China and Russia test the limits of EU power

Are Europeans doomed to be swayed by external forces in the 21st century? In Brussels, they like to argue that the collective strength of the EU is the only way to save the Old World from this ignominious fate. While no European country can go head-to-head with the US or China, the EU collectively ranks among the top three economies in the world.

But the idea that the EU’s economic clout can easily be translated into geopolitical power is receiving a brutal reality check.Ukraine crisis leaves EU step aside. At the same time, China imposes an unofficial economy sanction Regarding EU member Lithuania, while Brussels is struggling to find an appropriate response.

If things get bad in the EU in the coming weeks and months, talk about it “Geopolitics” Europe is going to sound more and more ridiculous. But it’s also possible that the current crisis – especially the challenge in Lithuania – will lead to a leap in the EU’s ability to defend its interests on the global stage.

The Ukraine crisis is a war and peace issue on the European continent, so some EU officials feel humiliated for not being directly involved in recent negotiations. It is not surprising, however, that Brussels has been left out. The EU is not a military power, and probably never will be. Ukraine is not a member of the European Union.

In contrast, Lithuania is one of the 27 EU countries. It also involves trade disputes – one of the few areas where the EU has become a global heavyweight. Therefore, Europeans have both the opportunity and the obligation to work together.

Lithuanian government singled out by China for punishment upgrade Its ties to Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island that Beijing insists is a rebel province.Lithuania earlier pull out 17+1, a talking shop in Beijing.

In response, Beijing adopted the approach of Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, compare “Spanish Inquisition”. (in a possible tribute python, Lansbergis added that “no one expected” the Spanish Inquisition. )

China doesn’t just block all trade with Lithuania. It has also blocked all products containing ingredients made in Lithuania, which is a major headache for foreign investors in the country.

Beijing has chosen a clever strategy.German investors believed to be in Lithuania urge Government backs down, while opinion polls show Lithuanian public opinion has be opposed to Taiwan’s strategy.

But Chinese policies also contain risks that Beijing may not fully consider. By targeting the EU’s supply chain, China is targeting the integrity of the European single market, which is at the heart of the EU’s economic and strategic ambitions. As Janka Oertel of the European Council on Foreign Relations puts it: “By Europeanizing the problem, China has turned it into a test for the entire EU.”

This is not just a theoretical question.Some Europeans worry that China’s next country will be the Czech Republic, and the Czech Republic’s government and politicians also friendly to Taiwan. Czech factories play a central role in the EU supply chain, so targeting Czech-made components could wreak havoc within the single market.

Some European politicians are privately annoyed that Lithuanians are acting without consulting the rest of the EU. But Lithuanians are not running counter to the EU’s “One China” policy. Supporting democracy and protecting small states are core European values.

EU officials have pledged to support and solidarity with Lithuania. The World Trade Organization could bring a lawsuit against China, but it could take years to come to fruition.So the French, who currently hold the EU presidency, are considering accelerate adoption Anti-Coercion LegislationThis would enable the EU to retaliate against coercive trade measures from China or any other country with a range of measures, including investment restrictions and tariffs.

As far as Brussels is concerned, the beauty of these tools is that they are trade measures. Unlike pure foreign policy issues that require unanimous consent, trade decisions can be made by a majority vote. This will mean that China’s friends in the EU – especially Hungary and Greece – will not be able to prevent the passage of anti-coercion legislation or its deployment.

Reinhard Bütikofer, an influential MEP sanctioned China believes that the Lithuanian crisis may thus lead to a leap in Europe’s ability to project power. As he puts it: “Suddenly, the interconnectedness between trade and foreign policy allows us to use trade policy to pursue foreign policy more effectively.”

But the EU’s tortuous legislative process makes it unlikely that an anti-coercion instrument will be agreed before the summer. By then, Lithuania may have been forced to back down.

In their own interest, Europeans need to stop this from happening. If China succeeds in bullying Lithuania while the EU watches helplessly on the sidelines, the lesson will be heeded – not only in Beijing, but also in Moscow and Washington.

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