On January 9, Counter Balance hosted the webinar “EU external investments: geopolitical competition or fair partnerships?”.

The speakers delved into a nuanced discussion surrounding the recalibration of public spending within the EU's international development agenda, placing a specific spotlight on the Global Gateway initiative. The primary objective was to address pressing concerns regarding an increasingly blurred line between cooperation policies and EU’s geopolitical and commercial strategies at a time when development needs are more urgent than ever. Representatives from diverse backgrounds – including the European External Action Service (EEAS), the Belgian Ministry of Development Cooperation, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and the NGO Debt Observatory in Globalisation (ODG) – proposed perceptive recommendations aimed at fostering a more sustainable and equitable approach to development finance.

During the discussion, several key themes emerged:

A private sector driven aid framework stands in the way of. pro-poor policies.

The webinar highlighted that EU development funds are increasingly driven by private sector interests in expanding market opportunities, raising concerns about maximising corporate profits as the objective when major investments are needed globally in social infrastructure and public services. The Global Gateway's policy of favouring private sector interests over poverty eradication, inequality reduction, and wellbeing of the people risks further eroding the EU's credibility as a global actor at a time when EU’s response to conflicts in its neighbourhoods.

Democratic governance and better representation of workers in the Global South is essential.

The lack of a clear development mandate and transparent planning within the Global Gateway Initiative raises doubt whether the initiative is genuinely addressing global development challenges or merely serving as a public relations exercise. In addition, the operationalisation of the Global Gateway has been scrutinised for its impact on the democratic ownership of development strategies by recipient countries. Governance structures including the inclusion of companies (mostly Europeans) with questionable development records on the Business Advisory Board – such as TotalEnergies – were identified as clear areas for improvement. The EU's external investments also need to strengthen labour rights and ensure good employment opportunities, and be developed based on demands of workers and vulnerable communities in the Global South. This is essential given the history of European colonialism and the consequent scepticism among workers in the Global South about the nature and impacts of EU investments and aid.

Sustainable development and corporate responsibility must prevail over neocolonial business models.

Duly re-evaluating consequences of EU’s consumption demand and external investments is essential for financing of a truly just and global ecological transition. Responsible corporate practices must be ensured; CSDDD was a welcome step in this direction but loopholes remain in implementation and accountability, stressing the need for corporations to move away from neo-colonial approaches. The allocation of public funds was urged to follow principles of sustainability and accountability, with any investment in environmentally damaging activities seen as contradictory to the promotion of sustainable and responsible economies. Practical suggestions included reducing demand in the Global North, reassessing individualised mobility systems, thoroughly considering product life cycles, and prioritising sectors aligned with sustainable development.

In conclusion, the webinar provided a nuanced assessment of the EU's external investments, including the Global Gateway initiative. The call for a more transparent, inclusive, and sustainable approach echoes a collective plea for meeting global development needs.


Full recording of the discussion can be accessed here.