Stanley's blog

It is a poor reflection on the EU’s China activities if the latest available organigrarmme is nearly five years old and there is no agreement as to how many Dialogues, Working Groups (WG) etc there are. It indicates a serious lack of coordination.

The structure of EU-China relations according to the Commission in December 2005 is:

Political Dialogue

Summit (annual)
Troika Ministerials (1-2 per year)
Meetings between GAERC: Council President & Chinese Ambassador in Presidency capital (1 per presidency)
Meetings between Chinese Foreign Minister & EU Heads of Mission in Beijing (1 per presidency)
EU-China Strategic Dialogue at Vice Foreign Minister level (1-2 per year)
Political Directors Troikas (annual)
Regional Directors Troikas (annual)

Expert level meetings on
High-level consultations on illegal migration & trafficking in human beings (annual)
Human Rights (1 per presidency)
Asian Affairs (regularly)
Non proliferation (regularly)
Conventional arms exports (regularly)

Economic relations

High Level Economic & Trade Dialogues (HED) (annual)*
EC-China Joint Committee (1985 TCA, annual)
Senior Officials Meeting (SOM)
Economic & Trade Working Group

Sectoral dialogues & working groups

Civil aviation*
Climate change)*
Competition policy
Consumer product safety (split later)
Customs cooperation
Education & culture regular exchanges
Employment and social policy
Energy WG Conferences
Enterprise/industrial policy & regulation – and WG
Trade policy
Environment – and WG
Information Society – and WG
Intellectual property rights & geographical indications
Macroeconomics & the regulation of financial markets
Maritime transport
Nuclear research cooperation (Euratom)
Regional policy*
Satellite navigation cooperation (Galileo
Sanitary & phytosanitary standards (split later)
Science & Technology
Space science & technology Cooperation
Textile trade
Tourism (ADS)
Transport policy (in general)*

* Established later

According to the Commission website, there are, apart from regular political, trade and economic dialogue meetings, over 24 sectoral dialogues and agreements. However, Commission officials and others mention a much higher number of dialogues and working groups – even over 50. According to Lady Ashton, there are more than 50 EU-China dialogues.

The following appear to exist (those *asterisked are listed on the website):

Economic and Financial
Food safety*
Geographical indications
Health related products
Public procurement
Trade deficit
Trade policy*

What are sectoral dialogues? The Commission website states that these constitute a flourishing area of exchanges on sectoral policies and technical issues between China and Europe. As can be seen, these dialogues have grown considerably in recent years and now cover a wide range of policy areas. In many of these areas China and the EU face similar problems and favour similar approaches to them.

Variable terminology is used in addition to dialogues – ‘working groups’, ‘regular exchanges’, or simply ‘co-operation’, and they take place at various hierarchical levels, from working level to ministerial level. A variety of participants may be involved, including officials, politicians, business organisations, and private companies. Proceedings take the form of working groups, conferences, annual formal meetings or simply informal exchanges. Specialists from 19 Commission Directorates General are involved in regular exchanges with their respective counterparts in China.

Dialogues etc are potentially important and workable instruments for those who are engaged in their formation and implementation. However, there is no defined process and the proliferation of dialogues results in lack of coordination. Effective dialogues do lead to action. The success of a Dialogue is also influenced by the ability to establish good working relationships and to build trust.

Some Dialogues and Working Groups involve more than one Commission Directorate General and Chinese Ministry. Most of them act quasi-autonomously, with their own organisation and process and with considerable variations in efficiency and effectiveness. Involvement of, consultation with and submissions from the business community, appear in many cases to be minimal. Involvement of Member States (MS) varies considerably between Dialogues.


It is symptomatic of the lack of coordination that we have no current comprehensive list and that there are even differences of opinion on how many dialogues etc there are.

The structure, organization and working methods of Dialogues should be agreed and standardized. An overarching dialogue strategy should be formulated to address the fragmentation which has emerged from the “bottom-up” culture of the SDs and to harness the creative energy on which dialogue formation is based. Contact between Dialogues is not consistent. Most policy areas are now interactive and an umbrella is needed to bring coherence to the exercise. Bilateral issues need to be addressed in a multilateral framework. The Dialogues should also be transparent and accountable with an effective monitoring system.There is currently no transparency and little or no overall coordination or dissemination and communication of results. Greater support from Member States is needed.

The life of Dialogues should not be unnecessarily prolonged. New Dialogues should be established with care. Not all issues need a formal, ongoing Dialogue: a working group would suffice.

Each Dialogue should report annually to a single joint body on its activities during the year, agreements reached and the results of such agreements, current difficulties and its future programme. The joint body should submit a composite report to the annual summit with its conclusions and recommendations. This report should form an annex to the summit declaration. Key blockages should be put on the Summit agenda.

Serious consideration needs to be given to the extent to which Member States, national experts, business and other relevant stakeholders should contribute directly to the Dialogues, and to the form in which they should contribute. This does not necessarily mean direct participation. In the case of Member States, it would be unworkable if all had the right to participate in all dialogues. Greater support from Member States is, however, essential. Several Member States prefer bilateral dialogues.

Jean Monnet’s methodology can help day-to-day China-EU relations. As we have seen, there are dozens of bilateral dialogues and working groups, which meet from time to time, each side presenting its position. There is rarely real intercourse, rather questions and comments, and the two parties do their own thing and reconvene a few months later for an exchange of updated but static positions.

The participants should be seeking out the common interest and seek common solutions to common problems. Instead of sitting opposite each other they should be sitting on the same side of the table with the problem in the middle.

The dialogues and working groups should be dynamic and ongoing with regular contact between formal meetings.

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  1. What are you hearing as possible outcomes from the current talks? We are clearly witnessing some profound shifts in who drives discussions in our global institutions such as IMF and the Wprld Bank and starting to critque some of the assumptions held by these decision making bodies. In the short term we might only see some small steps along this path.

  2. Can I ask how many High Level Economic Dialogues there have been. By my count there has been one in April 2008, another in May 2009 – and what about this years?

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