The European Union’s aspirations to project a singular, assertive stance towards China are encountering an unexpected reality check. President Ursula von der Leyen’s ambitious vision for a “geopolitical commission” faces internal divisions and practical challenges, creating a complex scenario for both the EU and China.
At the forefront of these divisions lies the traditional Franco-German partnership, now exhibiting discord. France, under President Macron, advocates for a firmer approach, pushing for measures like curbs on Chinese solar panels and probes into electric vehicles – both fiercely opposed by Germany. With its significant economic ties to China and growing dependence on green energy, Germany prioritizes dialogue and cooperation. This discord extends to trade deals, with France vetoing the Mercosur agreement due to agricultural concerns, while Germany sees it as a potential tool for diversifying the bloc’s economic partners.
These divergent voices are echoed by other member states, each with its own set of priorities and anxieties. Concerns about economic repercussions, the effectiveness of measures like the WTO case against China’s alleged economic coercion, and the potential violation of national security interests complicate the EU’s efforts to present a united front.
Further complicating the picture are the upcoming European Parliament elections, injecting a layer of political uncertainty. With the possibility of a shift in the political landscape, long-term policy commitments become even more precarious.
However, amidst these challenges, opportunities for China may emerge. The flagship de-risking strategy, initially posing a threat to its economic ties with the EU, has been delayed until 2025 due to internal resistance. This delay provides China with breathing room and an opportunity to address potential concerns that led to the strategy’s conception.
Similar hurdles faced by other initiatives like the strict corporate supply chain rules and the forced labour ban create further openings for China. These initiatives, delayed or facing potential amendments due to EU internal disagreements, might present opportunities for China to engage in constructive dialogue and address concerns directly, potentially shaping the final policies more favourably.
The solar panel dilemma exemplifies this potential. While the EU grapples with balancing human rights concerns and its own climate goals, China can actively engage in discussions, proposing transparent solutions and showcasing its efforts to address international concerns. If successful, such engagement could lead to mutually beneficial outcomes.
Looking beyond individual policies, the very cracks in the EU’s façade present China with an opportunity to exploit. By proactively engaging with individual member states, addressing their specific concerns, and highlighting areas of potential cooperation, China can potentially forge stronger bilateral ties, bypassing the challenges posed by a unified EU stance.
In conclusion, the EU’s internal divisions pose short-term challenges for China. By strategically navigating the complex political landscape and actively engaging with individual member states, China can potentially turn these divisions to its advantage, fostering stronger bilateral ties and shaping the EU’s “geopolitical commission” in a more favourable light. Whether China seizes these opportunities or not will be a crucial factor in determining the future trajectory of its relationship with the EU.