The EU has rolled out a plan to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in global infrastructure projects under the “Global Gateway” program, seen as a counter to China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has been criticized as a vehicle for expanding Beijing’s influence around the world.
The European Commission (EC), the EU’s executive body, stated on Dec. 1 that the plan will include $340 billion in investments through 2027 to boost links in global digital, energy, transport, health, education, and research systems.
“Global Gateway will offer a values-based option for partner countries to choose from when deciding how to meet their infrastructure development need,” the EC stated in a document (pdf) detailing the new program, billed as being based on democratic values and high standards.
“This means adhering to the rule of law, upholding high standards of human, social, and workers’ rights, and respecting norms from international rules and standards to intellectual property,” the document reads. “It means taking an ethical approach so that infrastructure projects do not create unsustainable debt or unwanted dependencies.”
China launched the BRI in 2013 to boost trade links with the rest of the world, and it has been spending heavily on infrastructure projects in a number of countries. But critics say the financing terms offered by Beijing are often unfavorable, lack transparency, and make some countries dependent on China through debt.
A recent study from AidData, a research lab at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute, analyzed 13,427 projects backed by China in more than 165 countries and found that 35 percent of BRI projects have seen implementation problems, including corruption scandals, labor violations, and environmental hazards.
“A growing number of policymakers in low- and middle-income countries are mothballing high profile BRI projects because of overpricing, corruption, and debt sustainability concerns,” said Brad Parks, one of the study’s authors.
In announcing the launch of Global Gateway, the EC stated that its program will “offer its financing under fair and favorable terms in order to limit the risk of debt distress.”
“Without proper transparency, good governance, and high standards projects can be badly chosen or designed, left incomplete, or be used to fuel corruption. This not only stunts growth and deprives local communities but it ultimately creates dependencies, which can limit countries’ ability to make decisions,” the Global Gateway document reads.
EC President Ursula von der Leyen called the new program a “true alternative” to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, telling a news conference at which she unveiled Global Gateway that countries need “better and different offers.”
In remarks in a state of the union address in mid-September about the development of Global Gateway, von der Leyen noted the drawbacks of the existing framework of engagement between the EU and the Indo-Pacific region, saying that “autocratic regimes use it to try to expand their influence.”
“We are good at financing roads. But it does not make sense for Europe to build a perfect road between a Chinese-owned copper mine and a Chinese-owned harbor,” she said at the time.
Von der Leyen called Global Gateway a “template for how Europe can redesign its model to connect the world.”
“We want to create links and not dependencies,” she said.
The EC stated that the program would also underpin the global economic recovery and boost global supply chains, the vulnerability of which became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.