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Mogherin-Asia connectivity

Mogherini Presents EU's Much Anticipated Connectivity Strategy

21 September 2018

On 19 September, the European Commission and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini adopted a long-awaited Communication, forming the elements for an EU Strategy on "Connecting Europe and Asia." The Communication, whose mandate originates in the EU Global Strategy which recognized the need for the EU to concertedly respond to the westward connectivity of its eastern partners, lays out the conditions on which the EU is ready to invest in connectivity throughout Europe and Asia.

The Communication emphasizes the need for investments to be sustainable - environmentally, socially, financially and economically, with due respect for multilaterally agreed standards on transparency in public procurement, equal market access for businesses and a level playing field. 

During the press release following the adoption, HR/VP Mogherini said, "Our approach is the European Union's way: to establish stronger networks and strengthen partnerships for sustainable connectivity, across all sectors and based on a respect for common rules. This is the European way to tackle challenges and take opportunities, to the benefit of people in Europe and in Asia as well.” 

The new strategy hence appears offer a different approach to that taken by Beijing with its flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). A number of recent developments in the EU-China sphere have generated a sense of caution among European politicians and policymakers. China’s refusal to tackle the dominant position of its state owned enterprises led the EU to refuse to grant China market economy status. Beijing’s targeting of European technology has also led to plans for screening of Chinese investments in Europe.

To secure its own political and economic interests, the EU had to put forward an ambitious and comprehensive response, which was to strengthen its own links with the host countries and to present them with a credible and sustainable alternative offer for connectivity financing.

Asked whether this new strategy is to be interpreted as a defensive response to China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), HR/VP Mogherini argued to "not measure our proposals as reactions to others. There might be differences, there might be points in common. For sure, we share the same approach in the identification of the need and the priority. With China, we both share the strategic relevance and the will to increase connectivity between Europe and Asia."

She furthermore underlined that the new strategy "is not a response, but it is a common need that we see; it is a common priority we identify; and there are - I believe - points of contact on which we can work very well. There are also, as usual, differences in the approach, but this is natural."

Although some financing is mentioned in the paper, the ongoing negotiations for the next EU budget will be crucial in allocating sufficient EU funds to connectivity financing in order to mobilise additional investment from private and multilateral investors.

The strategy will also need united support from Member States, a solid public communications strategy, and broad bi- and multilateral outreach programmes to the EU’s partners. The upcoming Summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) next month in Brussels may provide an excellent opportunity to that aim.

Find the full text of the Communication here, and the Commission's press release here.

Picture credits: European Commission, 19 September 2018