Academia Sinica 2008: EU-Taiwan Relations

Academia Sinica 2008: EU-Taiwan Relations


In this paper we analyze recent issues in the relations between the European Union (EU) and Taiwan. We give some general background concerning the One China principle, which means that there are no diplomatic relations between the EU or its member states and Taiwan. On the other hand Taiwan is an important trading partner of the EU, so pragmatic means of communication about trade-related issues have been developed. The EU supported Taiwan's membership of the WTO and has opened a representative office in Taipei in 2003. The EU has a more formalized relationship with the People's Republic of China (PRC), which goes back to 1975. The EU has lately spoken out more often on cross-strait issues, occasionally criticizing both sides to the conflict. The EU has supported increased cross-straits communications and a reduction of tensions between Taiwan and China. In the economic area the EU has various complaints about non-tariff-barriers (NTBs) to trade in Taiwan.


Relations between the EU and Taiwan are mainly economic relations. Given the One China policy adhered to by the EU and its member states there are no diplomatic relations between the EU and Taiwan. But Taiwan is an important trade partner of the EU and the EU actively supported Taiwan's request for WTO membership as 'Chinese Taipei' through the 1990s until membership in 2002. Since March 2003 the EU Commission has a representative office in Taipei and a certain normalization of (non-diplomatic) relations has taken place. The name of the EU office in Taipei is European Economic and Trade Office (EETO).

Annual trade consultations have actually taken place between the European Community and Taiwan since the 1980s, starting in London in December 1981. For many years these consultations were kept extremely secret. The latest meeting took place in Brussels in the autumn of 2008.

In this paper we will look at the current state of affairs. What are the main issues in these relations? We will make a distinction between political and economic issues, even if the distinction can be difficult in practice. Concerning economic issues the European Commission is an important actor internationally and the so-called Community method is applied. When the Community method is applied the Commission takes initiative, negotiates with Third countries and some decisions in the Council of Ministers can be made by a qualified majority vote (QMV), even if in practice there is an effort to reach consensus. Political issues fall under the Union's second pillar, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which is intergovernmental cooperation between the member states. Unanimity is the norm under CFSP. CFSP is represented externally through the member state holding the rotating Presidency as well as the High Representative of CFSP, currently Javier Solana. Should the proposed Lisbon Treaty be fully ratified, which is uncertain at the moment given the 'no' vote in the referendum in Ireland in June 2008, this basic set-up will change somewhat but not radically. Even if the pillar structure of the Union will be abolished the CFSP will remain largely intergovernmental.

Political issues in relations with China/Taiwan are closely linked with the question of statehood. The People's Republic of China (PRC) sees Taiwan as a renegade province of China and resists any step that may take Taiwan towards independence, statehood or sovereignty. Although the PRC accepted Taiwan's membership of the WTO as a customs territory, the PRC has been strongly against UN membership of Taiwan as well as membership in specialized agencies of the UN which require statehood, such as the World Health Organization (WHO). Given the EU support for the One China principle, the EU member states have not been able to support Taiwan's membership of the UN, WHO and other international organization where members have to be states.

Concerning specific political issues between the EU and Taiwan the latter is the main demandeur. In recent years the three issues most frequently mentioned have been:

1. Weapons embargo against China

2. Taiwan's participation in the WHO

3. Schengen visa for Taiwanese.

However, overall the question of cross-straits relations has occupied the most important space in the EU's relations with Taiwan in recent years.

If we look at economic issues it is probably fair to say that it is the EU which is the main demandeur. A number of relatively technical issues concerning the perceived Taiwanese protectionism in the form of various Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs) have stayed on the agenda over the years. Some were solved through the negotiations leading to Taiwan's membership in the WTO, but since Taiwan joined that organization it has been a question of implementation of the agreements as well as new issues emerging, where the perception in Brussels was that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government in Taipei sometimes listened too much to lobbyists seeking protection against foreign competition. It remains to be seen whether this will change under the new Kuomintang (KMT) government of Ma Ying-jeou elected in March 2008.

Dr. Finn Laursen