The percentages of shares of world publications of the European Union and its member states, China, and the United States have been represented differently as a result of using different databases. An analytical variant of the Web-of-Science (of Thomson Reuters) enables us to study the dynamics in the world publication system in terms of the field-normalized top-1% and top-10% most-frequently-cited publications. Comparing the EU28, USA, and China at the global level shows a top-level dynamics that is different from the analysis in terms of shares of publications: the United States remains far more productive in the top-1% of all papers; China drops out of the competition for elite status; and the EU28 increased its share among the top-cited papers from 2000-2010. Some of the EU28 member states overtook the U.S. during this decade, but a clear divide remains between EU15 (Western Europe) and the Accession Countries. Network analysis shows that internationally co-authored top-1% publications perform far above expectation and also above top-10% ones. In 2005, China was embedded in this top-layer of internationally co-authored publications. These publications often involve more than a single European nation.