They demand “new adjustments” from the Asian giant in its objectives to cut polluting emissions and urge it to stop financing thermal power plants
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron tried on Monday to turn the page after the latest disagreements with Beijing and reactivate relations between the European Union (EU) and China in a video conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping . During the meeting, economic ties, the fight against climate change and also human rights violations against the Uighur ethnic minority were addressed. The Europeans thus tried to combine their longed-for autonomy in foreign policy and put into practice their triple characterization of Beijing as a partner, competitor and rival.
As they did last April in a similar format, the three leaders exchanged views ahead of the Glasgow Climate Summit (UK) at the end of the year. The German Chancellery indicated in a statement that the Europeans asked their interlocutor for “new adjustments in the objectives” to cut polluting emissions in the short term. For his part, Eliseo specified that they urged Xi to end public financing of thermal power plants in his country, where half of all these highly polluting power plants are currently being built.
China has announced that it aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2060 (the EU would do so ten years earlier), but has not mapped out a roadmap to achieve that goal. The United Nations has repeated on several occasions that current commitments to tackle global warming are not sufficient to comply with the Paris Agreement and has urged the international community to “raise the ambition” for Glasgow.
Bilateral economic relations were also addressed, affected by the pandemic and by the paralysis of the ratification process in the European Chamber of the investment agreement signed between the EU and China. These difficulties are related to human rights violations in Xinjiang province. Macron and Merkel reminded Xi of their demands for a greater opening of the Chinese market so that there is some reciprocity and conditions of fair competition, according to the Elisha.
The three leaders dedicated a space to Africa. The Europeans asked the Chinese president to continue supporting debt relief for several countries on the continent. Xi, for his part, called for the cooperation of France and Germany in the large investment projects that China is carrying out in the region, an initiative that Merkel asked to nest within the framework of the G20.
The sensitive issue of human rights also came up at the meeting. The Foreign Ministry does not include it in its statement, but Eliseo assured that Merkel and Macron “expressed their serious concern about the human rights situation in China” and “reiterated their demands in relation to the fight against forced labor” in a clear reference to Xinjiang. Researchers and NGOs have denounced that in that Chinese province around a million Uyghurs are locked up in re-education centers. The situation has led the EU to impose sanctions on China on this issue, the first since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Beijing also responded with sanctions.
“Lights and shadows” in the Balkans
Merkel and Macron showed less harmony in another virtual meeting held this Monday, the annual meeting of the Berlin Process for the Western Balkans. The German continues trying to advance the process of accession to the EU of the six countries in the region that are not yet part of the bloc, while the French wants to consolidate integration to 27 before continuing with an expansion to the east.
Merkel, three months after leaving political activity, acknowledged in the press conference she gave after the meeting that the Berlin process has “lights and shadows.” “Progress has been made in recent years, but there is still a lot to do,” said the chancellor, who acknowledged that “a lot of patience and commitment is needed.”
However, the chancellor stressed the advantages of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia eventually acceding to the EU. He spoke of political stability, peace and economic possibilities, but also of “geostrategic reasons”, because the Western Balkans are “part of Europe”, in a veiled reference to the influence of Russia in some of these countries.
Merkel counts among her allies the President of the EC, Ursula von der Leyen, who said in a statement after the meeting that her “first priority” is to “accelerate the enlargement agenda” and support the Western Balkan countries ” in their work to achieve the necessary reforms to move forward on the European path. ‘
Other European states, however, do not see it so clearly. Some partners, with Paris at the helm, are reluctant to a new enlargement to the east after the problems of political cohesion that are currently evident compared to 2004 in issues such as asylum and immigration, the rights of the LGTBIQ + collective, the freedom of the press and the independence of Justice. The great examples, with which Brussels has repeated problems, are Poland and Hungary.
Merkel launched these annual summits of European leaders with their counterparts in the Western Balkans in 2014 as a mechanism to contribute to the stabilization of the region, but also to give these countries a prospect of joining the EU. Since then this initiative has been held, in addition to Germany, in France, Austria and Italy.