The EU mustn’t yield to US pressure or lose autonomy over an investment treaty with China
Published: Dec 25, 2020 07:03 PM

China-EU-US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The South China Morning Post, citing unnamed EU sources, reported last week that the EU has agreed "in principle" to the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), after China made concessions on sectors such as financial services, manufacturing and real estate. If signed, it will likely reshape economic, trade and investment relations between China and the EU.

However, challenges ahead remain. There are still differences between China and the EU, as well as among EU member states, on certain issues. Moreover, Washington continues to pressure the EU to hit the brakes on the CAI. Jake Sullivan, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for national security adviser, urged "early consultation with our European partners on our common concerns about China's economic practices" in a tweet late on Monday. As such, we have to pay attention to changes that might take place in US-Europe relations after Biden takes office, including the coordination between the two sides on China-related issues. 

US-Europe relations have become complicated during Donald Trump's tenure, with cracks in transatlantic relations widening and the cornerstone of the ties being eroded. After Joe Biden assumes power, US policies will inevitably be adjusted, and the country's governance style will undergo significant changes. The Biden administration will emphasize more on multilateral participation and its commitments to values of freedom and democracy. In other words, its policies will align more firmly with Europe's preferences and there will be renewed intensive coordination between Europe and the US. 

For Europe, on the one hand, it has paid attention to and made a blueprint for transatlantic relations under Biden. In early December, the European Commission and the High Representative put forward a proposal for a new, forward-looking transatlantic agenda - "EU-US: A new transatlantic agenda for global change," in an attempt to rebuild a close and open transatlantic partnership. On the other hand, while trying to ease relations with the US, the EU has emphasized the importance of its strategic autonomy. Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stressed in November that "A capable and strategically aware Europe is the best partner for the US - and also what Europe itself needs." This means that Europe needs to strengthen its strategic autonomy, that is, its own capacity to take effective actions and defend its interests. 

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas believes the future of transatlantic relations will also depend on finding the right approach to China. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated economic recession, economic and social inequality and social polarization in Europe. Differences among the EU member states are increasing, so are their policies toward China. 

Under the EU's decision-making mechanisms, the European Commission is responsible for formulating the direction of EU trade policy, while complicated agreements involving investment and intellectual property rights require the approval of EU member states. Therefore, Washington is trying to influence the EU's stance and shape its policies by taking advantage of US influence over some EU countries, as well as their lack of enthusiasm for strategic autonomy. 

Even if countries like Germany and France are actively promoting the signing of the CAI, Washington can still try to exert influence on the EU's policies by dividing its member states. For instance, some Central and Eastern European countries oppose the EU opening the renewable energy sector for Chinese investment. 

The EU countries need to gain a new impetus for unity. The CAI could play such a role. The agreement, if signed, could not only increase the opportunities for European companies to enter the Chinese market and further deepen China-EU cooperation, but also provide a window of opportunity to establish a more symmetrical transatlantic relationship. 

The EU mustn't yield to US pressure or lose its autonomy. It needs to strengthen its own capabilities to establish a more balanced transatlantic relationship. It has to overcome its political vulnerabilities, must pursue strategic autonomy and determine its global priorities accordingly. Otherwise, the US will never take the EU's strategic demands seriously. 

The author is a research fellow with the Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

blog comments powered by Disqus