MEPs push Brussels to follow Biden on Taiwan trade

Frustration is boiling over in the European Parliament that the Commission won't open talks with Taipei.

MEPs push Brussels to follow Biden on Taiwan trade

EU lawmakers are fed up with the European Commission’s reluctance to start an investment deal with Taiwan, while U.S. President Joe Biden has his sights set on trade talks with Taipei.

The indecision on the part of EU policymakers — out of fear of provoking Beijing, which could tear up the hard-earned but unratified EU-China pact — runs in stark contrast to Biden’s announcement to launch trade talks with the island “in coming weeks.”

For a large majority of lawmakers in the European Parliament, clinching a deal with Taiwan would be a major diplomatic show of support for the democratic and self-ruling island, which is coming under increasing military threats from Beijing. The Chinese authorities consider Taiwan to be their own territory.

Within the European Parliament, pressure is more tangible than ever for Brussels to step up to Taiwan’s request for talks on an investment deal, with the center-right European People’s Party, the Socialists & Democrats, liberal Renew group and Greens all converging around the idea. On Thursday, the international trade committee (INTA) overwhelmingly passed an opinion with 38 votes in favor, none against and three abstentions on “A new EU-China strategy,” in which the members explicitly called for talks with Taiwan.

For the European Commission, however, this is a problem. Brussels has been prioritizing an investment accord with Beijing but this now looks highly unlikely to be ratified amid tit-for-tat sanctions, and growing tensions over human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The Commission has exclusive powers to negotiate Europe’s trade arrangements but sticks to a “One China” policy, meaning that “the EU does not have diplomatic or formal political relations with Taiwan.”

Kathleen Van Brempt, a Belgian Socialist lawmaker, said the Commission was “totally ignoring that this is also about the political signal … The Commission cannot ignore the European Parliament.”

Marie-Pierre Vedrenne, vice-chair of the trade committee from the liberal Renew group, said: “We share democratic values, green objectives and we have a clear reciprocal economic interest to strengthen our ties [with Taiwan] … These are sufficient reasons to call for an urgent start of an impact assessment and a scoping exercise with our partner.”

The compromise amendment on Thursday, which was struck between the EPP, S&D, Renew and Greens, “recalls, in the context of the regional dynamics, the importance of EU-Taiwan trade and economic relations” and “urges the Commission and the Council to move towards a Bilateral Investment Agreement with Taiwan and urgently start the impact assessment, public consultation and scoping exercise with the Taiwanese authorities.”

The trade committee’s chair, Bernd Lange from the Socialists & Democrats, also thought it was time for the Commission to get off the fence on Taiwan.

“It is time that we put words into action, we should launch an impact assessment as soon as possible,” Lange said. “Let’s analyse, in detail, if and how a bilateral investment agreement could benefit both the EU and Taiwan and then look at next steps. “

Taiwanese diplomats also weighed in, calling on the Commission to speed up a deal now that ratification of the EU’s Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with Beijing is all but frozen.

“We are clear that any potential investment agreement between the EU and Taiwan should be completely decoupled from the ratification of CAI,” said a spokesman for Taiwan’s mission to the EU. “In view of the current freeze on the review and ratification process of the CAI, a Taiwan-EU investment agreement should not be held hostage to this ongoing process.”

Taipei calling

The EU’s stance essentially turns a deaf ear to the call made by Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who last month called on Brussels to start negotiations with the island. “To reflect how far the Taiwan-EU relationship has come in the past few years, I believe it is time for Taiwan and the EU to restart negotiations on a bilateral investment agreement,” she said at the time.

At a meeting between MEPs and the Commission on Tuesday, the executive refused to budge.

According to MEPs and other people present at Thursday’s meeting, Commission officials said that they saw no need to pen an investment deal because business isn’t asking for this, and that the EU is already engaging with Taipei in other bilateral fora like the supply chain forum and investment forum. 

In the past, officials dodged the idea by saying that they wanted to ratify the EU-China investment deal before even considering starting talks with Taiwan and that they would need a mandate from EU countries. “The Commission has not yet considered the launching of investment negotiations with Taiwan,” a Commission spokesperson said in May.

On Thursday, when asked about how the Commission currently views the possibility of starting investment talks, a spokesperson did not answer directly. “We are looking into possible options to boost our engagement with Taiwan, which remains an important and like-minded trade partner. This is a work in progress in Brussels,” the spokesperson said.

China is warning the EU to stop any such work in progress. “The EU side has always insisted that it follows the One China principle. We urge the EU side not to have any official interactions in any form or nature with the Taiwan region,” a spokesman for the Chinese mission to the EU told POLITICO. “We oppose the signing of any agreement with implications of sovereignty and of official nature between those having diplomatic ties with China and the Taiwan region.”

The Parliament’s foreign affairs committee is set to vote on the “new EU-China strategy” report on July 15. As it moves towards a full plenary session in the fall, Parliament’s call to explore talks with Taiwan will only grow louder.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service Pro Trade. From transatlantic trade wars to the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU and rest of the world, Pro Trade  gives you the insight you need to plan your next move. Email for a complimentary trial. 

Source : Politico EU More   

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Voter fraud misinformation gains momentum in Germany

Researchers discovered a spike of election-related falsehoods around a recent state election ahead of the country's nationwide poll in September.

Voter fraud misinformation gains momentum in Germany

False claims about election fraud, often promoted by leading far-right politicians, are starting to pick up pace ahead of Germany’s nationwide election in September, according to data from Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms provided to POLITICO.

Far-right voters, including some from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, are the main promoters of such misinformation.

Russian-based media groups like RT also have fostered a favorable image of the far-right party, particularly among voters in Eastern Germany, based on analysis from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank that tracks online extremism across the European Union and United States.

The analysts found that election fraud narratives had spiked on both mainstream social media platforms and fringe networks during the Saxony Anhalt state election on June 6. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party won that vote — the last before the country’s federal election later this year — and pushed the AfD into second place in a state that had been seen as a stronghold for the far-right party.

“The far-right is trying to undermine trust in the elections,” said Julia Smirnova, one of the researchers who conducted the review of social media activity around the Saxony Anhalt election. “Russian state media has given more positive coverage to the AfD and given more space to their politicians than for other political parties.”

The analysts looked at social media activity in the run-up and aftermath of the Eastern German election, as well as tracked political discussions within encrypted Telegram channels and fringe video platforms like Bitchute. While the majority of the election fraud discussions did not break out from online far-right audiences, the research found that social media posts related to such misinformation were readily accessible across mainstream sites like Facebook and Twitter. No evidence of voting irregularities has been found in Saxony Anhalt.


For more polling data from across Europe visit Poll of Polls.

In one, an anonymous Twitter user posted an image of an alleged local voting precinct and said he was an election worker who planned to spoil AfD ballots to reduce the political group’s ability to win the election.

Yet the photo was of a U.S. polling station. That didn’t stop a prominent AfD politician from using it for a Twitter post that has been shared almost 400 times and has yet to be taken down. In total, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that the hashtag wahlfälschung, or election fraud, was used almost 5,000 times on Twitter within 24 hours of the June 6 election.

Twitter declined to comment on the research, but said that its election integrity policies applied worldwide. Facebook said it was working with independent fact-checkers and had introduced greater transparency on which political groups bought political ads on its platform.

 “We are also coordinating closely with the German authorities on the upcoming elections to be able to react quickly if problematic issues arise, ” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

Similar efforts to undermine people’s trust in elections were widespread during the recent U.S. presidential election. Both candidates and social media users spread fake reports that ballots had been illegally spoiled and that people had vote illegally, often via postal voting.

Several high-profile German far-right influencers, often using encrypted channels on Telegram, the fringe social network, with tens, if not hundreds of thousands of followers, have hyped up that concern. They have warned local voters that examples of supposed voter fraud in the U.S. may also take place in Germany, according to the analysts’ review of social media activity. One of these far-right supporters published lengthy claims of election fraud about the Saxony Anhalt election to his large Telegram followers, who subsequently shared those findings on both mainstream and fringe social networks with little, if any, pushback from the companies.

Analysts are concerned that such tactics may be repeated in the September election in Germany where the largest social media platforms are only now starting to roll out efforts to stop politically-motivated misinformation from garnering a large online audience. In the U.S., the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google clamped down hard on election-related misinformation, including demoting or even banning social media users who spread falsehoods around voting.

“Outside the English-speaking world, we see enforcement gaps from the platforms and extensive election-related misinformation starting to spread in the German-speaking content,” said Chloe Colliver, head of digital policy and strategy at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “My biggest concern isn’t that policies won’t be in place for the German elections, but that those policies won’t be comprehensively enforced.”

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Tech policy coverage: Pro Technology. Our expert journalism and suite of policy intelligence tools allow you to seamlessly search, track and understand the developments and stakeholders shaping EU Tech policy and driving decisions impacting your industry. Email with the code ‘TECH’ for a complimentary trial.

Source : Politico EU More   

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