EU proposes new infrastructure program that competes with China – El Tiempo Latino

The president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, during her speech on the state of the EU today September 15, 2021. Photo: EFE / EPA / YVES HERMAN / POOL.

Sam Fleming in Brussels Brussels and Mehreen Khan in Strasbourg

The EU will increase its challenge to China through international spending on infrastructure and other projects, in order to rival the political and economic clout that Beijing has gained from its Belt and Road Initiative (“BRI”). ).

The president of the European commission Ursula von der Leyen proposed the measure, which she called the “World Catwalk”, in her annual State of the Union address. In an era of global “hyper-competitiveness”, the EU needs to “be more active on the world stage,” he said.

This means creating ties around the world, rather than “dependencies”, he said – referring to concerns in the G7 capitals about the influence achieved by China in developing countries through the BRI program.

A senior EU official said the Brussels initiative would offer “transparent and values-based” project financing to poorer countries, something beyond the infrastructure projects that form the main foundation of the BRI.

Von der Leyen also proposed banning products made with the help of forced labor, raising concerns about abuses in China’s Xinjiang region. It also pledged to improve security coordination in the EU.

The commission president’s speech adds to the efforts to assert the specific weight of the EU on the global stage – the so-called “strategic autonomy” – including in its relationship with China. The US-led exit from Afghanistan has increased the EU’s anxiety about its dependence on Washington.

The Global Gateway program follows a decision at the G7 summit in the UK in June to embark on a global infrastructure initiative, described by the Biden administration as “value-driven, high-level and transparent.”

Brussels’ steps come in light of a strong backlash against Chinese projects, with some of the beneficiary countries complaining that BRI’s borrowing terms are onerous and that environmental and manufacturing standards are deficient. Michael Claus, the German ambassador to the EU, praised the initiative, stating that it was “important to shape globalization in a European way.”

Von der Leyen did not hide that it is focused on China. “We know very well how public works are financed, but we do ourselves a disservice by building flawless roads between, say, a copper mine and a port, both owned by China,” he said during the speech in Strasbourg. “We will collaborate to deepen commercial ties, strengthen global supply chains and develop new investment projects in green and digital technologies.”

The commission will also propose a ban on the sale within the EU single market of products made with forced labor, it added, saying that “there are 25 million people forced to work under threats or duress. We will never accept that they have to forcibly manufacture products destined for commercial distribution in Europe ”.

The move follows repeated allegations that China is forcing thousands of Uyghurs and members of other minorities to work in Xinjiang and elsewhere. This year, the US worked with the EU, Canada and the UK to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over the Xinjiang situation. Last year, the EU signed an EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement with Beijing, which requires China to submit a “road map” to implement international conventions against the use of forced labor.

However, European officials noted that the ban on forced labor was not as robust as the commission’s earlier commitment to introduce bills that seek to hold companies accountable for potential environmental and human rights abuses in their supply chains. . Von der Leyen did not mention that proposal.

Given the proximity of the German elections this month, Von der Leyen refrained from mentioning bold legislative initiatives, relying instead on previously studied proposals, including the EU’s extensive green law program and the project to create a health authority that equips the union in the face of future pandemics.

Von der Leyen confirmed the commission’s plans to relaunch a consultation on the EU’s debt and deficit regulation – a highly controversial issue in Germany – but gave no clues as to the likely outcomes of the consultation.

The former defense minister also touched on the lessons derived from the departure from Afghanistan. “Europe can and, clearly, must be capable and willing to do more and act on its own,” in terms of defense, he argued.

Copyright – The Financial Times Limited 2021

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