‘BRICS is not a threat, BRICS is an opportunity’. Those were the closing remarks of Ambassador Mxolisi Nosi, Ambassador of South Africa to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU at the “EU and Emerging Powers” International Conference held at the European Parliament on 29 and 30 April 2013. With that clear and outspoken statement, he formulated what the other three BRICS ambassadors (H.E. Shri Dinkar Khullar from India could unfortunately not attend) were implicitly suggesting; the emergence of the BRICS should not be seen as a challenge and a source of confrontation by their European counterparts. It rather represents a resourceful basis for cooperation, that is, if the EU is willing to show more humility.
After two days of intensive brainstorming amongst analysts from across all continents, a common position was finally adopted in each camp; the BRICS, whose diversity and internal lack of cohesion was consistently underlined by panellists, converged in their understanding of the BRICS as an opportunity for the creation of a more coherent, democratic and inclusive multilateral order. European speakers, on the other hand, also seem to overcome their traditional fragmentation and indecision as regards their own analysis of the international and of the EU’s stance in that realm; agreement is, the EU is not what it thinks it is.
Indeed, the idealistic and optimistic vision of the future on the BRICS side was in sharp contrast with the rather pessimistic note of EU speakers. At the outset of the conference, Pierre Vimont, Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) had already called Europeans to be less Eurocentric, and more humble and considerate of Emerging Powers’ perspectives instead. Professor Martin Holland argued that the so-called European model worthy of emulation was actually known of Europeans only. Presenting the results of his study on how the media in the rest of the world perceives and reports on the EU, he reported that in most parts of the world, the EU, actually, is not. And where the EU is mentioned, it is the economic and financial crisis and the potential breakup of the Eurozone that are under the spotlight. Indeed, as the BRICS are seeking to strengthen their relations and increase trade amongst themselves in order to reduce their dependency on the volatility of the US dollar and the euro, their interest in the EU increases as a result of the consequences of the Euro-crisis on their own economies.
However, the EU’s clear economic role as a major trading partner of BRICS countries is not reflected in its international stature. Economic power does not necessarily nor directly translate into political power. If this is a point that was frequently reminded with regards to the BRICS, it may also be applied to the EU. Public opinion polls in the Asia-Pacific reveal that the EU is qualified as “aggressive” and “arrogant”. Maybe it is, thus, time for the EU to listen to what others have to say, and this conference may have been a step in the right direction.