It’s time for the EU to open the world’s ‘Global Gateways’ explains Reinhard Bütikofer

German Greens/EFA MEP says EU’s Global Gateway initiative should extend its reach beyond Eurasia to Africa

By Reinhard Bütikofer

Reinhard Bütikofer (DE, Greens/EFA) is chair of the European Parliament's Delegation for relations with the People's Republic of China, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and member of the Parliament's Delegation for relations with the United States

08 Oct 2021

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announcement at the beginning of her mandate, that hers would be an EU Executive with geopolitical ambition, resonated positively with MEPs from across the political spectrum, because it appeared to signal that she was following in the footsteps of her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker.

The former Luxembourgish Commission president had, back in 2018, warned us that the EU needed to develop what he called “Weltpolitikfähigkeit”, the ability to actively engage in global political strategy.

However, the hope that von der Leyen would take over the baton from Juncker in developing the European Connectivity Strategy seemed dashed as she did not appear to have much appetite for that novel approach to European global outreach.

Thankfully, in her recent State of the Union speech the Commission President overcame that reluctancy, and with her ‘Global Gateway’ initiative has presented a strong and promising strategy to make good on earlier expectations.

The Connectivity Strategy was originally drafted in 2018, and it promised infrastructure development cooperation with countries along the Eurasian arch in the energy, transport and digital sectors, as well as people-2-people connectivity.

Juncker took the next step in September 2019, when he signed an agreement together with Japan´s then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a major conference which the Commission organised in Brussels.

However, the Connectivity Strategy never really took off, primarily because of three shortcomings: The Commission could not immediately provide budgetary means for its high-flying ambition; the Connectivity label proved difficult to communicate unlike China´s silk road initiative; and the Commission unintentionally did not actively include the business sector in its efforts.

"In a broadly supported report that I authored, adopted in January, proposals were made for better governance of the EU´s connectivity strategy, integrating connectivity with the EU’s headline goals identifying pertinent priorities beyond the initial bricks-and-mortar focus, highlighting digital, but also including health, international standardisation and security issues"

With the European Parliament however, and with most Member States, the Connectivity agenda continued to be very popular.

In a broadly supported report that I authored, adopted in January, proposals were made for better governance of the EU´s connectivity strategy, integrating connectivity with the EU’s headline goals identifying pertinent priorities beyond the initial bricks-and-mortar focus, highlighting digital, but also including health, international standardisation and security issues.

The parliament also pushed for connectivity partnerships and to redefine the connectivity strategy not just as an EU-Asia project, but as a global endeavour.

EU Member States such as France, Germany, Spain and Sweden provided strong support to include connectivity within the new Global Europe financing instrument and encouraged the Commission to actively engage with this geopolitically central agenda.

The willingness of India and other partners to engage with the EU in promoting mutually beneficial connectivity, demonstrated that there were indeed takers for a European offer.

The fact that President Joe Biden not only inherited the Trump administration´s Blue Dot Network project, but also announced his intention to create a global ‘Build Back Better’ World initiative, also helped convince those in the Commission that it was now time to move.

"President von der Leyen´s Global Gateway initiative has overcome many of the earlier weaknesses of the EU’s initial approach. She has personally taken the lead on the issue, which will certainly be extremely valuable in overcoming some internal bureaucratic turf wars that hampered prospects in the past"

President von der Leyen´s Global Gateway initiative has overcome many of the earlier weaknesses of the EU’s initial approach.

She has personally taken the lead on the issue, which will certainly be extremely valuable in overcoming some internal bureaucratic turf wars that hampered prospects in the past.

She has also created a new and convincing narrative, explaining how the Global Gateway initiative is an up-to-date application of the cooperative approach to international relations which has been part of the EU´s DNA.

And she has emphasised the potential of connectivity partnerships as well as clarifying that the Global Gateway initiative will extend its reach well beyond the Asian region, giving high priority to our neighbouring continent, Africa.

Indeed, there is now a good chance that the EU could agree framework conditions with the African Union for a broad connectivity partnership at the upcoming EU-AU summit next February.

Of course, as with any other strategic policy, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating.

"The EU must not hesitate to create an effective governance model, or to identify lighthouse projects and needs to include the business community and civil society in the development of the initiative, while also showing openness to willing partners for practical collaboration"

The EU must not hesitate to create an effective governance model, or to identify lighthouse projects and needs to include the business community and civil society in the development of the initiative, while also showing openness to willing partners for practical collaboration.

One promising idea could be to extend the submarine data cable EllaLink that connects Europe to Latin America, based on a Portuguese initiative, towards the African continent, connecting Brazil and Angola, for example.

Or the EU could cooperate with African countries in building data centres. Equally, green energy projects could offer enormous scope for cooperation with many partners in different regions worldwide.

Closer to home, it would be good to combine the Global Gateway initiative with the Polish ‘Three Seas’ initiative that aims to create much-needed infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe and could be combined with EU efforts in the Western Balkans.

We should all be very grateful for the efforts of European External Action Service Ambassador at Large for Connectivity, Romana Vlahutin. Without her, we would not be where we are.

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