Europe in the World


Global Gateway: Positioning Europe for a Sustainable Future

23 Feb 2022 - 11:44
Source: CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2019. Source: European Parliament
Three Questions to Maaike Okano-Heijmans

This interview has been previously published by Institut Montaigne.

On December 1, 2021, the European Commission unveiled its Global Gateway strategy, which aims to mobilize €300 billion in investments around the globe between 2021 and 2027, in order to "boost smart, clean and secure links in digital, energy and transport and strengthen health, education and research systems across the world". Implementing Global Gateway requires a concerted and coordinated effort among "Team Europe", particularly within the context of other global strategies, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Maaike Okano-Heijmans, Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute, provides an analysis of the formulation and implementation of the Global Gateway plan, and how it indicates Europe’s position in a changing world. 

What are the key components of the Global Gateway initiative?

Global Gateway is very broad, which means that the answer to this question will depend on the perspective we choose to focus on. In effect, it aims at establishing smart and sustainable connections in the digital, energy and transport sectors across the world. As such, it is very much aligned to the European Union’s strategic priorities and its green and digital agenda. 

In implementing Global Gateway, it is very important to act as "Team Europe", ensuring coordinated action between EU institutions, EU member states and other European stakeholders

In terms of a regional focus, Global Gateway is broadening from Asia, which was the focus of the connectivity agenda that preceded it. Africa is said to be Global Gateway’s "proof of concept" and a Global Gateway African investment package and other commitments were announced at the EU-AU (African Union) summit on 17-18 February 2022. Another "flagship project" of Global Gateway connects Europe with Latin America: the BELLA submarine cable system.

In implementing Global Gateway, it is very important to act as "Team Europe", ensuring coordinated action between EU institutions, EU member states and other European stakeholders such as the private sector and financial institutions. This will also make it easier to collaborate with other partners, and to convince them to work in ways that align with the EU’s internal objectives. This is why there is so much emphasis on the digital and green aspects of the Global Gateway. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic has also raised the priority of health issues. Similarly, the digital transition is also central, and was accelerated - if not initiated - by the Covid crisis. 

We have to bear in mind that all elements of digitalization are interconnected, and that everything works with digital tools or instruments, so it is essential that stable and secure connectivity exists on a global scale.

Regarding the funding and approach of the Global Gateway, 300 billion euros are to be devoted to the plan. Even though this might seem like a massive sum, we should keep in mind that the budget covers 2021-2027. There is also the EU’s Neighborhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), which is developed separately from the Global Gateway and included in the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), making it a form of double-dipping. 

However, the projections of the many proposed investments are hypothetical; to see the real results of the plan we need to look at what is actually being done and not at what is planned. Another remarkable aspect of the plan is its governance. In comparison to its two predecessors, the 2016 European Economic Diplomacy strategy and the 2019 Connectivity Strategy, Global Gateway indicates a milestone. While both of these previous attempts were also a response to the clash of capitalisms combined with geopolitical power shifts, Global Gateway clearly goes a step further. This is evident in its proposal to create a Business Council led by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is taking the reins from the European External Action Service (EEAS). This change in governance creates more incentive than ever for Global Gateway to generate a successful outcome. 

The European Commission’s strong emphasis on upholding democratic values and principles in the implementation of its Global Gateway plan seems to translate a desire to differentiate itself from China’s Belt and Road initiative. Many analysts also see the EU's plan as a direct response to the Chinese initiative. In practice, how do these two strategies differ from one another?

Considering Global Gateway as a mere response to the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) would be both oversimplifying and misleading. The BRI is indeed China’s most significant connectivity initiative thus far, and Global Gateway would probably not have seen the light of day, were it not for BRI. However, Global Gateway is better understood from a broader perspective, as a sign of the EU reacting to a changing world. The EU is reviewing its strategy and tactics in light of clashing capitalisms (mostly between the EU’s market-based and China’s state-guided systems) and global geopolitical power shifts.

Global Gateway is better understood from a broader perspective, as a sign of the EU reacting to a changing world

Although China clearly had - and continues to have - the most influence on such transformations, other actors and factors should also be taken into consideration. Portraying Global Gateway solely as a response to the BRI also prevents from considering the EU’s own interests, strategy and tactics, irrespective of China. The starting point when analyzing and acting on Global Gateway should therefore be the EU and its member states themselves, rather than China. 

BRI’s ultimate goal is to serve China’s long-term economic and geopolitical interests. Such intentions, which were somewhat overlooked at first, are now better understood by the EU, which shows a capacity to learn Chinese practices. In turn, the EU can respond more quickly and efficiently. 

The Chinese digital transformation is a major game changer - not only for the EU but for all international actors. China’s Digital Silk Road, as part of the BRI, aims to support China’s high tech and digital companies, creating markets for them to operate in third countries by first investing in digital infrastructure. Even though the EU was one of the first players to respond to the rise of big technology companies, the focus of its current Digital Strategy (also known as Digital Compass) remains mostly intra-European and mainly targets US Big Tech, which is far stronger in Europe than Chinese Big Tech, which dominates many Indo-Pacific markets. The EU is starting to realize that in a globally connected world, working on the inside is not enough. It will also be crucial to engage with developing countries that are looking for an alternative to the Chinese (and American) offerings. This is exactly what China is doing through the digital aspects of BRI. 

Overall, we are experiencing a big shift, in which Global Gateway actually represents an international extension of the EU’s industrial policy, by taking the internal agenda to third countries. Hence, the plan is also steering a shift in the EU’s development cooperation policy, dealing with infrastructure development and involving the promotion of European companies. 

In a context marked by China's move with its expanding Belt and Road Initiative and the United States' Build Back Better strategy, how does the Global Gateway fit into the EU’s wider attempt to position itself as a leader on the international scene?

The Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative could be relevant if the corresponding investments are effectively implemented, which, to my knowledge, has not yet happened. 

It is important to bear in mind that the United States, China and the European Union are not the only actors developing such strategies. Japan, for instance, but also South Korea, India and Taiwan have connectivity initiatives. Along with the individual implementation of these plans comes the increasing call for coordination, which is not an easy task as all of them cover a wide range of issues. 

Ensuring the success of the Global Gateway would require the EU's global partners to accept and work within the EU's norm and rule-based system. In my opinion, however, working with partners in the context of Global Gateway should not be an institutionalized process. Instead of making the Global Gateway even bigger by focusing on partnerships with developed countries, it is crucial to first make sure that "Team Europe" delivers concrete projects that cater to real needs, including for infrastructure and advanced digital skills. Global Gateway would be more successful if cooperation was undertaken at the national or thematic level, focusing for example on digital infrastructure, cyber security, green energy or education. Interesting projects, such as India’s efforts to promote digital financial inclusion in order to reduce inequalities, are good examples to follow. A country-to-country approach to such cooperation would offer a very comprehensive perspective, and potentially be more successful in promoting individual freedom, political liberties and economic openness. 

Moreover, starting with a bottom-up approach with partners could increase exposure about what the EU is doing. We have to recognize that the promotion of democratic values is the ultimate aim of the Global Gateway plan, but it is not necessary to make it explicit. Defining the plan as anti-China or even pro-democratic might be good for audiences at home, but not necessarily for those abroad - and is therefore, ultimately, not in Europe’s best interest either.

Follow @MaaikeOh and @ClingendaelOrg on Twitter.