by N. Peter Kramer
‘An Italian poll sees China as the most friendly foreign country, followed by Russia. Germany is considered the least friendly foreign power, followed by France. Another poll shows that 42 percent of the Italians want to leave the EU and 44 per cent favour staying. These are deeply alarming figures. Twenty years of eurozone membership have taken Italians to a point where they consider China as their most important strategic partner’. These are not my words but of Wolfgang Munchau, a senior commentator of the omni respected Financial Times. ‘Without fear and without favour’ reads the motto of the business daily traditionally printed on pink paper.
Do not be surprised by the Italian opinions. Their country became the only large EU member state to sign up officially to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a long-term infrastructure investment project spanning the Eurasian continent. It is at the heart of China’s global industrial strategy. Italy has already attracted the second largest share (after Germany) of Chinese investments among EU countries. Recently Beijing has promised investments in the port of Trieste on the Adriatic coast.
The Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte has celebrated the deal for the Covid-19 recovery fund agreed by German chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s president Emmanuel Macron. Europhiles hope that the fund will address Italy’s lurch into Euroscepticism. But will the impact be enough to persuade Italy to stop breaking EU ranks on China? We will have to wait for the final decision on the recovery fund at the European Council on 18 and 19 June. If indeed there is a clear decision taken then.
Interestingly Munchau also mentions in his article that a recent poll found that the number of Germans who seek closer relations with China is 36 percent versus 37 percent who favour the US. Among young Germans, China leads the US by a wide margin. China’s role in Hong Kong and suppressing the flow of information about Covid-19 seems to have had little effect on public opinion in the EU. ‘China is well on the way to emerge as the most influential external power for the EU’, the FT writer concludes.