Old money, old projects and old ideas: So what’s new about the EU’s Global Gateway?


Dr Farwa Sial, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at Eurodad, analyses the latest developments in the EU's Global Gateway.

The European Union’s Global Gateway - vaunted as a flagship project that combines development and geopolitical diplomacy - continues to create more questions than answers. 

The EU has insisted that the Gateway “stands for sustainable and trusted connections“ and seeks to offer developing countries an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. 

The Gateway aims to mobilise €300 billion for infrastructure investments between 2021-27, but this turns out to be merely recycled old money already committed elsewhere by the EU and its member states. Then at the end of last month,  the European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) announced further funds worth €18 billion to “boost investment in climate action and sustainable economies” as part of the Gateway. But again it isn’t clear if this commitment would have happened anyway without the project  

The fact is that when you poke the souffle of spin surrounding the Global Gateway, time and time again the infrastructure investment strategy deflates to reveal a mix of old ideas, old money, old imperialist attitudes and little discernible impact.  

The European Commission’s sums are also based on the hope that private finance will be 'leveraged' (i.e. mobilised) using public development funds. The EIB claims that, “the Global Gateway strategy is on track” to deliver on the €300 billion target and that the EIB Global, the development arm of the EIB, ‘will mobilise at least €100 billion”. In the past the European Court of Auditors had described the promise of the leveraging mechanism as mere “hopes and expectation” and time will tell if the amount will be mobilised in full.   

On the other hand, there is also the question of what is being delivered under the Gateway. Earlier this year, the Commission finally published a list of Global Gateway Flagship projects. The main focus of the projects is climate and energy, with 49 projects under this banner and the rest of the projects covering mostly transport. Just a few projects are on health and education. Examples of  Gateway projects are suspiciously familiar, as many of them already existed under the umbrella of the Team Europe Initiative.  

Even if you ignore the persistent questions over its governance model, which remains unclear at best, particularly in relation to the role of its new Business Advisory Council, it is hard not to think there is not much new about the new Global Gateway. 

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the European Parliament seems confused about its direction and goals, as shown by the recent parliamentary debate in which many MEPs appeared unaware of its purpose. Again, as we warned last year, it seems the EU has attempted to merge competing concerns, without making new financial commitments, to create a Frankenstein’s Monster of a policy that bolts geopolitical and commercial interests onto development goals.  

The Green Investment Trojan Horse?

Certainly the early signs when it comes to green investment - the major focus of many Gateway projects - are poor.  

The EU seems to be fixated on profit-orientated geopolitics.  A recent example is France’s announcement of investing 50 million euros in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) critical raw materials sector as part of the Global Gateway. This investment bolsters the EU’s new Critical Raw Minerals Act, which is explicitly concerned with ‘China's quasi-monopoly on rare earths’ and envisions the future to be a ‘global race for supply and recycling of critical raw materials’. 

The EC also does not seem to have picked up on growing accusations that green energy is a Trojan horse for a new climate colonialism in developing countries. Green hydrogen projects in the Gateway such as those in Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay and Kazakhstan are a particular concern. Although green hydrogen projects are marketed as environmentally sustainable, studies show that it is in fact quite energy extractive, entrenching the use of fossil fuels,  as green hydrogen will ultimately contribute a small fraction of total energy demand.  

Simultaneously, the EU’s plan to import green hydrogen from investment projects in other countries has been shown to divert renewable electricity away from local needs and local climate targets, and contributes to the resource scramble for Africa

Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana of the Greens–European Free Alliance is among the MEPs to have raised their concerns about the Gateway’s relationship with the Sustainable Development Goals. “It would seem that it mainly emphasises the exploitation of energy resources, such as hydrogen, from developing countries for export to the European Union… many questions remain unresolved,’ she said.

While EU countries remain eager to use the Gateway as an umbrella for investment in Africa, African countries are not treated as equals. The Gateway claims to create partnerships with recipient countries to deliver investments. However vital questions such as African debt remain unaddressed. Moreover, the EU’s attitude is frequently critical and reminiscent of the legacy of imperialism.

For the Global Gateway to be a “trusted” initiative , the EU must prove its investments can actually be good for development in recipient countries. For the moment, it is sorely lacking in transparency, developmental impact and equal partnerships.  

We hoped to get some answers to our questions at the annual European Development Days (EDDs) normally held in June (outside pandemic years) for as long as most working in Brussels can remember. Yet it seems this is not happening as yet. We look forward to joining this space later in the year, as it gives the opportunity for development professionals - including from the global south - to debate the issues.