Ads Top

Sieren's China: EU-China relationship to test Angela Merkel

EU member states have long struggled to take a common line on China. Merkel will have a challenge in store when Germany takes up the presidency of the Council of the European Union in summer, DW's Frank Sieren writes.

Even without the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 would have been an important year in EU-China relations. In summer, Germany — the bloc's No. 1 economic and exporting power — will take over the presidency of the Council of the European Union, with Chancellor Angela Merkel at the helm in her last year in office. No other EU leader enjoys as much respect in China as she does.
Merkel has hoped to be able to coax the European Union into adopting a common approach, one that considers China both a partner and a competitor and in which problems are addressed in a cooperative spirit. She has wanted to distance herself from the China-bashing of the United States and promote the European Union's interests more adroitly.

 Now, the EU-China summit in the eastern German city of Leipzig, which Chinese President Xi Jinping had planned to attend, will take place via video. And finding a joint course in this heated atmosphere is more difficult than ever. It was hard even before the coronavirus pandemic, particularly since Italy defied the European Union last year to become the first G7 country to join China's Belt and Road Initiative. Perhaps because of this, China has particularly helped Italy during the coronavirus pandemic.

DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years

Read more: Germany to overhaul foreign aid policy
The situation is similar in Hungary and the Czech Republic. "China was the only country that helped us," Czech President Milos Zeman said recently. And, in the midst of the crisis, Hungary received a loan of more than $1.8 million (€1.7 million) from China to build a new railway line from Budapest to Belgrade, the capital of neighboring Serbia — a project that had stagnated for years.

Read more: After coronavirus, Beijing won't be economic savior, Sieren writes

Officials from Serbia and other candidate countries for EU accession have also expressed disappointment with the bloc. "There is no such thing as European solidarity," said Serbia's president, Aleksandar Vucic. "China is the only one that can help us." And this comes at a time when EU officials want to work much more closely with candidate countries such as Serbia, even though it has not dangled the prospect that they might join the bloc anytime soon. The EU stands "shoulder to shoulder" with its partners in the western Balkans, European Council President Charles Michel said after the bloc had promised €3.3 billion ($3.6 billion) in support. But are such statements enough?

The fact that China is largely over its coronavirus crisis and is recovering economically while the European Union is still stuck in the midst of the pandemic does not help. It is probable that even more members will accept help from China because the European Union simply cannot manage on its own. China's takeover of Greece's port of Piraeus — now one of the most important pillars of the Belt and Road Initiative — was, after all, a direct result of the financial crisis of 2008-09. The European Union had compelled Greece's government to privatize national assets, but no EU company showed interest in taking over the harbor. Then came China. Investments in EU countries from China increased tenfold from 2009 to 2015.

 Deutsch Wells

Powered by Blogger.