In a wide-ranging speech today at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung State of Europe event, Charles Michel, a Belgian politician who has served as President of the European Council since 2019 (and was previously Prime Minister of Belgium), offered some comments on the China - EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment as part of his discussion of EU trade policy. He tried to make the case that this agreement, while imperfect, improved the existing situation and should be be given consideration. His remarks were as follows:
Do we believe those agreements should facilitate trade, investment within the framework of reciprocity and level playing field, while also contributing to a fairer, more sustainable world?
Or do we think an agreement is only valid and acceptable if it solves all the world's problems in one group?
I will give you one example. The Commission negotiated a comprehensive agreement on investment with China. This agreement would open access to major sectors from which our European companies are currently barred. It would create more reciprocity and address labor laws and conditions.
Is this agreement perfect? No.
Did we get everything we wanted? Certainly not. But neither did China. Would this agreement lead to a democratic system in China in full respect for human and labor rights? No. But it creates a platform to discuss these issues with the Chinese authorities who don't like them because they do not share our same system and our values, and the question is, are our interests better defended and our ability to protect the Uighurs' rights and to promote the rule of law in Hong Kong better insured with or without such an agreement?
This is not an exact science. There is no easy answer. But we need to agree at the level of the member states and EU institutions on the priorities we pursue with these trade and investment agreements.
And in any case, I agree with my good friend Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, when he says Europe must be a player and not just a playing field.
I will make sure the European Council addresses this important debate.