Nov 22, 2021 - World

Top EU China critic: German companies act as "lobbyists" for Beijing

Photo illustration of Raphael Glucksmann and EU flags

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images

The leader of the European Parliament's first official delegation to Taiwan says the EU is slowly waking up to the threat posed by the Chinese government — but is held back by companies, particularly in Germany, that act as "lobbyists" for Beijing.

Driving the news: Raphaël Glucksmann, a French human rights activist who has quickly become one of Europe's most influential voices on China, told Axios in a wide-ranging interview that he is seeking to "break the taboo inside the European institutions" on engaging with Taiwan.

  • Glucksmann, 42, dismissed the notion that this month's visit — which drew a stern warning from Beijing — was a "provocation," and argued that stronger EU support for Taiwanese democracy will actually deter China from launching an invasion.
  • "We should not be terrorized and paralyzed by the fear of authoritarian regimes' reactions to our policies," Glucksmann stressed.

Flashback: Glucksmann and four fellow European parliamentarians were placed on Beijing's sanctions blacklist in March for their advocacy over the genocide in Xinjiang.

  • He told Axios that as a human rights activist, he considers it a "medal of honor" to be sanctioned by "the worst human rights violator in the world."
  • In response to the sanctions, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to freeze ratification of a major EU-China investment deal.
  • Glucksmann says that was a watershed moment for EU relations with China, and there's "no chance" the deal will ever be passed. He's pushing for the EU to upgrade its trade ties with Taiwan in its place.

In the interview, Glucksmann warned that if the EU's executive branch wants to be "chickenshit on Taiwan," the European Parliament will hold it accountable by refusing to ratify other trade priorities.

  • Glucksmann says one major barrier to stronger European action on China is Germany, where political leaders dating back to the 1990s have bet big on economic ties with China and companies like Volkswagen act as "ambassadors of Chinese interest."
  • Negotiations for the shape of the next German government are currently ongoing. Glucksmann is hopeful that the presence of the Greens in the governing coalition will push Germany to take a more "principles-based approach" to China.

What to watch: Glucksmann said how the EU responds to the China challenge will be a "litmus test" for whether the bloc can be an "adult player" independent of the U.S.: "If we don't manage to be stronger in our relations with China, then it means that Europe will remain weak forever."

Go deeper: Europe's China critics embrace Taiwan

Go deeper