EU-China relations will be one of Germany’s EU presidency priorities in foreign policy matters, with an overall objective of “strengthening Europe as an anchor of stability in the world,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel. EURACTIV Germany reports.
There are many indications that the German EU Council Presidency will be a crisis presidency.
This also applies to foreign and security policy, the priorities of which Chancellor Angela Merkel presented on Wednesday evening (27 May) at an online event organised by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.
In the morning, Merkel had already presented to the heads of the parliamentary groups a revised programme for Germany’s Council Presidency, which had to be updated because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Relations with China will be a foreign policy priority of the Council Presidency,” the chancellor said. Merkel made a clear plea for a strong European approach towards China, which she said was necessary because of Beijing’s determination to claim “a leading place in the existing structures of international architecture”. Europe must take up such a challenge with confidence, the Chancellor added.
The initial draft German EU presidency agenda was meant to focus on cooperation with third countries, climate and trade policy. However, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, health will now also play an important role.
“These issues are ambitious enough in themselves,” said Merkel, adding that the situation was made more difficult by the fact that China’s views on the rule of law, freedom, democracy and human rights were competing with those of Europe. Against this background, a “critical-constructive dialogue is more important than ever,” the chancellor said.
Coronavirus crisis and “security law” strain relations
EU-China relations have deteriorated following the COVID-19 outbreak. Beijing has been accused of pitting EU member states against each other by providing pandemic aid to hard-hit countries. At the end of April, German foreign ministry officials also confirmed that China had tried to influence statements on Beijing’s handling of the virus.
The presentation of Germany’s foreign policy priorities coincides with a week in which EU-China relations will also be discussed in Brussels.
On Monday (25 May), Germany’s Europe Minister, Michael Roth (SPD), demanded that Europe speaks with a unified voice with China, saying Beijing is “interested in a weaker EU”.
On Friday (29 May), EU foreign ministers are holding a video conference to discuss, among other things, the “security law” for Hong Kong adopted yesterday (28 May) by the Chinese People’s Congress, which critics fear will further curtail civil rights. Last year, the law’s announcement had led to months of mass demonstrations in Hong Kong against Beijing’s growing influence.
“The German government should also, in view of its EU Council Presidency, work to ensure that the European Parliament’s call for a global sanctions mechanism becomes reality as quickly as possible,” emphasised Reinhard Bütikofer, Chairman of the European Parliament’s China delegation and foreign policy spokesman for the Greens/EFA. This should also apply specifically to Chinese officials, he added.
A significant number of German MPs in the Bundestag are also calling for the EU to take consistent action against the law. Germany must play a central role in this, SPD foreign policy expert Christoph Matschie told the Handelsblatt newspaper.
A summit meeting of EU heads of states and government with the Chinese government is planned for September as part of Germany’s EU Council Presidency.
“Europe is not neutral”
Relations between the EU and Africa will be another foreign policy priority for the EU Council Presidency, which Germany wants to expand, taking into account the experience of the pandemic.
“Many countries in Africa will suffer from the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic,” Merkel said, noting that Europe could also learn a great deal from African countries in dealing with the pandemic.
Relations with Russia will also be in focus during Germany’s EU presidency, with Merkel saying there were “good mutual reasons to strive for constructive relations”. At the same time, she stressed that Russia had repeatedly violated international rules by repeatedly attacking Western democracies, including Germany, with hybrid means.
On Thursday (28 May), the German Foreign Office summoned Russian Ambassador Sergei Netschajew for the country’s alleged involvement in a cyber attack on the Bundestag five years ago, and condemned the move “in the strongest terms”. According to a ministry spokesman, there are “strong indications” that the main suspect in the case had “belonged to the military intelligence service GRU at the time of the attack.”
With regard to US relations, Merkel said: “cooperation with the US is currently more difficult than we would like”. Nevertheless, she said that it should not be forgotten that the alliance with the US is a “mainstay of our foreign and security policy”.
In order for Europe to assert itself, it was therefore still important to act as a partner in a community of interests, Merkel added, saying: “Europe is not neutral, Europe is part of the political West.”
(Edited by Frédéric Simon)