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Who will lead the EU?

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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”

[viii]

, 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

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Political will is needed to foster multilateralism in Europe

Guido Lanfranchi

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Dr. Fischler addressing the conference

On July 1st 2020, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered in Vienna, Austria, for the conference “From Victory Day to Corona Disarray: 75 Years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System”. The conference, jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe in the wake of its old and new challenges.

The conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from Canada to Australia, and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online – from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”.

The event itself was probably the largest physical gathering past the early spring lock down to this very day in this part of Europe. No wonder that it marked a launch of the political rethink and recalibration named – Vienna Process.

Among the speakers for the conference’s third panel – which focused on universal and pan-European multilateralism – there was Dr. Franz Fischler, a well-known figure due to his previous postings as Austria’s Federal Minister for Agriculture and Forestry (1989-1994) and as European Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries (1995-2004), besides being currently President of the famous European ForumAlpbach.

Dr. Fischler started his keynote speech by highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to fundamentally change Europe – and even the whole world. In doing so, he referred to the paradoxes outlined by Bulgarian intellectual Ivan Krastev in the wake of the pandemic. Contrasting pushes towards re-nationalization and globalization, the partial interruption of democracy but the decreasing appetite for authoritarian government, the mixed response of the European Union to the crisis – in short, a series of conflicting trends are making the future of Europe, as well as that of the whole world, very much uncertain.

It was against this backdrop that Dr. Fischler addressed the central question of the panel: What is fundamentally going to happen in Europe in the times ahead? The former EU Commissioner clarified from the very beginning that those who wish a further deepening of the current multilateral system should not be blinded by excessive optimism. An alternative to the current system does exist – clearly symbolized by the combination of nationalism and populism that we can see in many countries, but also by the problems faced by multilateralism in many fields, most notably trade.

This trend is evident in the case of the European Union too – Dr. Fischler warned. He highlighted that policy tools aimed at stimulating convergence across European countries, such as for instance the EU’s cohesion policies, are becoming increasingly weak, and inequality within the EU is currently on the rise. As a result, traditional goals such as the “ever closer Europe” and the “United States of Europe” do not even seem to be on the agenda anymore.

What can then be done to deepen the EU’s integration process and strengthen Europe’s multilateral system? Towards the end of his speech, Dr. Fischler outlined a few entry points for reform and further cooperation. His suggestions revolved around increasing cooperation on a number of specific issues, ranging from high-tech research to the development of a common European passport. He also proposed that European countries should strengthen their common diplomatic initiatives, including by speaking with a single voice in international institutions, as well as increasing the EU’s soft power. On top of that, deeper institutional and political modifications might be needed for the EU, Dr. Fischler hinted – citing as examples the relaxation of the unanimity voting procedure on some foreign policy issues, as well as an intensification of the EU’s enlargement process.

Closing his highly absorbing speech, Dr. Fischler – champion of multilateralism, and guru of the current EU CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) made clear which ingredient is, in his opinion, the cornerstone for reviving multilateralism in Europe: “All I would like to say is that there are possibilities out there. The question is, as always in these times: is there enough political will?”

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China “seems” to be moving closer to the Holy See

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The two-year provisional agreement which was signed on September 22, 2018 between the holy see and China for the appointment of bishops in China, with the pope having veto power over such appointments, is likely to be renewed by mutual consensus before the accord nears its expiry later this month.

The agreement was initially seen as a clincher for both China and Vatican, especially after diplomatic ties were completely severed in 1951. However, many observers and experts have claimed that, the agreement does more harm than good to the credibility and popularity of the monolithic Catholic institute. Besides the main propaganda campaign of the Chinese to retain unabridged control over bishop nominations, their ultimate goal is to get Vatican to discredit the government in Taiwan to assert its One-China policy. Although, the Vatican has agreed to support China on its One-China policy, it should still be weary and apprehensive of the Chinese politics.

How is Taiwan central to this agreement

Taiwan, a small island in East Asia, which China claims as part of its own territory, considers Vatican as its last partner in Europe. This puts Vatican in a critical situation while China is struggling to maintain cordial relations with the West.

According to Francesco Sisci, a senior researcher at the Remnim University in Beijing, China wants to be seen as an ally of the Pope because it realizes the soft superpower that the Catholic church yields over millions of followers within China and abroad. He says, When the pope speaks, everyone listens.

A logical conclusion thus one can derive from it, is that the Vatican’s endorsement of the One-China policy by discounting Taiwan’s authority to maintain independent diplomatic ties, will generate currency in China’s favour.

Two-years of signing the provisional agreement. What it means for China’s Catholics?

In a bid to renew the agreement, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson stated last week that the interim accord has been implemented successfully. However, the ground scenario provides a different factual story. Even after the deal was signed in 2018, there were several reports of harassment and detention of the underground Catholics and Clergy in China. Many Churches have been shut down, crosses and other religious symbols have disappeared from public spaces. These events have taken place even after the Vatican tabled such concerns during negotiation with China.

This is the direct result of the “Sinicization” policy of the Xi administration, that calls for showcasing loyalty to the state and the Communist Party during religious processions and practice. As per this restrictive policy, people below 18 years of age are strictly barred from entering places of worship and publication of any religious material is only allowed following a close scrutiny.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, retired cardinal of Honk Kong had expressed wide concerns for this accord. He had described the Vatican’s overtures with China as selling out of the Catholic Church in China. Zen knows that the agreement is largely going to benefit the Chinese authorities and the Communist Party in asserting its policies and international agendas.

It is also essential to highlight that the exact details and terms of the agreement are kept secret between the two parties. This may mean that if any violations of the agreement that may have taken place in the two years it was in place, it would become difficult to prove it in a court of law, owing to the confidentiality. This almost gives China full immunity over its inability to fulfill its obligation under the agreement. Vatican must therefore be cautious about China’s commitment towards the agreement and must device alternate ways to shelter and safeguard its priests and followers in China.

The EU-China angle

2020 was supposed to be the year for refinement of EU-China relations. The pandemic has however forced cancellations of governmental meetings, bilateral programs, and other scheduled events. And on the contrary, it has deepen the cracks between certain EU countries and China because of China’s propaganda campaign and geopolitical policies.

Last year saw a hard stance being adopted by EU legislators and policymakers, which was reflected in the policy paper released by the Federation of German Industries. The paper had described China as a “systemic competitor” and highlighted grave concerns over its international economic practices. The same line of charge was showcased in European Commission’s strategic reflection paper, where it referred to China as a negotiating partner with a need for finding a balance of interests and a systemic rival promoting alternative model of governance.

This position is attributed to China’s unfair and biased foreign policy that limited European companies from major EU countries to venture into the Chinese market. At the same time, China was employing economic tactics to woo smaller European countries to promote investments and improve trade relations with itself. The effect of this has been that many economically weaker countries have started looking towards China for monetary aid and trade related matters rather than cooperating with their fellow EU members. This has led to some kind of frustration and discordance amongst the EU nations.

The tensions might have heightened due to China’s diplomatic missteps, from its infamous wolf warrior diplomacy to its amoralistic mask diplomacy during the Covid outbreak. This will however not completely change the course in the relation between EU-China because there is too much at stake for both sides to risk everything. These instances must however caution Vatican about its handshake with China because, although it may have soft superpower but there’s nothing stopping China from pulling off an economical stunt.

A closer perspective

Taking the EU-China experience and the Sinicization policy collectively into consideration, it will be safe to assume for the Pope and his council of minister to rethink and weigh the merits and demerits of its diplomatic ties with China with utmost seriousness. Even if China promises more stability and monetary benefits in the short run, the Vatican must not forget that the deal indeed puts at risk, the values and principles that it has preached over the decades, to its people and followers globally, the repercussions of which may be beyond repair.

It needs to consider the plight of its brothers and sisters who have unlawfully been punished and detained in China and must push for more humane laws and remedies for them.This can be done by carefully executing a three-level approach. Firstly, the Vatican must put in place a strict mechanism to scrutinize and verify the inflow of investments so as to limit the interference of Chinese money in its decision making. This is similar to the foreign policy introduced by EU last year. Secondly, the Vatican must try to accommodate and align its interests with its European allies so as to strengthen the unity and solidarity in the region. It will also help them to collectively stand up against China if China tries to play hard ball against them, in terms of trade policy or indulges in any human rights violations for that matter. Lastly, the Vatican must push for transparency and openness with respect to the terms of the agreement that it has signed with China. This will allow the Holy See to rightfully claim any damage or remedy if any wrongful act or omission is committed by the Chinese side.

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EU acting a “civilian power”: Where & How

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Authors: Yang Haoyuan, ZengXixi & Hu Yongheng*

In 1946 when Winston Churchill addressed in Zurich, Switzerland, he called on urgent union of Europe, but not many people took his remarks seriously if not suspicious at all.This was because that economic recovery and social stability of the day were more urgent to the people across Europe. Since then in one decade, Europe has not only witnessed a rapid and robust social-economic reconstruction, but also an increasing integration of sovereign states coming of the age. It is true that throughout this process of the European integration, the United States has played a sort of patron role—at first as a passionate advocate publicly and then a powerful supporter through the Marshal Plan and finally a lead ally of the NATO.

In1963, the United States endorsed a fully cohesive Europe which, whether it functions as a grouping of nation-states or as the European Union, has shared America’s burden in terms of the Atlantic collective security. Yet, this strategic tie is not unconditional, for example, the EU support to the Washington’s policy decision depends upon only if its objectives parallel with America’s own and if it deems that without its contribution the common purposes will not be achieved. The diversions in policy between the two sides of the Atlantic are essentially more philosophical than technical. As a result, American unilateralism which usually comes out of Washington has been challenged by the EU involving three key structural issues: the EU’s self-image; the impact of the EU policy; and the U.S. attitudes toward the different options for European integration. As Henry Kissinger argued, in defining the role of Europe in the future world, the EU depends upon more their historical experiences than abstract concept of universal goodwill as a facilitator of diplomacy, or put it simply that “persuasiveness in negotiations relies primarily on the options the negotiator has available or is perceived to have at his or her disposal.”

 Since the beginning of the new century, the EU has become close to an equal to the United States economically, technologically and socially. In terms of soft power, European cultures have long had a wide appeal in the rest of the world, and the sense of a Europe uniting around Brussels has had a strong attraction to East Europe and Turkey as well. Samuel Huntington put it in the 1990s that a cohesive Europe would have the human resources, economic strength, technology, and actual and potential military forces to be the preeminent power of the 21st century. Although the EU has effectively constrained American unilateralism, it is out of the question that the U.S. and the EU would move on the road towards political conflict. Due to this, the EU has vowed to play a new role in the world affairs that might be termed as the “civilian power”.

According to scholar Helene Sjursen, civilian power is defined as playing a primary role in the international system but differing from the traditional great power which has pursued power politics by military means. The EU prefers acting a civilian power since it has committed to economic cooperation and social justice in the age of globalization. Accordingly, the acquisition of military means, or the EU’s ambition to acquire such means, might weaken at least the argument that the EU is a civilian power and could provoke a shift towards a policy more akin to traditional great powers. Despite this, this article opines that the EU has acted a civilian power in the world affairs. For sure, this is not an easy mission to achieve in view of the complexities of the world affairs.

On September 16 of 2020, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addressed her first annual State of the Union, painting a sober picture of Europe grappling with a pandemic and its deepest recession in its history and calling for EU members to build a stronger health union amid COVID-19. She laid out ambitious goals to make the 27-nation bloc more resilient and united to confront future crises. In order to demonstrate the EU’s resolve and sincerity, she doubled down on the flagship goals sheset out on taking office in 2019: urgent action to tackle climate change and a digital revolution. In addition, von der Leyen unveiled a plan to cut the EU greenhouse gas emissions substantially and vowed to use green bonds to finance its climate goals. She also called for greater investment in technology for Europe to compete more keenly with China and the United States and said the EU would invest 20 percent of a 750 billion euro economic recovery fund in digital projects. Meanwhile, she said that the coronavirus pandemic had underlined the need for closer cooperation since “the people of Europe are still suffering.” It is noted that the competition mentioned involves only the unconventional rather than conventional security issues.

As a matter of fact, solidarity among the 27 member states performed badly at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they refused to share the protective medical kits with the worst-affected and closed borders without consultation to prevent the spread of the virus. Also the EU leaders jousted for months over a joint plan to rescue their coronavirus-throttled economies. Yet, since last July,27 member states agreed on a stimulus plan that paved the way for the European Commission to raise billions of euros on capital markets on behalf of them all, an unprecedented act of solidarity in almost seven decades of European integration. Addressing the EU Parliament, von der Leyen pledged her commission would try to reinforce the European Medicines Agency and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, promising a biomedical research agency and a global summit. In effect, the EU has all the means and resources at its capacity.

Yet, externally the EU has to deal with the troubled talks with the United Kingdom on the future links after the Brexit divorce is done. All the deals and pacts between the two sides could not be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied. Von der Leyen reiterated that “This is a matter of law, trust and good faith… Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”The EU leaders also have the same attitude towards the United States and Russia since Europe is located between the two giants in all terms. Yet, the U.S. under the Trump’s administration has provided the EU with diplomatic rows. In a long run, the EU remains hopeful of improving relations and believes common ground can still be found, despite their current differences. As she reiterated “We must revitalize our most important relationships – we may not agree with the White House, but we must cooperate and build a new transatlantic agenda on trade and other matters.” Regarding the great challenge from Russia, she reiterated her condemnation of Russia over Navalny – though the Russian government has strongly denied any involvement – and said that the EU is on the side of the people of Belarus. They must be free to decide their own future and they are not pieces on someone else’s chessboard. However, the EU leaders seem to forget that the “color revolutions” have caused the disasters across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Under such circumstances, the EU has to deal with China strategically and smartly, which during the first seven months of 2020becomes the top trading partner of the EU, a position previously held by the United States, followed by Britain, Switzerland, and Russia on EU’s main trading partner list in the first seven months. As France has suggested that the EU and China, as the defenders of multilateralism in international order, should set the tone for multilateralism and lead the international society to cement cooperation in areas such as vaccine research and climate change. Yet, it was arguable that von derLeyen defined China a “competitor and a rival” although she previously admitted that the latest video summit between China and the EU was “frank and open”. In fact, she said that progress had been made on a host of key areas and hailed the potential of a fruitful future trading partnership with China although there was still much work to be done. Understandably, as one of the key leading figures of the EU, von der Leyen used her speech to again address the challenges both sides face in working together in the years ahead in spite of their conflicting political ideologies. But this is what she said, “The latest EU-China summit highlights one of the hardest challenges. China is a competitor and rival. We promote very different systems.”

In sum, the EU has several challenges ahead to deal with. First, it must update its long-term climate change goals to meet the targets laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement signed before. Second, the EU must manage the numbers of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe from Asia and Africa. As von der Leyen said that it is of vital importance that the EU’s member states work together to share the burden of taking in migrants and refugees and providing them with the tools for a brighter future. Third, since EU member states have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has much to be done and in its response to the pandemic and continued efforts to cooperate with other nations to find a vaccine. As she called,the EU stepp ed up to lead the global response. With civil society, G20 and the World Health Organization and others the EUhas brought more than 40 countries together to raise $19 billion to finance research on vaccines, tests and treatments for the whole world. This is the EU’s unmatched convening power in action.

Meanwhile, the EU leaders have openly called on China to do more to aid the world’s collective fight against all the challenges mentioned above. As von de Leyen said recently, China has shown willingness to dialogue on climate change and fight against pandemic. She also warned of the dangers of countries not working together on vaccine research, with the U.S. recently announcing its plans to withdraw from the WHO. Both China and the EU share the common ground that vaccine nationalism puts lives at risk, only vaccine cooperation saves lives. We endorse a strong WHO and a strong WTO – but reform of the multilateral system has never been more urgent.

In view of this, it is fair to say that the EU wants to lead reforms of the WHO and WTO. But it is possible only if it works together with other responsible powers including China.

*Yang Hao Yuan from the School of Governance, Technical University of Munich; Zeng Xixi & Hu Yong Heng from SIPA, Jilin University

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