The distinguished speaker is Dr. Peter Hefele, director of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) Shanghai Office. He speaks on “Germany’s relations with China and the World” and is introduced by a young fellow, called Frank, with Chinese looks and American behavior from the John Hopkins Association, which cooperates with YMC for these monthly events. He is a typical banana, outside yellow, inside white, I would say, but I have to give him the credits that he does a great moderator job in his somewhat dry attitude, which he breaks up with a final joke at the end of the evening. I realize that I am not anymore an ideal fit for such events: YMC is for young people up to 40 years of age, which I am reaching soon and in fact most people attending are in their late 20ies or early 30ies. As the floor opens up for questions, I am taken aback by sophisticated questions that are being asked by these folks and I remember that I had a similar investigative attitude 15 to 20 years ago. Things have changed though and my life has different, much more personal priorities, and my heart tells me that although I am intellectually still interested in such events, I have moved on.
Three insights which Dr. Hefele, who holds a PhD in economics, shares with the plenum cause me to respond.
1. Firstly, his reply to Frank’s introduction referring to an Economist article, in which it is questioned whether Germany is part of the West. Peter Hefele confirms that Germany is a part of the West, but also emphazises that for many Chinese “the West” seems to be nothing more than the US. The West according to KAS is Europe and in particular North America; this partnership, the transatlantic alliance, is highlighted throughout Dr. Hefele’s talk. I am somewhat surprised that there is no reference made to common cultural values, but to NATO or other supranational institutions. The decisive dividing line between the East and the West can not be made according to national borders, it already exists along the cultural hemispheres that people carry within their mindset. Samuel Huntington described this already in the 90ies in his book “The Clash of Cultures”. The question “are you part of the West?” should not be directed at Germany, it should be directed at Russia, of which I thought that it had started to slowly integrate itself into the Western communities. But quite on the contrary, it has emerged during the last few months as a new regional power, a new Eastern power, which makes China a “the Far East”.
2. This leads to another question: should the EU continue to enlarge itself? KAS and as such Christian-conservative EU policymakers believe that the EU has already overstretched itself. Structural problems of the EU as such and some member states, currently of one of its principal members, France, are to be overcome before another enlargement can be faced. The EU lives from its axis Paris-Berlin and in recent years to a growing extent from also from the axis Berlin-Warsaw. These three national governments are decisive for the policy making in Brussels, because the represent the largest EU nations. London is important too, but constitutes a problem of its own.
With Russia on the rise as a singular regional power, I was surprised that there was no talk about the growing energy insecurity that the EU faces. A recent economist article showed clearly that some EU member states are up to 80% dependent on Russian gas imports. In the face of such an dependency, all the EU negotiations, sanctions, and to some extent threatening of Russia, become nothing more than hot air. In my opinion, the EU needs to enlarge itself into a similar entity like once the Roman Empire was. The concept of an EU that develops at different velocity in different realms like security, immigration, economic integration, shall be implemented in all countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, where is would be possible to counterweight the Russian gas dependency with huge solar power potential, ready and infinite to tap in.
3. Dr. Hefele openly spoke against an integration of Turkey in spite of its NATO membership and strategic location. As such he represented the traditional Christian-conservative view that an Islamic nation can not be part of the EU. I don’t believe anymore that democratic shortcoming can be brought against a Turkish EU membership since Hungary has stayed a member state in spite of its non democratic developments, ignoring and depriving subjects even from one of the fundamental rights of a Western democracy: the property right.
Islamic cultures have been part of Europe for large stretches of our common history. Southern Spain was Muslim for almost 800 years, South Eastern Europe was Muslim for a similar period and some regions continue to be. It is true that these religious conflict always gave way to wars like in former Yugoslavia in the early 90ies, but I believe that exactly the integration of such a fundamental antagonism is part of the EU character. Like Mr. Hefele said himself, Europeans have already transcended the nation state mind; many Europeans consider themselves a national citizen and an EU citizen, as such a new identity has been formed over the last 60 year that is not easily comprehensible by somebody from outside; surely not for US Americans and in particular not by Chinese, because the EU formed itself voluntarily, on the basis of a consensus.