Global Europe Brief: Europe’s China headache

Welcome to EURACTIV’s Global Europe Brief, your weekly update on the EU in the global perspective from our foreign affairs news team: Georgi Gotev and Alexandra Brzozowski.

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IN SEARCH OF A CHINA STRATEGY

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit globally, 2020 was slated to be a crucial year for EU-China relations, with a major summit in September set to take a significant step forward in their economic and strategic relationship.

But after years of pursuing closer bilateral ties with China, Europeans are starting to realise that they might have underestimated Beijing, and have become dangerously dependent on Chinese trade and investment.

With concerns ranging from human rights violations to accusations of spreading misinformation in Europe, the COVID-19 crisis has been a reminder that closer engagement with China comes with risk and might have led to a reset in European thinking on China – despite the “mask diplomacy” played by Beijing.

The EU must adopt a “more robust” strategy to deal with an increasingly assertive China, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said ahead of a scheduled meeting of EU foreign ministers, meant to discuss EU-China strategy on Friday.

The bloc does have a close relationship with China on some fronts (mostly economic), but “it is clear that in other areas, we have huge problems,” a senior EU diplomat told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Borrell’s call comes as EU member states have struggled to find a unified response to China’s increasing willingness to use its geopolitical clout in Europe. The meeting will be all about how to find a unified position.

And while the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong is hitting back at Beijing’s most recent bid to stifle freedoms in the region, its leading activist Joshua Wong has called upon the EU to adopt a firm stance against China’s recent plans for national security legislation in Hong Kong by hurrying to establish a ‘Magnitsky-style’ framework for human rights abuses.

EU IN THE WORLD

PANDEMIC SPENDING. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed an unprecedented stimulus of €750 billion, mostly through non-refundable grants, with governments having a crucial role in deciding how the money will be spent. Most EU member states have reacted positively to the Commission’s €750 billion  Recovery Fund proposal, which aims to help the bloc cope with the devastating economic implications of the pandemic.

TURKEY-GREECE ESCALATION. Russian President Vladimir Putin would be the winner in the event Greece-Turkey relations escalated, US Ambassador in Athens said. “If there were to be any sort of escalation, the only winner is our shared adversaries. The winner is Vladimir Putin,” the US diplomat added.

EU-JAPAN. The EU’s relations with Japan have strengthened in recent years, in the face of a confrontational White House and the growing rivalry with China. Leaders of the EU and Japan agreed in an e-meeting to avoid “unnecessary travel and export restrictions” to counter the COVID-19 pandemic, and to work together to defend multilateralism.

VENEZUELA AID. An International Donors Conference in solidarity with Venezuelan refugees and migrants raised €3.1 billion from more than 60 countries and institutions to assist the displaced population of the South American country. The funding is meant to make it possible in the short term to meet the EU’s objective of relieving the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela and neighbouring countries, which have hosted its refugees.

DEFENCE CORNER

EU BUDGET PLANS. Cuts to the European Commission’s draft defence budget proposal were already under consideration well before the pandemic hit Europe. While the new EU budget proposal charts an improvement from the Commission’s previously planned outlay for the bloc’s defence initiatives, it still remains far from original ambitions.

OPEN SKIES. Washington announced recently it would withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies Treaty, allowing unarmed surveillance flights over signatory states – the Trump administration’s latest move to pull the country out of yet another major global landmark accord.

The Open Skies Treaty is the third major security agreement that is going to bite the dust – and it might well not be the last one. European leaders did not really put enough pressure on Putin and Trump to keep the now-defunct treaties. To set back the Doomsday clock, it takes more than two visionary leaders like Gorbachev and Reagan were for the INF Treaty.

Europe is a hotspot for nuclear weapons and has put the safety of its citizens in the hands of Trump and Putin. Instead, it needs to take the lead in the campaign towards nuclear disarmament, ICAN’s Beatrice Fihn told EURACTIV in an interview after the US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty.

ANTI-DRONE BID. EU police forces are set to roll out Australian-made anti-drone weaponry in order to help eliminate national security threats. The same technology is prohibited by federal law in the United States.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

PACKAGE POSTPONED. Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Várhelyi confirmed that the publication of the European Commission’s enlargement package has been postponed until autumn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the negotiating framework for North Macedonia and Albania will go ahead as planned in June.

BELGRADE-PRISTINA. In March, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell appointed Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak as the special mediator for Kosovo, but his home country is one of five EU member countries that still refuse to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi said he would not take part in talks on normalising ties with Serbia led by an EU special mediator, calling instead for an increased US role in the dialogue.

EURASIA DIGEST

‘GEOPOLITICAL LEAKS‘. Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, now a lawmaker, has been called in for “urgent questioning” by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) in a case involving the smuggling of 43 valuable paintings out of Ukraine, the state’s investigation service agency said.

CUTTING FOSSIL FUELS. Kazakhstan‘s new leadership, faced with concurrent challenges of volatile oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic, has approved nineteen new renewable energy projects worth $1.1 billion in the country’s latest effort to go green and diversify its energy supply.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 159 days until the US presidential election and public approval of President Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic remained steady this week while the number of US deaths from the illness surpassed 100,000.

What to watch and why it matters: Trump’s performance in office received similar ratings, with 41% of US adults approving and 54% disapproving. His overall popularity has been about the same for more than a year, while the likely Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, has a higher favorability with registered voters, with a six-point net lead in support over Trump, down about three points from last week.

COVID-19 FEELINGS. Negative feelings towards the United States in Germany are growing quickly in the pandemic era, according to a new poll, which also indicated a shift in public opinion towards Beijing.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

The regular institutional cycle has temporarily ground to a halt. But we’ll continue to keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as operations moved exclusively online.
  • Foreign Affairs Council
    | Friday, 29 May 2020 | videoconference
    EU foreign ministers are set to discuss EU-China strategy
  • European Parliament’s SEDE Committee
    | Friday, 29 May 2020 | Brussels
    EU lawmakers will discuss the upcoming report on EU’s implementation of the arms export Common Position 2008/944/CFSP and an opinion on a framework of ethical aspects of artificial intelligence, robotics and related technologies
  • Fourth round of UK-EU talks on post-Brexit ties
    | Monday, 1 June 2020 | Brussels
  • EU-Eastern Partnership foreign minister’s talks
    | Friday, 5 June 2020 | Brussels

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