The fate of the European Union’s investment deal with China fell further into doubt after an EU spokeswoman was forced to deny a report on Tuesday saying it had suspended the treaty’s passage to ratification.
The French news agency AFP quoted EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis as saying in an interview: “We have … for the moment suspended some efforts to raise political awareness on the part of the Commission because it is clear that in the current situation, with the EU sanctions against China and the Chinese counter-sanctions, including against members of the European Parliament, the environment is not conducive to the ratification of the agreement.”
AFP’s Twitter feed used the headline “#BREAKING EU suspends efforts to ratify China investment deal: commissioner”, sparking debate among EU-China watchers, trade analysts and others on the social media network.
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But an EU spokeswoman said Dombrovskis’s comments had been taken out of context.
In a written statement, the EU said: “The agreement needs to be now legally reviewed and translated before it can be presented for adoption and ratification. However, the ratification process of the [deal] cannot be separated from the evolving dynamics of the wider EU-China relationship.”
It continued: “In this context, Chinese retaliatory sanctions targeting members of the European Parliament, and an entire parliamentary committee, are unacceptable and regrettable. The prospects for … ratification will depend on how the situation evolves.”
The deal needs to be approved by the parliament but also the EU Council, which is made up of all 27 heads of state, before it can becomes law.
With dozens of members of the European Parliament being sanctioned by China in March in response to low-level EU sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it seems unlikely to get the votes required in 2022.
Nonetheless, the depth of the opposition to the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) could be seen in the reaction to the suggestion that the EU was ready to kill it before it reached the parliament.
“Considering the frenzied lobbying of multinationals and the German government for the CAI, it’s a huge victory!” tweeted Raphael Glucksmann, a French MEP sanctioned by China in March.
Hannah Neumann – a German MEP and a vice-chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, the entire membership of which was sanctioned – said that regardless of whether Dombrovskis had spoken out of context, the parliament would vote to take the decision out of the commission’s hands in a motion that would see all debate on the CAI frozen until sanctions are lifted.
“There will be a resolution in parliament in the May session. Given the debate we had in plenary and earlier, in the human rights committee, I see a majority to put the CAI ‘in the freezer’, meaning not to deal with it, as long as China upholds its sanctions against elected members of parliament as well as the human rights committee,” Neumann told the South China Morning Post.
China, meanwhile, has been urging EU leaders to make faster progress on the treaty.
In a readout of a call between President Xi Jinping and German and French counterparts, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Chancellor Angela Merkel had remarked that “she hopes that with joint efforts from both sides, the EU-China investment agreement will take effect at an early date”.
These or similar words were absent from the German readout.
Antoine Bondaz, a China analyst with the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said that China’s sanctioning of MEPs had sealed the deal for the investment deal, which he believed would not pass.
“China brilliantly succeeded in doing what it feared the most: to make China an object of an European political debate and above all to unite the different political sensitivities among themselves,” Bondaz said.
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