholm, the sweating hack-gaggle (all right, three of us) was left to chat to a Chinese representative of A Certain Telecoms Kit Manufacturer. As always happens, the conversation moved to European geo-politics. It always happens like that. Really. It wasn't even my fault this time.

She had a couple of very interesting points to make. The first was that, apparently, Europe had "a debate that China has never had - where it begins and ends. We've always known clear borders." Indeed. The cliche form of this, in European discourse, is the contradiction between the old cold-war Western Europe and de Gaulle's crack about a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals (which was real at the time, but only for the military planners). More importantly now, her company has set its bridgehead for Europe in Istanbul. Asked whether they assumed Turkey would join the EU, they said yes.

But here we were, in non-EU Norway. (Note - I'm not going to pretend that Oslo is wracked by nationalist gangs sniping at each other from barricades of blazing cars and bread riots and all that comes from outside the union.) But looking at it another way, it made more sense. Norway has to accept the EU's single market regulations to deal with the EU under the EEA Treaty, but it has no vote in Brussels. It's a committed member of NATO. Next door are Sweden, in the EU but not the Euro and certainly not NATO, and Finland, in both EU and € but very neutral, and down the road is Denmark, in the EU and NATO but not the €. Question: do the Chinese believe that all these overlaps will be sorted out in a rationalised EUrope, or do they believe that they will matter less?

The company in question certainly seems to have a strategy of moving around the periphery, in the interface zone between full-bore integration and less integration. This reflects the politics of telecoms networks, of course - no-one, but no-one will sell CDMA-450 in Germany or the UK, or Finland, or France for many years if ever. But does it also reflect a view of the EU? If they don't argue that the semi-integrated states, like Scandinavia, will be incorporated in a full EU solution, this doesn't necessarily mean the UK isolationist dream is coming true, and that the Thing is breaking up. The original house ideology of the European Commission, as formulated by Monnet and Schuman, was that "neofunctional spillover" would unite Europe. Starting with dull and technocratic issues, increasing integration would begin to hop boundaries when the locus of negotiation moved to the European level. More recently, the counterattack of the European Council and the intergovernmental machinery has put this story in question. (As Andrew Moravcsik puts it, it's the art of the state, not state of the art.)

It's possible, though, that the "spillover" isn't from the European to the national level, but across the EU's borders. If you play by EU single market rules, and your networks need to be standards compliant with the Europeans, and you work in the military shadow-Europe of NATO, what is the difference? (Especially if there is any truth to the stereotype of Chinese long-term thinking.)

Hint: it's representation. You can have membership with a voice, or enforced interoperability without one...

1 comment:

Rodolfo Manygoats said...

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