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EU strategy towards the Asia region

61 - EU coordination with member states on Asia

Grade: C+
Unity 2/5
Resources 3/5
Strategy 2/5
Impact 2/5
Total 9/20

Europe’s Asia policies suffered from fragmentation and a strong economic bias from many member states

While the EU’s Asia policy was fairly active in 2015, policy objectives and initiatives on the region became increasingly fragmented between member states, and between member states and EU institutions.

Some of this is linked to a silo effect among Commission departments – the directorates general (DGs). While the new Commission was designed to encourage coordination and a more strategic approach, it is still not clear how trade objectives and external relations are reconciled, for example, as illustrated by the case of the Commission’s ban on Indian generic drugs in the midst of trade negotiations. Another factor may be that mushrooming crises in and around the EU have set back policy coordination with more distant partners.

These crises meant that a number of EU member states concentrated diplomatic efforts closer to home, and focused on their economic interests in their dealings with Asia – notably, but not only, China. For some, this included weapons sales and therefore hard security cooperation. For others, economic interests were mainly managed through bilateral visits.

Compared to member states, EU institutions pursued a more diverse and values-based diplomacy on security, human rights, and climate change. Member states’ relative lack of interest in these issues meant less diplomatic support, but led to de facto unity on a majority of non-economic and non-China-related items on EU’s Asia agenda.

Regarding China, however, fragmentation and competition between member states increased in 2015. Most member states backed Brussels on its Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations with Beijing. However, some made efforts to be China’s “best partner” in Europe, while the UK undercut the Commission by expressing support for an EU–China FTA. This fragmentation was also visible in the process of accession to the AIIB. US public diplomacy was botched on this issue, but Europe highlighted its own disunity, suggesting weakness when faced with potential Chinese funding. This has damaged the EU’s capacity to act collectively in an area that is key to global governance.