Global Gateway’s Infrastructure Plan for Africa Announced at EU-AU Summit

On February 17 and 18, leaders of the European Union and the African Union (AU) met for the sixth EU-AU summit in Brussels and agreed to a regional investment plan for Africa under the European Union’s flagship Global Gateway initiative. Launched last year, Global Gateway aims to dispense up to €300 billion in investments around the world by 2027 to support infrastructure development. The EU-AU summit is normally held every three years, but this was the first gathering since 2017 due to pandemic postponements.

The latest summit comes as great powers, including China and Russia, are vying for influence in Africa. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to support African physical and digital infrastructure. To bolster European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s claim that Europe is Africa’s “most reliable partner,” the European Union announced €150 billion in financing for the Africa-Europe Investment Package, half of the bloc’s entire Global Gateway budget.

Q1: What was in the new investment package?

A1: The top-line €150 billion figure is an aspirational goal for public and private investments over seven years, including grants and loans from institutions like the European Investment Bank, EU member countries, and private investors. The initiative is directed toward five priority areas: accelerating the green transition, accelerating the digital transition, accelerating sustainable growth and decent job creation, strengthening health systems, and improving education and training. Within each of these five priority areas are “transformational” projects, such as enhancing the capacity of partner countries to adapt to climate change and facilitating universal access to reliable internet networks. To differentiate it from BRI, the investment package promises to promote “accountable, transparent, inclusive, and responsible governance.”

A total of €135 billion of Global Gateway’s overall funding will come from the already dedicated European Fund for Sustainable Development+ (EFSD+), with plans to incorporate and repackage other existing EU initiatives under the Global Gateway banner. Further details on funding sources and project allocations have been scarce because of disagreements among EU member states and with African partners on what projects to fund and which regions to prioritize. A comprehensive project annex, circulated to reporters in draft before the end of the summit, was notably left out of the final release.

Q2: How did the EU-AU summit compare to China’s similar forum?

A2: Both the EU-AU summit and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) are triennial conferences that convene heads of state and government. The most recent FOCAC was held in November 2021 in Dakar, Senegal, and featured a virtual keynote speech by Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Notably, China significantly scaled back its planned investments in Africa from $60 billion in 2018 to $40 billion last year. After two decades of rapid growth of its investments in Africa, this was the first time that China pledged less than its commitment at the previous FOCAC event. With debt sustainability issues rising to the fore, Xi’s speech did not feature the word “infrastructure once.

With China’s infrastructure binge winding down, both China and the European Union are seeking more innovative ways to fund development. One way to unlock funding in Africa is through redistributing the International Monetary Fund’s special drawing rights (SDRs), reserve assets that were issued to cushion the economic fallout from the pandemic. The Joint Vision statement “[encourages] more EU member states to consider contributing to this global effort.” Despite expectations, only four EU member states have made a public commitment to recycling portions of their SDRs to the continent. China has pledged $10 billion of its SDR share (nearly a quarter of its allocation) to Africa.

Vaccine diplomacy is another vector of Chinese influence in Africa. At FOCAC 2021, China made a pledge to provide 1 billion Covid-19 vaccines, consisting of a donation of 600 million doses and another 400 million to be co-manufactured with African countries.

With less than 10 percent of Africa fully vaccinated (compared to 71 percent of EU residents), African leaders urged their European counterparts to waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines covered by the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. Without a breakthrough on TRIPS, the European Union reaffirmed its commitment to provide at least 450 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Africa by mid-2022. EU institutions and member states will mobilize €425 million to ramp up the pace of vaccination and support the efficient distribution of doses. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, who has decried the disparity as “vaccine apartheid,” noted that while the donations were appreciated, they are not a sustainable mechanism to build resilience.

Q3: What is the impact on digital infrastructure and connectivity in Africa?

A3: Highlighted as a critical Global Gateway priority in the joint communiqué adopted at the October 2021 EU-AU ministerial meeting, digital infrastructure is key to Africa's economic development as well as meaningful competition with China on the continent. Although digital issues featured as a topic in one of the seven roundtables hosted at the summit, announcements for funding and new initiatives to spur Africa's digital transformation fell short of expectations.

Of the few digitalization efforts that were highlighted, most were preexisting initiatives repackaged under the banner of Global Gateway with scant additional details provided. The European Union unveiled specific country investment plans in both Morocco and Nigeria in the week leading up to the summit. As one of the first major announcements related to Global Gateway in Africa, von der Leyen unveiled a €1.6 billion Morocco investment plan during a promotional trip to the country, calling it a "great opportunity for [Morocco's] green and digital transition." Not long after, the EU Commission launched the EU-Nigeria Digital Economy Package funded at an initial level of €820 million. Investments made in both countries will help develop secure and reliable digital infrastructure. At the concurrent EU-Africa Business Forum, less than €1 million of the roughly €590 million pledged in public-private financing was extended for digitalization.

Statements made by EU officials left room for further cooperation. The AU-EU Digital for Development Hub, funded at €8 million toward the end of 2020, will meet for a multi-stakeholder forum in March of this year to connect African and European digital actors and identify opportunities for digital cooperation initiatives. In a speech on digital innovation and job creation, Bärbel Kofler, Germany's parliament state secretary, announced that the African European Digital Innovation Bridge, an initiative created by the European Union in 2020, will establish 12 additional digital innovation hubs in Africa. These hubs are designed to strengthen local innovation ecosystems and facilitate joint European and African cooperation projects. These initiatives will help provide additional financing to help meet the European Union's total €150 billion goal.

Q4: How does Global Gateway overlap with the G7’s infrastructure initiative?

A4: European leaders have reiterated that Global Gateway and the G7's “Build Back Better World” (B3W) initiative, a “values-driven” multilateral infrastructure investment scheme announced last year, should be not only complementary but also mutually reinforcing. The B3W initiative stated that “different G7 partners will have different geographic orientations.” By allocating the lion's share of its total announced Global Gateway funds to Africa, the G7's non-European members can focus on regions closer to their geographic and economic spheres.

Beyond their regional division of labor, the initiatives have significant overlap in their goals and priority areas of focus. B3W's focus on investments furthering the climate transition, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity goals align well with Global Gateway's five main priority areas. Potential for future collaboration between the two initiatives was touched on at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in 2021, where both the United States and the European Union reaffirmed their commitment to four shared guiding principles: climate neutrality, good governance and transparency, values-driven investment, and collaboration with the private sector. The heavy emphasis on standards and good governance during the EU-AU summit could lead to the revitalization of a multilateral standards mechanism, with the newly created EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council serving as one potential avenue for collaboration.

Akhil Thadani is a program coordinator and research assistant with the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Matthew Wayland is a researcher with the CSIS Reconnecting Asia Project. Matthew P. Goodman is senior vice president for economics at CSIS.

Marta Hernandez, research intern for the CSIS Reconnecting Asia Project, provided research support for this publication.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2022 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.
Matthew P. Goodman

Matthew P. Goodman

Former Senior Vice President for Economics

Akhil Thadani

Program Coordinator and Research Assistant, Economics Program

Matthew Wayland

Research Assistant, Reconnecting Asia Project