European Council Experts’ Debrief July 2023: What should be the EU’s China strategy?

The European Council Experts’ Debrief is our series of policy responses to the regularly published conclusions of the European Council. Each time the European Council meets for a summit, TEPSA gathers its leading academics to comment on the conclusions, analyse alliances formed, maintained, and broken, investigate policy implications, and suggest solutions to move Europe forward.

This edition of the Debrief also includes a follow-up on the previous edition, authored by Jean-Louis de Brouwer, Director of the European Affairs Programme at the Egmont Institute.

In this eighth edition of the European Council Experts’ Debrief, our experts focus on the implications of the June European Council conclusions as regards the future of EU-China relations and the European Union’s ongoing struggle to find an effective strategy towards China. TEPSA Secretary-General Jim Cloos asked authors to respond to the question, formulated with TEPSA Executive Director Mariam Khotenashvili: The EU, as documented by the June European Council discussion, is in search of a China strategy. How effective is the multifaceted approach adopted four years ago (China as partner, competitor, systemic rival) and now reconfirmed by the June EUCO and how will it evolve further? How does that approach compare to the US approach and what are the geostrategic implications? Concerning economic relations with China, the assumption of the EUCO is that the EU will not de-couple, but that Europe should look for increasing its own economic security (de-risking) and insist on more reciprocity and a level playing field. Will this be possible and is it compatible with the EU’s foreign policy?”

EU observers have, alongside geopolitics experts in the USA and elsewhere, been warning for decades about the impact of a rising China on the world stage. China’s economy is now capable of rivalling that of the United States, and it has become clear that the country’s current role on the world stage, and the role it aspires to in future, means the existing powers of the Western world need to account for this. Ursula von der Leyen’s recent remarks on China’s increasing assertiveness abroad, including via the Belt and Road Initiative as well as in the increasingly difficult situation regarding Chinese possible intentions in Taiwan, demonstrate the increasing focus of the EU on developing a coherent China strategy. Nonetheless, there is much to be done before the EU can reconcile its internal divisions and speak as one, or before it can translate its ‘de-risking’ strategy into a workable policy acceptable to each of the EU27. These themes and many more are tackled in this new edition of the European Council Experts’ Debrief.

In addition to the foreword by TEPSA Secretary-General Jim Cloos, expert contributors to this edition include: 

  • Jean-Louis de Brouwer, Egmont Institute, Belgium;
  • Albīne Hlopņicka, Latvian Institute of International Affairs, Latvia;
  • Alice Politi, King’s College London, United Kingdom;
  • Astrid Pepermans, Egmont Institute, Belgium;
  • Daniela Jaćimović, Faculty of Economics of the University of Montenegro, Montenegro;
  • Eliza Vaș, European Institute of Romania (IER), Romania;
  • George Tzogopulos, European Institute of Postgraduate Studies and Research (CIFE), France;
  • Ilke Toygür, University Carlos III of Madrid, Spain;
  • Ivano Di Carlo, European Policy Centre (EPC), Belgium;
  • Justyna Szczudlik, Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), Poland;
  • Mario Esteban, Elcano Royal Institute, Spain;
  • Miguel Silva, College of Europe, Belgium;
  • Mihai Sebe, European Institute of Romania (IER), Romania;
  • Pierre Vimont, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Europe, Belgium.