EU launches €300bn bid to challenge Chinese influence

By Jessica Parker
BBC Brussels correspondent

Image source, Getty Images
Caption for the image

China’s Belt and Road strategy reaches into the Western Balkans including this one in Montenegro

The EU has revealed details of a €300bn (£255bn; $340bn) global investment plan, described as a “true alternative” to China’s Belt and Road strategy.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission said that Global Gateway should be a trustworthy brand.

China is accused of funding rail and roads in China, but it also funds ports.

Chief of the Commission, Dr. John McDonnell said that countries require “trusted partner” to develop sustainable projects.

The EU examines how to leverage billions in euros from its member countries, financial institutions, and the private sector.

Frau von der Leyen stated that the EU was trying to demonstrate that it could take a democratic approach and deliver projects that were focused on climate change, global health security, sustainable development in developing countries, as well as tackling issues like global warming.

The projects must be high-quality, transparent, well managed, and have tangible outcomes for countries. A senior EU official stated to the BBC that Africa was the primary focus of the scheme.

China’s strategies have extended to Africa, Asia, and the Indo-Pacific. China’s Cosco owns 2/3 of the enormous Greek port at Piraeus and China Road and Bridge Corporation built a crucial bridge in Croatia.

The Commission President stated that “when it comes to investing choices,” “the few options available too often come along with a lot small print, which can have big consequences financially, politically, and also socially.” High quality projects must be transparent and well managed, as they have to produce tangible results.

Andrew Small is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund. He said it represented “the first serious effort on the European side, to put together packages and find financing mechanisms. So countries that are considering borrowing from China have an option.”

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Zhang Ming, China’s ambassador in the EU to China, stated that Beijing welcomes the EU’s Global Gateway strategy as long as it’s open-minded and can “help developing nations”. However, he warned that any attempt to make infrastructure projects into geopolitical tools would not meet the expectations of the international community or harm one’s interests.

The center-piece of Chinese foreign policies has been Belt and Road.

It has been criticized for providing loans to “predatory” countries in “debt trap diplomacy”, although it has helped develop trade relations by investing money in new roads, rails, and bridges.

However, there are those that argue that the picture is complex and that large loans of money can be risky. China also met a need that others didn’t.

Whatever the outcome, China’s geopolitical and economic influence has been growing as West-West tensions escalate.

Andrew Small suggests that the real question is how EU can act in this space of geopolitical conflict.

Is it too rigid? Too weighed down by bureaucratic fighting within the organization?” He argues that if they don’t succeed at this it is a major miss.

I was told by a diplomat that it is a positive sign that Europe has finally asserted its power in the region.

“This is a shared interest that we have with transatlantic friends from the UK and US.”

Scott Morris is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. He says that while a common interest may create competition, it could also cause more.

The US also launched its own initiative, “Build Back a Better World”, at the G7 this June. Morris says, “This space is noisy with many brands bumping into one another.”

He is optimistic about the Global Gateway initiative’s success. He believes that the Global Gateway initiative is more significant than China’s rival. It offers Europe the chance to finance some of the most important projects in Africa.

EU has emphasized its transparency and value-based approach. They argue that they want to establish links rather than dependencies.

This is about influence. The Commission will continue to explore ways that it can exert its power on the geopolitical stage, and in turn find out how powerful those muscles are.


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