Global Europe Brief: Playing checkers with China

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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PLAYING CHECKERS WITH CHINA

The best kind of locked door is that which you can leave open – a Chinese proverb says. However, as the EU is facing a momentous decision about whether it will up its game and try to balance relations with Washington and Beijing on economic interests, in exchange for relative neutrality, it remains unclear in which direction the door might swing.

Last week, EU’s chief diplomat Joseph Borrell said the EU must adopt a “more robust” strategy to deal with an increasingly assertive “systemic rival” China – a call that came as EU member states have struggled to find a unified response to Bejing’s increasing willingness to use its geopolitical clout in Europe.

EU member states did express “grave concern” over China’s security law for Hong Kong, but still agreed sanctions against China would not solve problems with Beijing. According to EU diplomats, one EU member state, Sweden, raised the issue of sanctions during the meeting.

As a matter of fact, EU-China relations are meant to be one of Germany’s EU presidency priorities in foreign policy matters. However, while EU diplomats expected Hong Kong to become a point of contention when Germany takes over the EU Council Presidency on 1 July, they don’t need to worry (for now) – a summit planned for September in Leipzig, Germany, between China and the EU has been postponed. Officially, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the German government said.

Europe could have been better prepared to face the COVID-19 pandemic if China and the WHO had offered “better and more reliable information earlier”, the EU Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, told EURACTIV in an interview.

IMAGE OF THE WEEK |  Members of the National Guard circle the state capitol as protesters rally on the grounds during the sixth day of protests over the murder of George Floyd. [EPA-EFE/TANNEN MAURY]

EU IN THE WORLD

G7 RESISTANCE. The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, rejected the idea floated by the White House over the weekend to reinvite Russia to this year’s G7 gathering hosted by the US, saying the conditions had not been met. His remarks came after US President Donald Trump said he would postpone the summit he had hoped to hold next month until September or later and expand the list of invitees to include Australia, Russia, South Korea and India. To him, the group of advanced economies has become “very outdated” and should transform as the “G10 or 11 vs G1”, a reformed club to unite against China.

EXTERNAL ACTION BUDGET. The European Commission’s fresh budget proposal is set to increase the overall financing available for external action, but it will rely more on financial engineering, with guarantees and ‘multiplier effects’, than on traditional funding via the EU long-term budget.

LIBYA MISSION. Europe tried to reassure Russia during a UN Security Conference video call after a French warship intercepted an oil tanker off the coast of Libya under an operation to halt the flow of arms to the North African country. A vote on the Berlin-penned reauthorisation text is scheduled for 9 June.

MIGRATION FEARS. A new migration crisis at the land border? Approximately 6,000 migrants have gradually gathered at the Greek-Turkish border of Evros, raising concerns in Athens that Ankara intends to repeat the events from late February, when it let thousands of migrants enter EU territory. Several days ago, the EU urged Turkey to stop provocations in the wider region but said it was still “premature” to discuss sanctions against Ankara. The Commission also admitted this week that Turkey will receive pre-accession funds from the new EU budget.

SHAME GAME. The question of tax avoidance and financial information exchange remains a sore point for EU-African relations, and the European Commission’s annual lists of ‘non-cooperative’ countries on tax and money laundering laws have done little to improve the situation. Botswana, Ghana and Zimbabwe joined Mauritius in being publicly named and shamed by the European Commission in May on its EU list of high-risk third countries with deficiencies in their fight against money launderers and terrorism financing.

DEFENCE CORNER

BIOTERRORISM. Has COVID-19 increased the threat of bioterrorism in Europe? The global struggle to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly exposed the vulnerability of global societies to natural and manmade biological threats, prompting experts to warn of a potential increase in the use of biological weapons, like viruses or bacteria, in a post-coronavirus world.

RUSSIA’S NUCLEAR DETERRENCE. President Vladimir Putin approved a strategic document on the fundamentals of Russia’s nuclear deterrence policy, naming the creation and deployment of anti-missile and strike weapons in space as one of the main military threats to Russia. All this comes amid simmering Russia-NATO sanctions over military drills.

ARMS EXPORTS. With the EU currently being the second-largest arms supplier in the world, after the US and before Russia, a new European Parliament report is set to urge the Commission and member states to address concerns over the lack of transparency and common arms export rules across the bloc. “There’s a broad agreement across political parties to support the call for increased transparency and coherence on EU arms exports,” rapporteur Hannah Neumann (Greens) told EURACTIV. “But we know that once it comes to concrete activities and measures to take, some significant differences remain.”

DUTCH SPENDING. The Dutch government is unlikely to fulfil its NATO defence spending obligations within the next four years. The news comes after parliamentarians called Dutch defence minister Ank Bijleveld in for questioning on the so-called ‘recalibration’ of the defence memorandum.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

ELECTORAL EXPECTATIONS. Parties in Albania need to deliver a ‘crucial’ agreement on electoral reform, while North Macedonia’s vote must leave sufficient time and possibilities for campaigning, the EU’s Enlargement Commissioner, Oliver Varhelyi, said, outlining the priorities for the two EU hopefuls before accession talks can start.

EURASIA DIGEST

FAKE NEWS. Returning to the China theme, Beijing has started to back Russian narratives of Washington-led biological weapon development in Georgia and other post-Soviet countries. One widely circulating allegation on the internet during the pandemic claimed that Tbilisi is attempting to bring COVID-19 to Georgian breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under de facto Russian control from “the Lugar Lab“, a long-standing target of disinformation attacks, which was indeed built with US collaboration and funding.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 152 days until the US Presidential election and US President Trump is confronted with the direst political environment of his presidency yet as cities nationwide awoke from a smouldering weekend of violent protests over racism and heavy-handed policing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

What to watch and why it matters: Support dropping across the country, and international allies have sharply condemned the police killing. Meanwhile, major reshuffles in his team could be coming. His current Secretary of Defence, Mark Esper, caught the White House off-guard by breaking with the official line at a press briefing where he said he doesn’t currently support invoking the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that permits the president to use active-duty troops on US soil.

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.
  • Global Coalition on Fight Against the Islamic State
    | Thursday, 4 June 2020 | videoconference
  • EU-EaP foreign ministers e-meet
    | Friday, 5 June 2020 | videoconference
  • Defender 2020 ‘light’
    | Friday, 5 June 2020 | Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland
    US, Poland hold Defender-Europe 20 joint military manoeuvres
  • Justice and Home Affairs Council
    | Friday, 5 June 2020 | videoconference
    Home affairs ministers are set to discuss the reopening of external Schengen borders
  • EU negotiator Barnier’s update on Brexit talks
    | Friday, 5 June 2020 | Brussels

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