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Regarding Europe’s inability to put out clear statements on China, I think it stems from an overestimation of the European Commission’s role and power. I am not the first to suggest that seeing the European Council (meeting of heads of government) as the EU’s ‘Politburo’, with the Commission being more akin to the State Council. Then there is the Foreign Affairs Council, which is actually a meeting of the foreign ministers in the Council of the EU. The Council of the EU (meeting of relevant issue ministers) together with the European Parliament makes up the legislature of the EU, but certain configurations (meeting of issue ministers) also have executive functions.

Luuk van Middelaar pointed out in his excellent book ‘Alarums and Excursions’ that the executive function is shared between EU leaders and national leaders acting in a European capacity. That means that we should not only look to the Commission, but also to the European Council and the Council of the EU.

We talk a lot about countries like Hungary and Greece throwing spanners into the process when Europe tries to take position on i.a. China. Indeed, moving away from the requirement for consensus in European Council or in the Foreign Affairs Council could overcome that. But just as in the case of China you need to have the Party back the State to make a policy succeed, it is important to get the EU's ‘Politburo’ to act properly if you actually want the foreign policy to impact.

The Commission has always represented those forces who want a greater supranational European role. They will be eager to push for the actions von der Leyen proposed in the State of the European Union. But real change, real action in the EU has always depended on the political will among national leaders. The European Council is where you need to lobby to change things.

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