EU’s Global Gateway lays ground for more prosperous world

The program is designed to build stronger links with a range of countries

By Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli

Published: Sun 13 Mar 2022, 10:23 PM

Last updated: Sun 13 Mar 2022, 10:29 PM

While conflict and a pandemic unsettle the world, the European Union continues work on constructive initiatives including its Global Gateway program designed to build stronger links with a range of countries and groups including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), India and the Pacific region, home to major population centres and economies.

The 300 billion euro program harkens to more positive times, demonstrating the desire of people around the world to live harmonious, prosperous lives.

A sign that such determination continues was a recent meeting in Jakarta when the Asean-EU Joint Cooperation Committee reaffirmed a commitment to building stronger ties and emphasised the need for robust socio-economic recovery from the pandemic so Asean and the EU can “build back better” together in a “greener a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient manner”. With 37 member nations between them, the EU and Asean formally signed a strategic partnership in 2020.

The initiative adds value to an existing strategic partnership with India, a developing economic giant that is already one of the most populous counties in the world. Its economy is expected to be the world’s third-biggest by 2030 while its population is projected to become the largest globally by 2027.

For its part, Asean’s combined economy was the fifth largest in the world in 2019 and is on track to become the fourth-largest by 2030.

The EU-India Strategic Partnership reflects the shared commitment of Europe and India to an inclusive and open Indo-Pacific despite the vastness and complexity of cultures in the region. With two coastlines located in the center of the Indian Ocean, India has the right position to become an important partner for the EU in its engagement with Asean member states.

The EU’s intention to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific was made clear at the most recent Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) held late last year. The Global Gateway initiative, aligning with elements from signature programs such as the EU Build Back Better World, UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement, wants to offer developing countries an alternative to existing international infrastructure programs.

A year ago, even during the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, the EU approved a formal strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific that highlights seven priorities for action – sustainable and inclusive prosperity, the green transition, ocean governance, digital partnerships, connectivity, defense and human security.

It is an expansion of “rules-based connectivity” outlined in the 2018 EU-Asia strategy. The Global Gateway initiative will mobilise investments worth 300 billion euros over the next five years in digitalization, health, climate, energy, transport, education and research.

The EU says the new approach to Asia is different from its previous history in the region as it moves to build “links, not dependencies”. While embracing multilateralism, it wants to implement a “Team Europe” strategy to unite EU member states, financial institutions and national development banks along with actively engaging international partners such as the United States, India and Japan.

Although India-EU diplomatic ties began in the early 1960s, it wasn’t until 2004 that the two sides signed a strategic partnership that emphasized shared values. New Delhi and Brussels began free trade agreement talks that stalled in 2013, but in 2021 vowed to restart negotiations.

In the last few years, the relationship has strengthened with the India-EU Agenda for Action 2020 endorsed as a common guide for the partnership. Two years ago a “Roadmap to 2025” was formally adopted that focuses on sustainable modernisation, foreign and security policy, digitization, research and innovation.

In its outreach to Asean, the European bloc plans a summit to commemorate the 45th year of diplomatic relations and a young leaders’ forum that seeks to build linkages for the future following the formal agreement on strategic partner status signed in 2020.

With youth comprising more than 30 per cent of the European population and 34 per cent of citizens of Asean counties, 2022 has been designated the Year of Youth both in the EU and Asean.

EU Ambassador to Asean Igor Driesmans said “we look to the next generation of leaders from across the EU and Asean to share their ideas and hopes for the future”.

Secretary-General of Asean, Dato Lim Jock Hoi, said he believes “that the youth should play a larger and meaningful role in building a more participatory, inclusive, sustainable, resilient and dynamic global community. To foster stronger ties between Asean and EU, it is important for the youths of Asean and Europe to learn from each other and develop networks for collaboration.”

At a time when the heart-rending use of hard power is on display elsewhere, the Global Gateway initiative offers an opportunity to showcase the benefits and compassion inherent in soft power. As geopolitical powers play the so-called “Great Game”, it is likely that soft power will have the most beneficial and long-lasting influence.

Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are veteran international journalists based in Milan

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