According to European media reports, many EU residents continue to perceive the governing bodies of the 28-member bloc, including of the European Commission (EC), as being unable to “leave behind the image of a detached bureaucratic system.” This negative perception was further boosted by the recent elections, which left the European Parliament bitterly “split.” The formation of the new makeup of the European Commission was equally tortuous, in large part “due to the mismatch of political views.” The confusion reached its climax after France, Romania and Hungary had their candidates for European commissioners rejected, formally on the grounds of “a conflict of interest and misuse of public funds.” [i] As a result, the new-look European Commission will hardly be able to get down to work before December 1, instead of November 1, as originally planned.
The European Union is facing a mounting wave of problems and challenges, is increasingly divided and unable to solve them. From the outside, China and the United States are ramping up pressure on Europe, which feels the objective need to restore a constructive dialogue with Russia. From within, the basic foundations of European unity continue to be attacked by “populists and supporters of authoritarianism.” Even countries that formally embrace liberal values, including Germany, France, Spain and the Baltic countries, disagree about the future of the European project. Brexit, the collapse of the coalition government in Italy in August, the far-right Alternative for Germany party finishing in third place in parliamentary elections in Germany reflect the underlying desire by some governing parties and many of their voters to change the rules and institutions of the EU. [ii]
Moreover, there is a dividing line separating the European north and south economically, and a humanitarian, environmental and ideological one running between east and west. Coupled with the ever-growing signs of US hostility, all these challenges objectively pose existential questions to the European establishment about the future of the continent. What course will the EU have to take? Will the “narrow limited view” of the Central and East European countries pare down the ideas of the “pan-European house” to just a set of beautiful slogans, and bring real politics down to the level of “tactical pragmatism,” pandering to the voters’ moods? Or maybe the idea of a “Europe of Nations” will prevail, and the EU will be transformed into a Confederation of independent states, united by a common free-trade zone and “several more supranational functions”? And what kind of a role will the EU be able to play in global politics? Will it achieve strategic autonomy as part of the increasingly amorphous “Western” homogeneity, while preserving its civilizational homogeneity? Or will it have to solve the gargantuan task of creating a full-fledged “power center,” interacting with the rest of the world mainly, if not exclusively, on the principles of “Realpolitik”?
This presents a number of more practical questions, which the Europeans are either unable to answer or just don’t want to hear. Who will venture to bear the difficult and controversial burden of EU leadership? After the UK has left the Union, as it is most likely to do, Germany and France can objectively claim the role of leader (rather a collective one though). [iii]
Overall, Berlin and Paris take a shared view of the concept of the EU moving towards greater federalization. This strategy is primarily aimed at preserving the EU single market and could eventually become instrumental in implementing political decisions. For example, the summer election of a candidate for the head of the European Commission demonstrated a break from the decades-old procedure, turning into a sort of backroom bargaining between the Union’s leading members.
Now that Britain is highly likely to leave the EU, this is apparently giving France and Germany a chance to agree on the distribution of their roles as EU leaders. However, the Franco-German “tandem” is getting increasingly divided. Right now, Paris and Berlin are at odds over giving London a new Brexit delay. Besides, France is holding out for a European army as a real fighting force that could be put to use without any consensual decision by all EU members. Germany, for its part, sees it as a more amorphous structure focused on a coordination of efforts. France favors further integration within the Eurozone, while Germany fears the prospect of continuing to bear the brunt of Europe’s financial and economic woes. Berlin may also regard Paris’ recent bid to regain its role as a global power as a desire to gain additional geopolitical leverage within Europe. Germany, in turn, is torn between mounting domestic policy problems and the need to demonstrate a firm response to new external challenges. At the same time, any abrupt moves by Berlin will almost inevitably revive the Europeans’ historical fears of “German instincts.”
The misbalance of geopolitical forces in Europe has for centuries been a primary cause of continental and global conflicts. According to Anglo-Saxon experts, the German superiority over other European states has been a leading destabilizing factor of the past 150 years, and this is something many in Germany conditionally agree with: “Neither the UK nor France is able to exert pressure on Germany when it comes to laying out the course for the EU.” Only the United States has the necessary political and economic leverage to do so. [iv]
This is exactly why many “small” European countries have traditionally sought closest possible geopolitical ties with the United States, even to the detriment of the pan-European agenda [v], and even outside the formal mechanisms of NATO, in a thinly veiled hint about the desirability of “containing” not only Russia but Germany as well. By extension, London was seen by them as another counterweight, not only to Germany but also to France. Is there any EU structure, either current or hypothetical, capable of providing its members with “political protection against each other,” commensurate with the US one? And who will continue to play the role of the “British counterweight”? Besides, the Eastern European states will hardly embrace the real purpose of the EU reform model, advocated by the leading “old” members of the club with an eye to minimizing the Central and East European member states’ ability to play on the contradictions of world powers.
Finally, the idea of delegating new powers to supranational institutions has always stoked heated debates within the EU. During the past 20-25 years, “EU pressure” has been increasingly rejected by many political forces not only in some Central and East European countries, but also in Austria and Italy [vi], which have seen this as an attempt to restrict their sovereignty. [vii] By the way, it was exactly under this pretext that the United Kingdom decided to leave the Union. As a result, the conflict “with the nationalist leaders of Central Europe, led by Poland and Hungary”
, calls into question the very existence of the EU in the foreseeable future.
Even though the “populist” wave had somehow declined by this fall, as forecasts about the European Parliament falling under the “sovereignists”’ control never materialized and the “populists” left the government in Italy and lost some of the electoral base in Austria, Eurosceptics in Poland have only strengthened their position following national elections. Moreover, “nationalists” ended in second place in regional elections held in two eastern German provinces in September, and Sebastian Kurz, the most likely candidate for Austrian chancellor, makes no secret of his desire to limit the European Union’s sway. Here he is certain to enjoy the backing of some of his colleagues in the Central and East European countries, who are equally unhappy about Brussels’ attempts to call all the shots in the Union. Thus, the growing friction within the EU is more than just a “rise in nationalist sentiment.” The EU is still teetering precariously on the brink of actually moving to a “two-speed Europe,” all the more so now that many “nationalists” and “Eurosceptics” are gravitating towards the idea of a “deep internal transformation” of the EU instead of destroying it altogether, which many of their voters were so wary of.
Fully aware of the impending danger, France and Germany have pitched their own EU reform plans to the Europeans. Emmanuel Macron’s triumphant victory over the “nationalists” at home, coupled with Angela Merkel’s announcement that she would stand down before 2021, almost immediately made the new French president the biggest hope of EU reform supporters. In spring 2019, Macron responded to the growing popularity of sovereignty ideas and increased external pressure on the EU by embarking on a course towards a “sovereign Europe.” He is talking about the need for Europe to play a new role and “strengthen” its position in the new balance of power currently emerging in the world. Macron is also talking about the need for the EU to “guarantee its own security.” These are just some of the several dozen different initiatives that the French leader has proposed to the EU in order to move towards “European sovereignty” and deepen democracy and trust. [ix] Critics fear, however, that Macron’s geopolitical ambitions could further deepen the internal divisions within the European Union.
In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas backed the idea of creating, in the wake of the British departure from the EU, a “quintet” of leading nations that would include Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland. According to Maas, these five nations could be “directly involved in the administration of the European Union.” [x] While admitting the objective difficulties on the way of creating such a group, Maas still expressed confidence that the differences in the political priorities of the current leaders of Italy and Poland should not be allowed to prevent the delegation to these countries of greater responsibility for the future of Europe.
According to The Economist, in addition to Germany, France and Spain, the EU’s “top five” could also include the Netherlands and Austria. Along with Italy and Greece, Spain has good ties with the Franco-German “tandem.” The Netherlands, while maintaining a constructive relationship with Paris and Berlin, has simultaneously strengthened its position in the EU by spearheading an informal coalition against continued fiscal centralization within the Union, so actively advocated by Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. This has brought The Hague closer to the Scandinavian and Baltic countries. Finally, Austria has in recent years been a key participant in the debate on migration, and has proved itself as a successful moderator of discussions on issues dividing the EU’s liberal west and conservative east. This past spring, the three countries, the “political heritage of the Habsburgs” of sorts, put together a broad coalition within the EU to outline the bloc’s environmental strategy until 2050, and even managed to bring an initially skeptical Germany over to their side.
It is believed that when fully implemented, the course towards the creation of a European army could be also conducive to greater integration and the streamlining of roles within the EU. In early 2019, Paris and Berlin signed the Aachen Agreement, which, among other things, significantly expands the sphere of their military-strategic cooperation. By bringing Italy on board, the three leading EU powers could provide Europe with basic weapons as well. “The Germans build tanks, the French build planes and the Italians build ships.” And still, a political decision remains far from being taken.” [xi] Some analysts believe that the election of a German candidate to the head of the European Commission could give an additional boost to the idea of giving Europe at least a certain degree of autonomy within NATO. However, during her stint as German defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen always welcomed bigger US military presence in Europe.
The strategy of a new expansion has until very recently been another working option for the EU to “regain self-confidence.” In February 2018, Brussels announced a plan for at least some of the six West Balkan states to join the bloc before 2025. According to Brussels, the admission of new members should convince the rest of the need to waive privileges for individual countries, while delegating more powers to the “center.” The idea is to have majority decisions, instead of consensual ones, develop mechanisms for monitoring compliance by member countries and punishing offenders. The ultimate goal is to have “supranational institutions that will gradually take away key functions from the less competent national governments.” [xii] However, during the last EU summit, France, the Netherlands and Denmark opposed the start of accession talks with Albania and Northern Macedonia. Is this a sign of the growing influence by Paris, The Hague and Copenhagen, or maybe this obstructionism reflects their inability to convince the others?
Overall, Brussels still lacks the power and leadership to make sure that a united Europe can actually play a more significant role in global affairs. The Franco-German “tandem” is full of contradictions and compromises, European policy is getting increasingly fractional and fragmented, and the addition of many new members has made the EU less manageable. Moreover, reaching a consensus vital for implementing a concerted policy is getting harder too. The time of “solid” and even temporary alliances within the EU is running out, as coalitions are becoming increasingly situational, threatening to paralyze the Union’s political institutions. The unexpected delay in approving the European Commission’s new lineup showed that the centralization of Europe is fraught with the return of political squabbling and a clash of ideas. Moreover, an increasingly independent European Parliament does not sit well with many national leaders. Thus, the need to overcome existing structural constraints and new challenges, if possible at all, is now a major priority for Brussels. Ultimately, it is up to the EU member states to decide to what extent each of them is willing to make their future dependent on the interests of all other Europeans.
From our partner International Affairs
New offensive on Republika Srpska is coming
If there is a country in Europe that is in constant crisis, it is Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is precisely why most analysts call Bosnia and Herzegovina an impossible state. It is important to note that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a complex country made up of two parts: the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (where the absolute majority are Bosniaks and Croats).
Recently, two US Air Force “B-1B” bombers made a low flight over Bosnia and Herzegovina, flying over several cities. After the overflight of American bombers, the US embassy in Sarajevo announced that bomber overflight is a sign of the US’s permanent commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and multi-ethnic character of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
– We are celebrating the lasting bond between the USA and BiH. The flight demonstrates our commitment to building strong bilateral relations and is proof of our common values and goals. Through cooperation and understanding, we are building a path to a future of peace, security and prosperity in the region – announced General James Hecker, member of the US Air Force and commander of American air bases in Europe, air forces in Africa and the NATO Joint Air Command.
The B-1B aircraft is a long-range heavy bomber that can carry the largest conventional load of guided and unguided missiles of any aircraft in aviation.
It is stated that these aircraft are able to quickly drop huge amounts of precision and non-precision weapons against any enemy, anywhere in the world, at any time.
However, no sovereign authority in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Presidency and the Council of Ministers – has made a decision on the overflight of American bombers over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Specifically, it was done without the consent of the legitimate representatives of the Serbs in the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With this act, official Washington violated the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The question arises, why are US bombers now flying over Bosnia and Herzegovina and who are they sending a message to? But the answer to that question is simple. The only ones who were bombed by American bombers in the Balkans were the Serbs. Also, only the Serbs protested against the overflight of the American bombers, because they have bitter memories of the American weapons that were used to kill Serbian soldiers and civilians in the Balkans in the 1990s.
Also, due to frequent crises in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the political leader of the Serbs in that country, Milorad Dodik, often talks about a referendum for the independence of the Republika Srpska. And while no one disputes this right with Scotland, as well to other countries in Europe in the past years(like Montenegro), Republika Srpska is threatened with war. Not only from Bosnian radical politicians, but also from American diplomats. To make matters worse, at the same time official Washington created and recognized an independent Kosovo through war. Even today, the main protector and financier of independent Kosovo is US.
It is the hypocrisy of official Washington towards Kosovo that creates additional anger in Republika Srpska. Because, we must not forget, Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina experienced the Holocaust at the hands of Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) during the Second World War. Precisely the genocide that the Serbs experienced in the Second World War is the reason why the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the breakup of Yugoslavia clearly said that they do not want an independent Bosnia in which those who mercilessly killed them during the Second World War will have the main say. But that they want to live with their mother country Serbia.
The Serbs from Bosnia expected that, just as the Jews got their own state, they too would have the opportunity to decide where they would live. Unfortunately, part of the international community had other plans. The artificial state of Bosnia and Herzegovina was forcibly created, and since the Croats do not want Bosnia in addition to the Serbs, a de facto colonial administration was appointed in Bosnia. It is reflected in the character of the Office of the High Representative. Namely, in the nineties, when US was the only superpower in the world, Washington lobbied to introduce the position of High Representative in Bosnia. He was given dictatorial powers, so the democratic will of the people in Bosnia is valid only if the High Representative agrees with it. Plus, the High Representative could remove politicians, fire them from their jobs, in short, make life hell for anyone who opposes him. Due to all of the above, and bearing in mind that the position of the High Representative was expected to last for a short time, rebellions by local Serbs and Croats, as well as part of the international community, soon occurred. Many respected Western organizations that deal with the protection of human rights have been pointing out for years that the office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina must be abolished, because it contradicts democracy and has the characteristics of a dictatorship.
However, the current High Representative, Christian Schmidt was illegitimately elected to that position because he was not appointed to that position by the United Nations Security Council. That is why the Republika Srpska has clearly said that it does not recognize Mr. Christian Schmidt as the High Representative. However, US diplomats in Bosnia don’t accept that decision of Republika Srpska, which is why a new crisis is being created in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Since the Republika Srpska, in accordance with international law, refuses to implement the undemocratic decisions of the High Representative, part of the international community led by Washington plans to implement a new law that obliges everyone to comply with the decisions of the High Representative. And that is exactly why the American bombers flew over Bosnia and Herzegovina, to send a message to the Republika Srpska that it must listen, otherwise they can be punished as they were in the 1990s.
Another big problem is the issue of state property in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Namely, according to the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war and created today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, all property belongs to the entities, except for property that is decisively stated to be state property.
Even if international law is on the side of Republika Srpska, on this issue as well, the US ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina, contrary to diplomatic practice, announced his position in the form of an order.
Speaking about the claims from the Republika Srpska that there is no state property and that it belongs to the entities, Murphy stated that this is completely wrong.
– It is a legal fiction. No matter how many times the Republika Srpska authorities claim the opposite, it does not change the fundamental facts, said Murphy and added that the issue of property is resolved at the state level and that the state must say what property it needs, such as prospective military property.
– If there is property that is not needed, you do not have to keep it and the state can transfer it to another owner: municipality, canton, and even entity.
The question arises, where does a foreign ambassador have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and to determine what has been resolved and what has not?! However, all of the above indicates that a new serious offensive is heading towards Republika Srpska.
Political neutralization of Milorad Dodik
Republika Srpska, bearing in mind that international law is on its side (Dayton Peace Agreement), must not accept to have her property taken away, under no circumstances. Also, the Office of the High Representative is a relic of the past and is not in accordance with international law, so Republika Srpska is doing the right thing by not recognizing the newly appointed High Representative. This policy of the President of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, has shown that even small entities/states, if they have strong leaders like Mr. Dodik, can lead an independent and beneficial policy for their people.
However, precisely because of the patriotic policy of Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, part of the international community is trying to remove him from power. First of all through accusations of corruption and on top of that with colored revolutions. Despite speculation that NATO soldiers could arrest Mr. Dodik, this is not realistic. But what is realistic is that the State Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina issues an arrest warrant and that NATO special units assist in the execution of that act.
There is already intelligence that such plans are being prepared. Due to all of the above, the President of Republika Srpska and the Government of Republika Srpska must approach this issue seriously. First of all, through increasing the number of members of the special police units of the Republika Srpska in Banja Luka and through the mobilization of the people of the Republika Srpska. It is necessary to make it clear to part of the international community that if the political persecution and arrest of Milorad Dodik were to take place, the people of the Republika Srpska would rise to the defense of their democratically elected president through mass protests and demands for the independence of the Republika Srpska. Only these two factors can stop the political neutralization plan for Milorad Dodik, which is already formulated in Sarajevo.
Sweden’s NATO Predicament and the Nations whose Destinies Connected
Exploring the Historical Bonds of Sweden, Poland, and Turkey
The Swedish monarch, Charles XII, exuded pride and arrogance as he led his formidable army towards Moscow, still in his twenties. He believed his forces to be invincible, drawing comparisons between himself and his soldiers to the legendary Leonidas and his valiant 300 Spartans. Several factors contributed to the young king’s unwavering confidence on the path to Moscow.
A mere few years prior, in 1700, a powerful coalition comprising Denmark-Norway, Saxony-Poland-Lithuania, and Russia had launched a coordinated assault on the Swedish protectorate of Holstein-Gottorp, as well as the provinces of Livonia and Ingria. Undeterred by the overwhelming presence of enemy armies, Charles XII triumphed in successive sieges, vanquishing his adversaries one by one. Following the Battle of Narva, even the formidable Tsar Peter the Great of Russia sought terms of agreement, but Charles XII disregarded these pleas. By the time they arrived at the gates of Moscow, the Swedish army had emerged victorious against foes two or even three times their own size, bolstering the commander’s sense of invincibility, akin to the great conquerors of the past like Leonidas or Alexander the Great. However, the seemingly indomitable Charles XII committed the same error as dreamy conquerors such as Napoleon and Hitler before him: underestimating the challenges posed by the vast Russian steppes. The army of Charles XII suffered a devastating defeat, compelling the young monarch to seek refuge in Ottoman territories, accompanied by a mere thousand men.
The Swedish king and his men remained guests in the Ottoman Empire, which is today Ukrainian territory, for more than 5 years. The Ottomans treated Charles like a king and cherished him, and he and his Polish and Ukrainian entourage were generously borne. Turkish Sultan Ahmed III was aware of the importance of Sweden for Ottoman security. The King, who could not return to his country, hoped to defeat Russia through an alliance with Poland and Ottoman Turks. The presence of the Swedish King in the Ottoman Empire also strained Turkish-Russian relations and eventually brought them to the brink of war. The most important reason for the Ottoman-Russian Prut War (1710-11) was the Turks’ refusal to surrender Charles XII to the Russians.
Nations whose Destinies Connected
If one were to ask residents of Istanbul about the location of Sweden or Poland today, they might draw a blank. In the minds of modern Turks, these countries no longer hold strong alliances or close ties. Similar sentiments can be found on the streets of Stockholm or Warsaw. Relations between Turkey, Sweden, and Poland have weakened and even become uncertain since the days of the Ottoman Empire. However, during the Ottoman era, particularly in the 16th-18th centuries, the sultans in Istanbul viewed Sweden and Poland as crucial counterbalances against Russia in Eastern Europe, and they prioritized these relationships.
For the Ottomans, it was advantageous that Russia was engaged in a conflict with Sweden in the north, as it alleviated pressure on the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman wars with Russia also presented an opportunity for the Swedish Kingdom to launch attacks against Russia. In line with Ottoman foreign policy, the corridor spanning from the Ottoman Empire to the Baltic Sea, encompassing Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states, and the Kingdom of Sweden, was considered a unified entity and treated as such. Presently, the prevailing method of interpreting maps primarily revolves around an east-west orientation, neglecting the various other facets of geography. Restricting the analysis of Russia’s perception of Eastern Europe solely to the East-West dimension would be highly deceptive. When examining the map from the vantage points of influential decision makers or political scientists situated in Istanbul or Stockholm, it is crucial for them to perceive a comprehensive geographical corridor extending harmoniously from Sweden to Anatolia. This broader perspective is essential in formulating appropriate policies aligned with the geographical realities at hand. While it can be acknowledged that Ottoman efforts were insufficient, their approach to map interpretation holds validity, and a comparable perspective remains relevant in contemporary times.
Growing Russia Shrinking Nations
The Russian threat necessitated cooperation and coordination among Sweden, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire. Since the time of Peter the Great, Russia’s objective had been to expand its reach to the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, which inevitably led to westward and southward offensives by Russian armies. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine draws its origins from these historical objectives as well: Russia seeks to establish a lasting and greater presence in the Black Sea region and gain access to war seas.
Over the centuries, Moscow (Russia), a relatively insignificant principality in the 15th century, rapidly expanded at the expense of three states: the Ottomans, the Kingdom of Sweden, and Poland. As Russia grew stronger, these three states gradually declined. By the end of the 18th century, Poland lost its independence and disintegrated, while the Swedish Empire diminished to the status of an ordinary state. Although the Ottoman Empire persisted until the 20th century, numerous Russian attacks eventually contributed to its collapse.
History, known for its repetition, serves as the best teacher of world politics. Hence, learning from the past is a paramount virtue for adept statesmen. Following the Ukrainian War, “old history” resurfaced in Eastern Europe, prompting regional states to seek reliable havens in anticipation of a potential Russian assault. Even Finland and Sweden, traditionally regarded as the world’s most pacifist states, found themselves lining up for NATO membership during the Cold War years. Countries under the NATO security umbrella, such as Poland and Turkey, experienced some degree of reassurance.
NATO members, particularly the United States, warmly embraced the applications of Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. However, Ankara surprisingly vetoed both applications, citing national interest. The Turkish government argued that these two states harbored anti-Turkey sentiments and terrorist groups within their borders. At least, these were the explicit reasons given. Finland managed to persuade Turkey within a year and became the fastest member state after applying to NATO. However, Turkey’s veto on Sweden’s membership still remains in effect. Sweden even made constitutional amendments in an effort to sway Turkey. While Sweden’s desire to join NATO can be understood from various perspectives, Turkey’s expectations from Sweden, as well as the key NATO member, the United States, appear more intricate.
The timing of Sweden’s accession as the 32nd NATO member remains uncertain, but statesmen should draw lessons from history. The realities faced by Poland, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire still hold relevance in today’s international relations. Setting aside current crises, the relationships between Poland, Sweden, and Turkey fall short of their potential. These countries must strive for closer and more coordinated cooperation to maintain peace and stability in Eastern Europe while safeguarding their vital and existential interests. Furthermore, this cooperation should not solely be based on hostility towards any specific state, but rather on deterring hostilities altogether. (*)
(*) For Turkish-Polish relations also see: Laçiner, Sedat, et al., Turkish-Polish Relations: Past, Present and Future, (Ankara: ÇOMÜ Press, 2015).
Sino-European Relations Souring as Russia-Ukrainian War Intensifies
Since the establishment of Sino–European relations in 1975, there have been significant changes toward building a China-driven agenda in the past 15 months. These changes are intrinsically related to China’s rise, which diverted the EU-American international protagonism.
While there is no common ground among EU members on how to counterbalance the dependence on trading with the second-largest economy in the world, the G7 Summit imparted to the collective endeavors of the largest economies to ‘de-risk’ from China. The EUA, Canada, the UK, and Japan have joined the club.
The Russo-Ukrainian War Context
In March 2019, the European Union adopted a two-folded stance on its relationship with China, defining it as competition cooperation. This dualism underlines the need to understand how to play politics the Chinese way. Since then, the EU has sought to adopt a more assertive tactic, and the ‘systemic rival’ approach has thus prevailed. Besides, the recent Russia-Ukrainian war has contributed much to this decision. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently stated, “How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward.”
China’s close ties with Russia have been around for a while. Their connections in the global arena intensified to counterbalance the American world leadership. Sino-Russian relations were built through symmetric ideological concepts, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is still rooted in the Marxism-Lenist ideology.
China’s foreign affairs are based on non-interventionism principles, but its alignment with Putin has been questioned instead as support to the current war that possibly includes military intelligence and economic aid to Russia. China’s abstention from voting on the resolution that condemned Russia’s latest actions in Ukraine in October 2002 and the recent visit of Xi Jinping to Moscow days after the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin contributed to the EU to build the narrative that China does support Russia’s point of view and justifications to the war.
The EU strongly condemned Xi’s trip, voicing worries about China’s role in the war and power balance in its relations with Russia, which now favors China. In late March, Von der Leyen delivered a speech on EU-China relations to the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the European Policy Centre, stating, “President Xi is maintaining his ‘no-limits friendship’ with Putin.”
As Xi voiced “peace talks” and “responsible dialogue” over the war, a joint statement with his Russian counterpart raised the flag of a possible siding with Russia. The joint statement contained criticisms of sanctions and the contributions of NATO in expanding the conflict.
China’s possible role in a peaceful negotiation is unlike the one adopted to break a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which ended decades of elusive diplomatic relations. The reason is simple: its close ties with Russia.
The Economic Context
In the G7 summit in Hiroshima last week, the largest global economies voiced ‘de-risking’ China against possible economic coercion in various areas involving trade, technologies and intellectual property, and supply chain.
Apart from the Sino-American trade war and the reliance on trading in China – the EU recorded a trade deficit of more than 365 billion euros with China in 2022 – at least two other concerns have debuted on the discussion agenda: the country’s rare earth metals control and responsibility in cyberspace.
To counterbalance China’s new status quo on the global stage, the G7 announced the launch of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment. The total of $600 billion in financing for quality infrastructure is a clear threat to the Belt and Road initiative, but it is unlike that it will pose any danger to China-led investment activities.
The Taiwan Context
The expansion of Chinese influence in the South China Sea has also become a prominent topic at the G7 summit. The G7 Foreign Ministers released a joint statement against China’s latest military activities near Taiwan, condemning economic coercion and urging peaceful talks.
Taiwan is perhaps China’s most irrevocable negotiation topic in foreign relations as the “One China” policy emphasizes the recognition of the island as an integral part of its territory instead of a separate sovereign state. This policy is the central pillar of bilateral diplomatic relations with China.
The complex dynamics shaping countries’ perceptions and interactions with China have shifted Europe’s future standpoint, leaning towards a more assertive approach. As Europe redefines its relationship with China, the balance between reciprocity and market access, and strategic cooperation in climate change will shape the continent’s strategy moving forward. In any event, Europe’s future relations on China promises to be more stick, less carrot.
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