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EU unveils economic security plans with eye to China

January 24, 2024

The European Union has drawn up measures to protect sensitive economic assets from being usurped by geopolitical rivals. They come amid a rethink of EU-China relations.

 A quantum computer
Quantum computing is one sensitive technology that the EU is planning to protect from rivalsImage: Cseh Ioan/PantherMedia/IMAGO

The European Union on Wednesday announced a number of measures it hopes will help keep sensitive technology and key infrastructure out of the hands of global rivals, notably China.  

The proposed rules will require more rigorous screening of investments from abroad, tighter controls on exports and more restrictions on who can participate in researching key technologies.

Facing "profound geopolitical turmoil and fast technological shifts" the EU has to reduce security risks from trade and investment, EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said in a statement.

Although the plan does not mention any specific country, the initiatives come as the EU focuses on "de-risking" its economic relations with China, the bloc's most important trading partner.

According to a draft text seen by the AFP news agency, the plan addresses "risks to EU economic security while ensuring that the EU remains a most attractive destination for business and investment."

"Geopolitical tensions and the pace of technological change mean there is a need for more coordinated action at EU level," the document reportedly said.

Critics have, however, warned that they will be difficult to enforce given that every EU member state retains control over its own foreign policy.

EU member states and the European Parliament will now assess the proposals.

What does 'de-risking' EU-China relations mean?

What do the measures entail?

Alongside its calls to tighten screening of foreign direct investment (FDI), the European Commission wants to see improved coordination on controlling exports of key technologies.

In October, the EU unveiled a list of four critical technologies — advanced semiconductors, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and biotechnology — that it considers the biggest risks if they fall into what it sees as the wrong hands. 

The Commission also outlined measures on export controls of so-called dual-use technologies — products that can also have a military application alongside their civilian use.

The EU executive launched a debate on the bloc's security in June, saying that the COVID pandemic, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, cyber and infrastructure attacks and increased geopolitical tensions had highlighted several new risks.

tj/sms (AFP, Reuters)