By Grzegorz Stec
Multiple European actors have recently shown increased support for engagement with Taiwan. The European Parliament and national MPs held meetings with the Taiwanese Foreign Minister, a Taiwanese trade delegation toured Central and Eastern Europe, while the European Parliament and Commission released policy documents linked to EU-Taiwan relations.
Increased engagement with Taiwan comes at a time of heightened tensions between Brussels and Beijing, and as many European stakeholders come to realize the importance of Taiwan in global semiconductor production.
Considering the differences between the range of EU actors, an increase in engagement is unlikely to constitute a strategic shift in an EU-wide approach to Taipei even if it brings new quality to EU-Taiwan relations.
In practice, European legislators led many of the interactions. It is the MEPs that are requesting politically significant gestures of engagement and who called on the Commission and Council to explore a Bilateral Investment Agreement with Taiwan. It is also national MPs that met officially with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and led delegations to Taipei. In contrast, the Commission and member states’ capitals, with a notable exception of Lithuania, have been more reluctant to openly engage with Taipei in politically sensitive formats.
While the European Parliament and legislators play an important consultative role in the foreign policy making, ultimately it can only be shaped by a consensus of national governments and, to a certain degree, the European Commission.
Central and Eastern European countries – Taiwan’s Trojan horse?
Among the member states, a few Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries have been at the forefront of engaging Taiwan, namely Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and, to a lesser degree, Poland. Over the summer, they provided Taiwan with vaccine donations, more recently welcomed Joseph Wu during his European tour (albeit unofficially in the case of Poland) and signed memoranda of understanding on boosting economic cooperation with the Taiwanese trade delegation. Lithuania also moved forward with opening the Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius, a decision which has been a subject of major pushback by Beijing.
Such interest from member states to boost ties with Taipei stems from their position. Given the limited economic links with China, estimated to be a source of less than one percent of overall FDI in the region and a destination of less than two percent of CEE member states’ exports, they face limited risk of Beijing’s retaliation. At the same time, some CEE states are drawn to Taiwan’s experience of overcoming a middle-income trap and consider Taiwan’s economic offers to be attractive; especially given the successful operations of Foxconn, Acer and Asus in the region. What’s more, CEE countries share the similar experience of being in the shadow of a larger authoritarian neighbor and of relying on the US for security.