France calls out Chinese economic pressure in Europe

France calls out Chinese economic pressure in Europe

A report by the French National Assembly warns that foreign powers are interfering in Europe, seeking to change the course of the democratic processes.

The months-long enquiry identifies Russia as “the main threat to Western democracies in terms of interference”, says rapporteur Constance le Grip (Les Républicains/PPE), with methods including espionage, information warfare and cyber-attacks.

In total, “80% of efforts to influence Europe are carried out by Russia”, warns Julien Bayou (Écolo- NUPES/Verts), citing figures from the Centre d’analyse, de prévision et de stratégie (CAPS) and the Institut de recherche stratégique de l’École militaire (IRSEM).

Huawei and ZTE, Beijing's soldiers

That said, Beijing closely follows Moscow. The various experts and political and academic figures interviewed noted that China is “increasingly resorting to aggressive and malicious manoeuvres to achieve its objectives”. This “to the point where we can speak of a ‘Russianisation’ of its attitude”, they concluded, the report reads.

In addition to its interest in universities in the country, which it uses as a gateway to the French, it is through its economic interference that Beijing is making its presence felt. In particular, they are warning against the presence of the state telecommunications company Huawei and the development of Chinese 5G network on the European continent.

According to Thomas Gomart of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), Huawei “has been lobbying very hard in Europe, to which it has responded with a very explicit counter- lobbying”.

“The Chinese regime regularly invests in strategic sectors in order to place our countries in a position of dependence in the areas that are most important for our sovereignty”, adds Raphaël Glucksmann (Place Publique / S&D), MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s special committee looking into foreign interference.

For some years now, the European Commission, under the presidency of Ursula von der Leyen, has been trying to limit the impact of foreign interference of all kinds in the affairs of its Member States.

Member States are being encouraged to regulate the role of Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE as high-risk suppliers of 5G on the continent, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said again last week.

Raphaël Glucksmann welcomes this development: “Things are starting to change, with European texts on screening investments in strategic sectors”. However, he regrets that “for a long time, our authorities have been extremely naive”.

Nicolas Lerner, head of the Directorate General for Internal Security (DGSI), notes that “the field of economic intelligence has made very significant progress in four and a half years: the naivety is over”.

Will Turkey follow Qatar?

The extent of the influence of foreign powers in the European Union was brought under the spotlight by the QatarGate affair last December.

Involving MEPs accused of having been corrupted by the state of Qatar, then Morocco, the affair highlighted the fact that even the European Union’s partners could exert pressure on senior decision-makers to change their decisions.

As well as naming these two allies of the EU, the report highlights the role of Turkey. A partner of choice for Europeans in their desire to manage the flow of migrants to Europe, and since the start of the war in Ukraine in mediation with Russia, Ankara has not been able to show its hand during the hearings conducted by the French parliamentarians.

Turkey, like Iran, “resorts to strategies that include violent action”. The MEPs also noted that Turkey, like Morocco and Qatar, uses “influence”.

Former French Prime Minister François Fillon, for example, said that he had been approached by “religious leaders” seeking to influence him and his work.

Once again, Turkey is “drawing inspiration” from methods used by Russia and China, by taking advantage of the “Turkish state media or “alternative” Turkish media, practising disinformation and disseminating a Turkish view of our country that is, to say the least, unfriendly; activism on social networks with fake accounts and real influencers…”.

European elections are a cause for concern

The European Parliament has also called on EU capitals to adopt a coordinated strategy to prevent attempts at foreign interference and manipulation of information – dubbed “FIMI” – during the forthcoming European elections in 2024.

The Members of the European Parliament expect the EU institutions and national authorities to strengthen their resilience in the run-up to the elections, which they see as the perfect opportunity for interference, especially from China and Russia.

They recommend that social media platform TikTok be banned from all government and European institutions, and urge European institutions not to use “equipment and software from manufacturers in high-risk countries, in particular China and Russia”, citing ByteDance, Huawei, ZTE, Kaspersky, NtechLab or Nuctech.


Sources: Assemblée nationale, European Commission, European Parliament, CAPS/IRSEMEuractivLe Soir.