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Renew Europe: An assertive stance on the future of EU-China relations

Updated: 6 days ago



Introduction


The Renew Europe party was founded in the runup to the 2019 elections as the successor to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), now a subgroup (European Parliament, 2019). This rebranding exercise was driven by the entry of new members, including Macron’s Renaissance party (also renamed in 2022), which represents the largest delegation of the new group (Maïa de La Baume, 2019). Apart from France, party members are heads of state in Belgium, Estonia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Bulgaria, thus giving them a strong voice in the European Council. 


Renew Europe is currently the third largest party in the European Parliament, with delegates representing 22 of the 27 EU countries (European Parliament, 2019). In its Vienna Declaration (2023), the party appeals to young people, entrepreneurs, scientists, and the “squeezed middle”, offering an indication as to who they identify as their voter base. 


The group itself comprises self-declared ‘liberals, centrists, democrats and reformists’ whose common denominator is  a pro-business policy stance (Renew Europe, 2023). As there is no single European business interest, the group leaves significant autonomy to its members in defining national priorities (Maftean, 2024). 


EU Integration 


On a European level, the party aims to ‘reclaim the original European values: peace, freedom, prosperity’ (Renew Europe, 2024). While its ideological roots call for minimal state intervention, the party sees the EU’s role in fostering economic, social, and fiscal convergence across members.  It aims to strengthen competitiveness by completing the internal market  and expanding the external market (Renew Europe, 2024). In trade policy, the party calls for market openness to go hand in hand with reciprocity and sustainability. In this vein, Renew Europe supports stronger geopolitical trading relations with countries that have strong human and labour rights (Renew Europe, 2023). 


China


Renew Europe has formalised its position towards China in a 2022 position paper, followed by a 2023 strategy paper by the ALDE subgroup. The group’s engagement on the topic stems from the conviction that preferential partnerships by individual Member States with China defined solely on trade are not sustainable. Instead, a common EU strategy that protects the EU’s interests and promotes its values is needed to endow the regional bloc with the tools needed to become a true geopolitical player (Renew Europe Group & European Liberal Forum, 2022).  


The group’s position paper builds on the EU’s 2019 ‘EU-China strategic outlook’ that describes China as a  ‘cooperation and negotiating partner’, an ‘economic competitor’, and a ‘systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance’ (European Commission, 2019). In a nutshell, Renew’s paper calls on the EU and its member states to assess European policies and economic interests in terms of the extent to which China may represent  a partner, competitor, or a systemic rival. To this end, Renew Europe and the European Liberal Forum, ALDE’s political foundation (2022) position paper proposes a new EU-China strategy based on four pillars that will be briefly delineated  below.. 


  1. A renewed strategic partnership to fight climate change and preserve global security. 


Upholding the rules-based, multilateral world order requires engagement with China, which aims to reshape global governance to its benefit as its weight on the global stage grows. To this end, there should be a focus on results in common areas of interest, namely fighting climate change and defending global security. The ALDE strategy paper (2023) adds biodiversity, health, and denuclearisation as areas for closer cooperation. Simultaneously, global liberal democracies should increase cooperation in multilateral organisations to counter changing power dynamics within them.


2. A rules-based trade relationship based on reciprocity and an industrial policy focused on innovation and open strategic autonomy.


Renew Europe aims to improve the terms of the trading relationship with China for European businesses.  It wants the EU to advocate for rules-based free trade and investment flows complying with WTO rules and based on reciprocity. Besides advocacy, a level-playing field also requires stronger tools to tackle unfair trading practices. To this end, the group wants to make revisiting the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with China conditional to, among others, fair reciprocal market access, intellectual property protection, or adherence to international environmental, and human rights standards. At the same time, internally,  the EU should step up its industrial policy and complete its digital market to improve innovation within its jurisdiction. 


Chinese commercial endeavours are perceived to threaten the bloc’s unity. To pursue an open strategic autonomy, Renew Europe thus aims to systematically screen investments and acquisitions in strategic sectors at EU level. In addition, the group aims to promote the diversification of supply chains and sensitise European companies to the risks of investing in the Chinese market. 


3. A united Europe to address China’s human rights violations and violations of international law.


The Renew Party strongly emphasises human rights issues in its EU-China position paper. It urges the EU to publicly voice its concerns in EU-China summits and multilateral fora. In addition, it supports the expansion of European Magnitsky sanctions to officials who abuse human rights in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet. 


4. A reformed EU to be able to play a geopolitical role on the world stage. 


In order to play a geopolitical role, Member States, first and foremost, need a united geopolitical approach to speak with one voice. Based on this prerequisite, Renew Europe aims to strengthen the tools the EU has available to defend itself, protect its (commercial) interests overseas, and increase its influence in its immediate vicinity. 


As China’s military might is increasing, Renew Europe aims to strengthen arms control, and increase defence cooperation between Member States and with other democratic partners to counterbalance China’s geopolitical influence in Asia and beyond. More concretely, it urges the EU to provide a tangible and feasible alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), especially for countries in Africa, possibly alluding to the Global Gateway rollout. Moreover, internally, it calls on the EU to step up its defence systems against disinformation, censorship, and spying.


A strong position is taken with regard to Taiwan, where the group thinks the EU should revisit its engagement policy. Surprisingly, the ‘One China Policy’ is not mentioned in this context. Besides supporting the island’s participation as an observer in relevant multilateral organisations, the group also wants to launch negotiations for an EU-Taiwan bilateral investment treaty. Across the document, it becomes clear that the group is already thinking about possible sanctioning mechanisms, were China to attempt to take over Taiwan by force. Besides aiming to warn European businesses about possible effects on their operations in mainland China, the group also proposes to threaten an exclusion from the SWIFT banking system. 


Conclusion


In summary, the Renew Party papers see a strong role for the EU in standing up to China as an economic, security and ideological threat. In particular, it finds the EU should be more assertive in demanding adherence to human rights and international labour standards from its trading partners and if needed, redirect value chains accordingly. It can thus be expected that in the new parliament, Renew Europe parties will call for relations with China to be guided by the mantra of strategic autonomy instead of strategic ambiguity.


As polls project significant losses for Renew Europe in the upcoming election, estimated at around 24% of seats, the actual implementation of these positions may be limited (Griera, 2024). It will depend on the one hand on its ability to influence policy: In the last term, Renew MEPs voted with the majority in 91% of votes they took part in (Cokelaere, 2024) demonstrating that the group was able to advance its agenda. On the other hand, the ability to land an EU top job, such as the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, would give its agenda a strong voice (Maftean, 2024).



This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of European Guanxi, its leadership, members, partners, or stakeholders, nor of those of its editors or staff. They have been formulated by the author in their full capacity, and shall not be used for any other purposes other than those they are intended for. European Guanxi assumes no liability or responsibility deriving from the improper use of the contents of this report. Any false facts, errors, and controversial opinions contained in the articles are proper and exclusive of the authors. European Guanxi or its staff and collaborators cannot be held responsible or legally liable for the use of any and all information contained in this document.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Agnes Monti is a young professional working in development cooperation. Her main interests lie in the analysis of changes and prospects for development policy in a multipolar decarbonising world in which China is an important player. She has a background in International Relations, Development Studies, and Political Economy.


This article was edited by David Dinca and Sardor Allayarov.



BIBLIOGRAPHY


Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. A Liberal Strategy for Europe’s Relationship with China, 2023. Stockholm: Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. Available from: https://assets.nationbuilder.com/aldeparty/pages/6626/attachments/original/1685448655/A_Liberal_Strategy_for_Europe%E2%80%99s_Relationship_with_China.pdf?1685448655


Cokelaere, H., 2024. The European Parliament by the numbers. POLITICO, 23 April. Available from: https://www.politico.eu/article/european-parliament-data-groups-far-right-green-deal-gender/.


De La Baume, M., 2019. Macron-Liberal alliance to be named Renew Europe. POLITICO, 12 June. Available from: https://www.politico.eu/article/emmanuel-macron-liberal-alliance-to-be-named-renew-europe/.


European Commission. 2019. EU-China Strategic Outlook. Brussels: European Commission. Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/eu-china-strategic-outlook-commission-contribution-european-council-21-22-march-2019_en.


European Parliament. 2019. Parliament group priorities: Renew Europe group. European Parliament, 19 August. Available from: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/topics/en/article/20190712STO56959/parliament-group-priorities-renew-europe-group.


Griera, M., 2024. EU election flash poll: Conservative ECR on course to snatch liberal Renew’s fourth place. Euractiv, 13 February. Available from: https://www.euractiv.com/section/elections/news/eu-election-flash-poll-conservative-ecr-on-course-to-snatch-liberal-renews-fourth-place/.


Maftean, M. R., 2024. Understanding. Renew Europe Now: Europe’s EP elections contenders. PartyParty, 2 April. Available from: https://political.party/understanding-renew-europe-ep-elections/.


Renew Europe. Vienna Declaration, 2023. Vienna: Renew Europe. Available from: https://www.reneweuropegroup.eu/policies/2023-09-26/vienna-declaration.


Renew Europe, 2019. Group Charter. Renew Europe, 18 June. Available from: https://www.reneweuropegroup.eu/group-charter.


Renew Europe. Renew Europe Position Paper 10: Blueprint for an EU-China Strategy, 2022. Brussels: Renew Europe Group & The European Liberal Forum. Available from: https://liberalforum.eu/publication/renew-europe-position-paper-10-blueprint-for-an-eu-china-strategy/.


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