October 27, 2021

What Is the EU’s Global Gateway Initiative?


The Global Gateway is the latest in a series of EU policy actions and strategies designed to create a viable alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), developed by the People’s Republic of China.

On the world stage, China dominates in trading. However, there are whispers that EU policymakers are growing apprehensive of the wide-reaching influence that the BRI could have, particularly in countries where the EU has strategic interests.

The Global Gateway is a vision that encapsulates the EU’s efforts to finance the construction of infrastructure in the Global South and bolster trade relations with these countries.

Continue reading to learn more about the Global Gateway and how it might affect EU-China trade relations.

What Is China’s Belt and Road Initiative?

It’s critical to gain an understanding of what China’s Belt and Road Initiative is in order to see how the EU’s Global Gateway initiative fits into the equation.

The BRI is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013. It comprises a Silk Road Economic Belt — a trans-continental passage that links China with south-east Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Europe by land — and a Maritime Silk road, which is a sea route connecting China’s coastal regions with south-east Asia, South Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East and Eastern Africa, all the way to Europe.

Currently, 140 countries participate in the project, and it is expected to involve more than $1 trillion (£774.9 billion) in investments.

There are two leading infrastructure projects that stand out from the hundreds of BRI developments. Firstly, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor consists of bridges, railways, energy installations, and expansion of the Pakistani port of Gwadar. Secondly, the China-Europe express railway has slashed delivery time from China to Europe to 15 days — an undeniable success of the initiative.

However, the project goes far beyond infrastructure. The vast collection of development and investment initiatives stretch all over the globe, significantly expanding China’s economic and political influence. The BRI has been the focus of US-China trade struggles in the past, with politicians concerned with the reach of the project.

However, western countries have been unable to provide a viable alternative to the initiative. That’s where the EU’s Global Gateway initiative comes in.

An Introduction to the Global Gateway Initiative

On 15 September 2021, the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU would implement a connectivity strategy called the Global Gateway. 

In her announcement, von der Leyen explained that the EU would build partnerships with countries around the world to drive ‘investments in quality infrastructure, connecting goods, people and services.’ 

Moreover, in what could be construed as an indirect criticism of the BRI, she highlighted that the EU will take a ‘values-based’ and ‘transparent’ approach to create links and not dependencies in countries.

There has been growing concern about China’s BRI creating ‘hidden’ debt traps in low- and middle-income countries due to a lack of transparency surrounding financing negotiations. The statement by von der Leyen on transparency and ethics is, therefore, significant given the context.

It is unlikely that the Global Gateway initiative will collide directly with the BRI. Instead, it will prove an interesting opportunity for the EU to fill the gaps that the BRI infrastructure doesn’t reach to build partnerships and drive growth.

Of course, the EU is faced with a steep task ahead in successfully rolling out the new initiative. Not only will it require sustained political and economic drive, but it will also need to gain the support of countries in the Global South — which isn’t necessarily guaranteed, given that some have already aligned with the BRI.

An Exciting Opportunity for Africa

The Global Gateway initiative could strengthen ties between the EU and Africa, making it a valuable growth partner for the continent. 

When discussing the initiative’s goals of deepening trade links and strengthening supply chains, von der Leyen singled out the need to ‘develop new investment projects on green and digital technologies’. By combining the European Green Deal with the Global Gateway initiative, the EU could create a value-added relationship with Africa, with huge potential to develop economies at scale by contributing to the continent’s emerging green and digital economies. 

All eyes will be on the next EU-Africa Summit in February, as von der Leyen announced that the Global Gateway initiative would be a priority at the event. 

How Will the Global Gateway Initiative Affect EU-China Trade Relations?

In 2020, China became the EU’s biggest trading partner, overtaking the US. However, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for the two economic powerhouses.

Fast-forward one year, trade relations appear to be strained. In 2021, the EU Parliament voted to freeze a huge China trade deal due to tit-for-tat sanctions. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment was agreed to in December 2020 but has not yet been ratified.

The announcement of the Global Gateway initiative could further shake the boat. By focusing on building stronger investment links with African countries, for instance, the EU would diminish its reliance on China. 

Only time will tell the full impact of the Global Gateway initiative because, as we mentioned earlier, the plan is still in its infancy. However, if it does evolve into a tangible, ethical and global project, it would boost the EU’s standing on the world stage as well as drive positive, sustained change in developing countries. 

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