The EU on Wednesday cohosted a Global Cooperation and Training Framework workshop with Taiwan and the US. They discussed the restructuring of the global supply chain and joint financing of small and medium-sized enterprises. This was the first time the EU, represented by European Economic and Trade Office in Taiwan Director Filip Grzegorzewski, cohosted such an event.
Launched in 2015, the framework aims to help bring Taiwan’s expertise to the global stage. Essentially, it was designed to find ways to include Taiwan in global efforts, as it remains excluded from international organizations.
With Taiwan’s successful containment of COVID-19 and its vital role in critical technologies, particularly semiconductors, it seems like partnering with the framework means being in the right place at the right time.
Timing is everything, they say. Is the EU’s partnering with the US to embrace Taiwan at this moment just as timely? Could the EU’s cohosting of the workshop be indicative of its readiness to slowly but surely inch closer to Taiwan as an active player and see it as a partner along with other democracies in the region?
There are a few factors to consider if this is indeed the case.
First, the EU is expected to launch its own Indo-Pacific strategy this month, as it pushes for a more robust role in the region by investing more in scaling up relations with like-minded partners.
It will be crucial for Brussels’ vision for the Indo-Pacific region to be truly inclusive. In other words, its strategy must embrace Taiwan as an indispensable partner to work with in search of global solutions to global problems.
Seen from this angle, taking a proactive role in Taipei, along with the US, is significant.
France, Germany and the Netherlands have already developed their own Indo-Pacific visions. While their priorities do not always align, knowing they cannot act alone they have pushed the EU to follow suit. France sees itself a “balancing power” in the region whose approach is mostly compatible with the US vision, while Berlin seems more reluctant to align with Washington.
Germany’s guidelines, not strategy, do not even mention Taiwan, while it talks about “inclusivity” and reject “containment.”
All three member states are keen to balance China in the region. This has been and is expected to continue to be the European way to deal with China.
Second, the EU is in the process of rethinking its relations with China. This has provided Brussels with a unique — and convenient — opportunity to reconsider its approach to Taipei, while at the same time making sure it does not alienate Beijing.
The recent sanctions spat between Brussels and Beijing made this even more valuable for the EU. Playing a proactive role in Taiwan seems to suggest that the EU is not letting this chance go to waste.
However, Brussels must engage Taipei on its own merit. This requires a shift away from seeing Taiwan through the lens of China.
The EU and Taiwan are natural partners, sharing a commitment to international norms and values. Both sides must recognize that much value lies in amplifying existing cooperation and in boosting ties in additional areas to enable new synergies.
Third, cooperating with Taiwan in the framework of the workshop indicates the EU and US are redefining their relations. While transatlantic ties remain the EU’s most significant strategic partnership, over the past four years they have hit their lowest point.
For Brussels, “strategic autonomy” has equaled going “geopolitical,” but for Washington it has been closer to a bad word.
To find common ground on China, the two sides must cooperate in the Indo-Pacific region. As they are finding their way back to rebuilding trust, making Taiwan a central part of their strategic cooperation is the right way forward.
There should be no question that the time is right for Brussels to have its own inclusive Indo-Pacific strategy, to reconceptualize its relations with Taiwan to see it on its own merit, and to redefine transatlantic relations. Will Brussels use this time wisely?
Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy is a doctorate research fellow at National Taiwan University’s European Union Centre in Taiwan, an affiliated scholar in Vrije Universiteit Brussel’s political science department and a former political adviser at the European Parliament.
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