Global Gateway Forum 2023, announced by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, will convene leaders in government, business and civic society from the EU and around the world on October 25-26 in Brussels to debate issues relating to global investment in infrastructure. While often overshadowed by more prominent international topics, the European Union’s Global Gateway initiative represents a significant step for the EU as it strives to assert its presence on the global stage, especially in the MENA region. It could reshape the future of European soft power and trade diplomacy. However, there are conditions for its success – both within and outside the scope of Global Gateway.

Building Bridges, Creating Opportunities: The Core of the Global Gateway

At its core, the EU’s Global Gateway is a multifaceted strategy aimed at enhancing connectivity between Europe and the rest of the world. This strategy encompasses a range of ambitious projects, including investments in infrastructure, digital connectivity, the energy sector, and sustainable development in countries outside the EU. The goal is to facilitate trade, promote economic growth, and strengthen diplomatic ties with key partners. By doing so, the EU hopes to position itself as a significant player in the emerging global order and advance its values and interests on the international stage.

Navigating Challenges: Balancing Economic and Geopolitical Interests

As the EU extends its influence through the Global Gateway, it faces a delicate balancing act between economic interests and geopolitical considerations. The initiative’s success relies on attracting investments and fostering economic partnerships with countries across different regions. Simultaneously, the EU must navigate the complex web of international politics and maintain its commitment to promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Striking this balance will be essential to ensure the initiative’s long-term sustainability and credibility on the global stage.

Charting the Course: The Belt and Road Comparison

One cannot discuss the Global Gateway initiative without drawing comparisons to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). While both initiatives share the goal of enhancing connectivity, they differ significantly in their underlying principles and approaches. While the BRI focuses on building physical infrastructure, often with a Chinese-centric approach, Global Gateway emphasises sustainability, transparency, and adherence to high environmental and social standards. By aligning its initiative with global best practices, the EU seeks to distinguish itself as a responsible and reliable partner in international development.

Embracing Africa’s Vital Role: Seizing Opportunities in the Continent

The EU’s Global Gateway initiative can also not disregard the pivotal role played by the African continent. With China already having made significant investments in Africa, the EU recognises the immense potential for economic growth, trade, and collaboration in the region. Furthermore, Africa presents an opportunity for the EU to deepen its commitment to sustainable development, renewable energy, and green initiatives—a vital aspect of the Global Gateway strategy.

In this regard, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with its proximity to Europe and shared interest in green transformation, emerges as a natural and strategic partner for the EU. By forging strong alliances with MENA nations, the EU can not only bolster the Global Gateway initiative but also accelerate its own green transition, creating a win-win scenario for both regions and contributing to global efforts to combat climate change.

Regional Geopolitics: Forging Energy Connections Amid Complexities

Some EU countries have already taken significant steps to create such alliances with the MENA region. ELMED, the “Electricity Link between Italy and Tunisia,” is a pivotal energy infrastructure project bridging Europe and North Africa. This undersea cable system will connect Sicily to Tunisia, facilitating bi-directional power transmission and promoting renewable energy integration. Notably, ELMED’s success is intertwined with a broader Interconnectivity Corridor, offering an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

In September 2023, the EU, US, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and India announced a historic project called the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), which will be funded by Global Gateway. The project is planned in the form of two corridors, spanning from India to the Persian Gulf and from there to Europe, to bolster economic development by fostering economic integration and connectivity between Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

As of July 2023, Global Gateway includes 87 major projects, with IMEC specifically launched to bolster transportation and communication links between Europe and Asia through rail and shipping networks while acting as a counter to China’s BRI. The new IMEC, which like many Global Gateway projects, became part of the initiative through rebranding, faces many challenges, not the least of which is Hamas’s recent terror attacks against Israel which could delay the project.

Threats to Global Gateway and the Need for Joint Conflict Resolution

Regional conflicts, such as Hamas’s attack on Israel, emphasise the importance of diplomatic efforts for conflict resolution to secure economic interests and ensure the functionality of such crucial corridors. This underscores the need for the EU to strengthen its capacity for joint conflict resolution in pursuit of its economic goals. The success of the Global Gateway relies heavily on these kinds of collaborations with international organisations, other countries, and private sector stakeholders. Through cooperative efforts, the EU aims to create a more interconnected and interdependent world where shared values and interests drive global cooperation.

The Global Gateway’s Potential Impact

In the broader context of global politics, the European Union’s Global Gateway is a testament to the EU’s evolving role in international affairs. It is a proactive step towards expanding its reach, fostering economic growth, and promoting shared values worldwide. Global Gateway provides a credible framework for future cooperation on infrastructure and interconnectivity the EU and its partners can rely on. It enables the resource pooling of EU institutions and member states need to compete on the global stage. At the same time, the initiative leaves adequate flexibility for individual actors to move ahead quickly with time-sensitive projects, thus opening the opportunity to leverage the true innovative potential of unity in diversity.

However, there are still certain questions that must be assessed as Global Gateway implementation continues: Will Global Gateway be able to fulfil its role as a project incubator? Key implementation and absorption capacities of both the EU and its partners are subject to a multitude of factors, many of which escape the EU’s direct influence, such as demographic development, public opinion, and private investment.

Finally, Will the EU be able to contribute significantly to the resolution of high-stake conflicts that pose a threat to the initiative? The Hamas-Israel war has been a wake-up call that conflict resolution must remain at the heart of the EU’s geopolitical strategy. Responding to future challenges with one European voice remains crucial for European sovereignty, with or without Global Gateway.

About the authors:

Kalum Rock is an intern at the Sovereign Europe program at the Bertelsmann Stiftung in Berlin. He is currently a master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. His focus lies on European Governance.

Christian Hanelt is a Senior Expert for the EU Neighbourhood and the Middle East, working in the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Program “Europe’s Future.” His areas of expertise include the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, the Israeli-Arab conflict, the EU’s relations with the Gulf region, economic developments in the Arab world, and the causes of flight and migration.

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