Jean-Pierre Schaeken Willemaers
Thomas More Institute – President of the Energy, Climate, Environment division

Jean-Pierre Schaeken Willemaers analyzes the major change represented by the formation of geopolitical blocs.

This is a Google English translation of the French original published on Science, Climate et Energie, and originally published in Trends_le vif 01/4/2023.

After thirty years of increasing globalization, successive crises (financial, health and the war in Ukraine) have upset the world economy and provoked a withdrawal into oneself. Protectionism is no longer a dirty word. Energy security is a priority for governments, especially European ones. Moreover, this is not the only concern: the supply of raw materials and foodstuffs has become a daily concern.

There is not only a shortage of food such as wheat, but also of fertilizers and pesticides as well as a lack of infrastructure. For example, Ukrainian wheat exports fell by around 30 million tonnes in 2022/2023 compared to the previous season (60 million tonnes), or 7% of world exports. [1]

The shortage of all these basic necessities has led to a sharp increase in their prices and widespread inflation.

This new ecosystem leads to a fragmentation of globalization, that is to say to a multipolar world made up of several blocks of countries organized according to geopolitical considerations, which exchange little, if any at all, with each other, not only because they do not share the same values, but also because they operate according to different standards. After offshoring (relocation mainly motivated by the low cost of labour), we are now in the midst of friend shoring, which consists of reconfiguring global economic chains so that relocations are limited to politically friendly and reliable countries. [2]

Two superpowers currently dominate the world: the United States, the leader of the Western bloc, and China.

The so-called “Western” bloc (essentially the United States, Canada, the European Union and Australia) did not pose any cohesion problems until Donald Trump’s presidency. Since then, relations between the EU and the United States have tended to become strained following the confrontational posture of the latter with regard to Beijing and more recently the IRA ( Inflation Reduction Act ), considered by Europeans as a violation of the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and described by them as unfriendly.

Note that in this respect the EU does nothing else by applying a carbon tax at its borders ( Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism ) which is nothing more than an import tax.

It is in this context that Emmanuel Macron visited the United States from November 29 to December 2 of this year. He pleaded with President Biden for exemptions for European industrialists penalized by the IRA which provides for massive Made in America subsidies , particularly in the fields of automobiles, energy and climate. Europe is struggling to organize the response to this competition in the form of a Buy European.

European regulations, presented as a framework to protect the environment, are in fact only protectionist measures. A glaring example is the EU’s proposed mandatory due diligence law to end deforestation in the supply chain. It requires verification that the goods have not been produced on deforested or degraded land. [3]

The actual or announced sanctions of the “Western” bloc, not only with regard to Russia, but also vis-à-vis the countries which support the latter and those which do not adhere to Western values, weaken relations between the United States and the European Union and, within the latter, between the Member States. Trade in energy, foodstuffs and raw materials is particularly affected. The EU, much more dependent on foreign countries than North America, is bearing the brunt of the shortages. It has difficulty coping with the resulting inflation.

If the Western bloc no longer seems as close-knit as before, there is little chance that this new deal will lead to the decoupling of the United States/EU tandem, the latter being far too dependent on the Americans and in particular on its military shield.

China is a bloc on its own. Could it materialize a rapprochement with the Russian bloc (to which, it should be remembered, Ukraine is historically a part)? She has an ambiguous position on this subject.

Xi Jin-Ping is not unaware of the advantages he can derive from good relations with Moscow, but has no interest in alienating Western countries, nor in cutting himself off from the rest of the world of which his country was the main beneficiary for twenty years. [4]

These two blocks, suspect in the eyes of Europeans due, among other things, to their dictatorial regime, have reasons to cooperate, one to secure its supply of gas, oil and minerals which it lacks, even cereals, and the other to perpetuate its exports of the aforementioned products and to have access to strategic technologies and metals that it can no longer import from the “West”, at least currently.

Let us remember in this regard that Brazil, South Africa and many developing countries were not convinced by the discourse of “Western” countries against Russia. Most of them abstained or did not appear at the United Nations General Assembly during the vote on Russian aggression against Ukraine, considering access to Russian wheat and hydrocarbons a priority.

The position of the countries of the “South” was confirmed and even extended to a larger number of countries when the resolution to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council was voted on on 7 April 2022. [5]

The European Union is divided over relations with China. This is the case of Germany and France, the two main European countries.

The German Chancellor, accompanied by a delegation of industrialists, pleaded, during his whirlwind visit to China on November 4, 2022, for more cooperation and fair trade relations in order to ensure more opportunities for German industry. He decided to go alone despite President Macron’s offer to join him. This is understandable, China being its most important trading partner, a fundamental issue for a country whose prosperity depends fundamentally on its exports: an illustration of divergent interests.

This trip was highly controversial due to the backdrop of growing Western defiance of China’s dictatorial regime and fear of repeating the scenario of over-reliance on a single supplier, as was the case with Germany in relation to Russian gas.

President Macron went to China, in the wake of the German Chancellor, with a more general program covering, in addition to the defense of the economic and commercial interests of France and Europe, international crises, the war in Ukraine and its consequences on the rest of the world, culture and climate issues, behaving as the representative of the European Union, while the German Chancellor focused on promoting its exports.

Finally, what about the non-aligned and their ability to remain autonomous from the American and Chinese blocs, notably Turkey, Indonesia and India? Does the European Union have a card to play?


[1] Stephan von Cramon-Taubadel, How to address the food crisis without jeopardizing climate goals, Bruegel Institute, December 9, 2022.
[2] Fragmented globalization, a scenario that could upset the world, Fabrice Gliszczynski, La Tribune, July 18, 2022.
[3] Protectionism is no longer a dirty word in Brussels, Pierre Cleppe, Contrepoints, November 20, 2022.
[4] Fragmented globalization: this scenario that could upset the world, Fabrice Gliszczynsk, La Tribune, July 18, 2022.
[5] New alliance to get out of the interregnum, Mario Pezzini, Le Grand Continent, May 26, 2022.