Saturday, 7 Dec 2019

‘You have Macron and Merkel but you don’t have BRITAIN’ EU ‘squeezed’ between US and China

Time Magazine Paris correspondent Vivienne Walt told France24 Brexit is “weighing” on French official’s minds as Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel struggle to protect the bloc from the threats of US and China. The two European leaders welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping in Paris last week after he signed a deal on an intercontinental infrastructure project with Italy. In an emergency meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, the French President and the German Chancellor blasted Italy for unilaterally pursuing the deal. But without the powerful voice of the UK, the pair may fail to make themselves heard by the Eurosceptic Italian Government led by Lega and the Five Star Movement.

Ms Walt said: “Just to pick up on a Brexit conversation, you have Juncker, Merkel and Macron, but you don’t have the British there.

“And I think that that is totally weighing on the minds of French officials certainly – in fact I know it is from my interviews.

“They are now squeezed between the US and China.”

On Friday, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warned the European Union had to take a defensive approach against an increasingly belligerent America and bold China.

Mr Le Maire told the French daily Le Figaro: “Europe has become aware that its American ally is today a difficult partner, while the Chinese giant has become more assertive. 

Brexit is totally weighing on the minds of French officials certainly

Vivienne Walt

“I believe it is time for Europe to assert itself as an independent and sovereign power.”

Referring to Beijing’s behemoth “Belt and Road” infrastructure project (BRI), he added: “The key challenge for Europe is very clear: do we respond [to these threats] by our unity or by our divisions.

“Europe must make decisions faster and stronger… We are living in a period of historical transition: our political sovereignty depends on our technological sovereignty.”

France, he continued, has the potential of becoming the EU’s “economic engine within 10 years”.

Mr Le Maire added that Mr Xi’s brief tour of Europe this week marked a “turning point” in EU-China relations. 

Brussels recently switched to a more combative strategy on China, prompted by Beijing’s reluctance to open up its economy to EU investment, Chinese takeovers in critical sectors, and there is a general feeling in Europe that China is not doing enough to promote free trade.

The EU, the world’s largest trading bloc, has for years granted China almost unlimited access to its markets for trade and investment, and calls for a fairer trading relationship with Beijing have become louder. 

In a clear sign that the Brussels bloc is preparing to tighten the screw on market access conditions for Chinese businesses, it is about to introduce a system to screen foreign investments, particularly those affecting strategic infrastructure or technology.

EU leaders have, however, shown willingness to engage with the BRI project if doing so translates into more access to the Chinese market.

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