Are the Chinese dream and the European dream compatible?

Speakers: McMillan-Scott Edward, Lamberts Philippe, Scholz Helmut
Moderator: O’Donnell Peter

On Tuesday 9 July, at the premises of Science14 Atrium in Brussels, PubAffairs Bruxelles hosted a debate concerning the compatibility of the Chinese dream and the European dream. The event was moderated by Mr Peter O’Donnell, Associate Editor of European Voice, while the discussants were Mr Edward McMillan-Scott MEP (ALDE), Mr Philippe Lamberts MEP (Greens) and Mr Helmut Scholz MEP (GUE/NGL).

In its first part, the event format allowed the discussants to answer a preliminary question which was posed in advance to the audience, namely: “Are the two dreams compatible?”. In the second part, the speakers discussed in greater detail the ideas expressed in the preliminary statements, while, the third part featured a question & answer session concluding the exchange of views. Finally, the preliminary questions were put to the audience for a second time

Questioned for the first time the audience appeared slightly more positively oriented, although their opinion appeared fairly balanced.

The three discussants then proceeded to deliver their preliminary speeches. Mr McMillan-Scott MEP started by asserting the importance of igniting a genuine political dialogue beyond trade matters concerning, in particular, human rights and the rule of law-related issue in China. In his opinion, the EU should shift from a “business a usual” to a “politics as usual” perspective to better tackle these matters.

Mr McMillan-Scott stated also that the trade issue and the political issue should be separated not only since EU-China trade relations are valuable and extensive, but also because trade restrictions would have the main effect of making the poorest part of the Chinese population suffer. He finally stated that the dream of a Europe united and free should be matched by a Chinese dream which sees China as a prominent-but-non-dominant force on the Asian continent, as in the case of Germany with regard to Europe.

However, Mr Lamberts MEP initiated his speech by highlighting the different perceptions of China and Europe towards the future as, within the former, there is the tendency to project a positive vision of the times ahead, while the latter is holding on to a backward-looking perspective. According to Mr Lamberts, Europe is excessively attached to this self-perception, not only as a result of the economic crisis, but also due to disenchantment with the European project.

He then added that a strategic pivot is needed for Europe, as the social and environmental global challenges are of capital importance and failing to address them successfully can lead to serious consequences in the long term. For these very reasons, and the fact that addressing them are also important issues for China’s stability, Mr Lamberts asserted that it is crucial to deepen the dialogue with Beijing.

Mr Scholz MEP started by stating that the contents of both the Chinese dream and the European dream are not yet well-defined making difficult to assess the current state of relations between the EU and China. Nevertheless, considering some topical past issues such as the contraposition between the eastern and the western part of the world, the swift transition of China towards a market economy and the current reforms which China is trying to implement, it is possible to find some of the current patterns of the relationship.

In his view, the Chinese entry into the WTO has marked a milestone both in terms of trade and of environmental sustainability. According to Mr Scholz, it would be morally impossible to deny China the right to choose its model of growth. As a result, the discussion between the European Union and China should take into consideration their respective expectations, as well as their mutual interests.

One focal point of the discussion consisted of Europe’s difficulty in coping with the current challenges of globalisation, especially in terms of natural resources endowment, economic competitiveness and environmental standards.

Concerning these issues, Mr Lamberts emphasised that if, on the one hand, Europe is disadvantaged in terms of natural resources and competitiveness, on the other hand, the old continent is still wealthy and should combine this lasting advantage with increased efforts to improve its prosperity and to induce a change towards China. On the other hand Mr Scholz pointed out that the European competitive advantage in education should be considered as a central source of economic growth and added that enhanced investments in technology are an essential part of the answer of a cooperation strategy with emerging economies.

The debate also touched upon the issue of how the European Union is conducting its trade policy and a difference of approach between two discussants unfolded. Mr Lamberts expressed his concerns for European current trade policy orientation, especially with regards to the transatlantic partnership which, among other issues, in his opinion, would not allow Europe to effectively engage with China, while Mr Scholz expressed his optimism towards those types of trade agreements with the ambitious aim of setting standards which could then also be adopted by other contracting parties.

The final part of the debate and the Q&A session also included the matters of: EU-China strategic dialogue, EU conditionality, the circular economy model, intellectual property rights enforcement.

Consulted again on both preliminary questions, the audience did not substantially change its initial attitude towards the matters discussed.

Do you want to deepen the issues discussed in our debate? Check our list of selected sources which we have provided for you

EU-CHINA RELATIONS, Programme, Madariaga – College of Europe Foundation

The Madariaga – College of Europe Foundation is dedicated to promoting original thinking on the role of the European Union in an era of global change

CHINA, Section, The Economist

Authoritative weekly newspaper focusing on international politics and business news and opinion

ROACH ON CHINA, Focal Points, Project Syndicate.org

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere

CHINA, Section, Wall Street Journal

Latest breaking news and headlines from China. Detailed coverage and analysis of top stories and current events


Understanding China addresses these needs by creating a new business dialogue on China-related issues. The ultimate goal of the Understanding China programme is to improve the knowledge on China in European businesses, especially SMEs