The European Union is finally ramping up on its 2018 plan–A Globally Connected Europe, to connect the continent to the world through a geostrategic and global approach to connectivity.
The plan took shape after the EU foreign ministers approved the concept this Monday to connect Europe better with the world. It takes priority after the G7 summit in Cornwall, the UK, also pledged to give a push to connectivity in order to take on China's gigantic infrastructure and connectivity project–Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
A Press Release by the European Council said: "Today’s conclusions highlight the importance of connectivity for economic growth, security and resilience. Better connectivity would contribute to the diversification of value chains, reduce strategic dependencies and boost competitiveness for the EU and its partners".
The EU plans to focus on transport, energy and digital projects with a view to diversifying value chains, reducing strategic dependencies and boosting competitiveness for the EU and its partners. It plans to invest in both physical infrastructure and regulatory frameworks to build connectivity that is sustainable, comprehensive and rules-based.
Prof. Gulshan Sachdeva, Chairperson, Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, JNU, told India Narrative: "From a geo-strategic point of view, it is about countering China. But on the other hand it also provides an opportunity to those countries that lack infrastructure. For countries, which are not keen to take Chinese aid, this opens up another window to improve their infrastructure. I think this is a good initiative because of sustainability and promise of economic growth".
Under the EU-Asia connectivity initiative, the EU has already signed connectivity partnerships with Japan and India to take the plan forward. Regarding India's role, Prof. Sachdeva says: "On connectivity, India has convergence with Europe. The European nations and the US think that India can play an important role in such a plan. Also, as India is not part of the BRI, it will have an advantage and an opportunity to both contribute as well as grow”.
News agency Reuters quoted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Brussels saying: "We see China using economic and financial means to increase its political influence everywhere in the world. It's useless moaning about this, we must offer alternatives. It is important that the European Union … coordinates them very closely with the United States," he said.
The West is worried that as more and more countries join the BRI–a favourite project of Chinese President Xi Jinping that was launched in 2013, some inevitably fall into "debt diplomacy" and end up in a Chinese financial stranglehold. Sri Lanka in Asia and Montenegro in Europe are cited as prime examples of Chinese debt traps. Many other countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia and some in Africa have negotiated project terms and financing with China.
Under the BRI, China has been funding and constructing mega infrastructure, power, port, rail and road projects to connect itself with Europe, Africa, different parts of Asia and other regions. Dozens of countries have embraced the Chinese plan but India has been one of the few countries publicly opposed to the BRI.
Though the European nations are in agreement over their 'A Globally Connected Europe' plan, different countries might have a different approach to connecting with other continents and regions. However, with nations like the US, Japan and India increasingly worried about aggressive Chinese outreach, there is an overwhelming unanimity over the need to collaborate better, reduce dependence on China and maybe tame its belligerent streak.