The European Union 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) that has been criticized as a vehicle for expanding Beijing’s influence around the world.
The European Commission (EC), the EU’s executive body, said on Dec. 1 that the scheme will see $340 billion (300 billion euros) 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 said in a document (pdf) detailing the new program, billed as 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 Commission said. “It means taking an ethical approach so that infrastructure projects do not create unsustainable debt or unwanted dependencies.”
China launched its Belt and Road scheme in 2013 to boost trade links with the rest of the world and 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 Belt and Road projects dealt with implementation problems, including corruption scandals, labor violations, and environmental hazards.
Brad Parks, one of the study’s authors, said that “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.”
In announcing the launch of Global Gateway, the EC said 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 EC added.
By Tom Ozimek
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