The first days of September have revealed encouraging developments in Taiwan-EU relations. This is significant, as emerging dynamics are being inspired by increasing mutual interest between the two sides, most notably observed in exchanges relating to the pandemic.
We have seen some EU member states willing to engage Taiwan, and EU institutions, with the European Parliament leading the way. How sustainable the trend will be hangs on many factors involving both sides, and their capacity to manage their own internal complexities.
On Monday, a donation of 400,000 COVID vaccines from Poland arrived in Taiwan. This followed a donation of 20,000 doses from Lithuania on June 22 and 30,000 from the Czech Republic on July 26, as well as a Slovak pledge for 10,000 doses, to name some of the recent acts of generosity.
This is Europe’s “vaccine diplomacy” reciprocating Taiwan’s goodwill expressed through its “mask diplomacy.” With Taipei’s plans to open a “Taiwanese Representative Office” in Lithuania and Vilnius’ plans to open its own office in Taipei before the end of the year, the coming months are likely to continue the positive trend.
It would be a missed opportunity for Taiwan and the EU to discount the significance of the upward trend in bilateral ties. It is vital to appreciate these emerging developments with a clear head and vision to enable both sides to move forward together.
The EU and Taiwan must use this momentum to further raise awareness of the growing importance of closer cooperation. It is good to see media platforms such as Taiwan+ talk more about Taiwan-EU relations. The online platform was launched with the mission to share perspectives on Taiwan in a way that informs, inspires and empowers.
It is the awareness of citizens in Taiwan and in Europe, and their understanding of the value in solidarity and greater cooperation, that will empower them to demand their representatives work to upgrade bilateral ties.
Like all partnerships, it will take two to move forward.
On Sept. 1, the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs voted in favor of a resolution on Taiwan-EU political relations and cooperation. The document, scheduled for a plenary vote next month, is the parliament’s first ever standalone report on Taiwan, elevating the nation to a higher level on the parliament’s agenda, and decoupling it from the EU’s China policy.
Previously, the European Parliament has only dealt with Taiwan in the context of the EU’s China policy and its annual security and defense reports. It is therefore important to note that Taiwan will for the first time be assessed on its own merit. The report’s significance is obvious, and should be seen as a sign of support to a vibrant democracy.
Agreeing to draft the report, notwithstanding the diversity of EU lawmakers representing 27 member states and divergent political views, was no small task. Supporting the report with an overwhelming majority — 60 in favor, 4 against and 6 abstentions — suggests that lawmakers are aware, alert and ambitious when it comes to Taiwan.
EU lawmakers are aware of Taiwan’s increasing importance to the EU and to its economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region; alert to Taiwan’s precarious situation in facing off against an authoritarian China; ambitious as they urge an upgrade in bilateral ties and call on the EU to prepare for a bilateral investment agreement with Taiwan.
This report secured internal consensus on the need to have a strategic debate to identify ways to see Taiwan on its own merit, as a like-minded partner for the EU. Lawmakers recognize that “Taiwan’s location, its critical role in global high-tech supply chains and its democratic way of life make it strategically important to European democracies,” the report said.
This is a significant step forward in the parliament’s stance on Taiwan. Once voted on in the plenary, the report will send a strong message to member states and national parliaments that Taiwan is important to the future of the EU. It will therefore be difficult for member states to ignore it.
EU lawmakers have made good use of resolutions, public hearings, letters and reports to shape the EU’s policy on Taiwan in a clear, creative and consistent way.
However, what will matter in the coming months is how aware, alert and ambitious member states are vis-a-vis Taiwan, and the role they want the EU to play in the Indo-Pacific region.
The coming months will equally be shaped by Taiwan and its own level of awareness and ambition toward Europe. Taipei must also be clear, creative and consistent in its approach to Europe, and engage it with the self-confidence of the like-minded partner that it is, one that has much to contribute, including its vibrant culture and diversity, technological prowess, transparent governance system and expertise in fighting against disinformation.
As the EU is in the process of its green and digital transition, Taiwan can help Europe. Both sides must work harder, and together, to shape the perceptions their societies hold of each other, and help raise awareness of the importance they carry toward each other’s prosperity and security. It will take two.
Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy is a postdoctoral research fellow hosted by the Ministry of Science and Technology, an affiliated scholar in Vrije Universiteit Brussel’s political science department and a former political adviser at the European Parliament.
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