EU agrees massive infrastructure scheme to link Europe with rest of the world
Toni Waterman in Brussels


European foreign ministers agreed on Monday to launch a massive infrastructure plan that would develop new links between Europe and the rest of the world.  
Called "A Globally Connected Europe," the strategy makes no mention of China, but is widely seen as a response to Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

Since its launch in 2013, some $2.5 trillion has been invested in BRI projects, according to research company Refinitiv. The bulk of that money has gone towards the energy, transport, real estate and metals sectors in 138 countries.   

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters, the EU "must make concrete offers," not only to countries in Europe but also in Africa and Latin America that need the input. He added: "We should coordinate these closely with the U.S."



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The EU has already struck partnerships with Japan and India on transport, energy and digital links to Asia. This new strategy would move beyond the 2018 EU-Asia connectivity strategy and focus attention on Africa and South America as well.  

The European Commission and High Representative have been tasked with identifying "high-impact and visible projects" and to present a list by spring 2022. Options could include things like deep-sea digital cables, infrastructure connections to Africa and financing renewable energy projects in climate-vulnerable places like the Maldives. 

No price tag has been added to the project, but it calls for the private sector to be mobilized to help fund and implement the projects.  

Calls for increased transparency have grown louder as concerns mount over unsustainable debt loads.


Europe's now shelved digital levy would have taxed most online sales. Washington viewed this as a threat to U.S. technology companies. /AFP

Europe's now shelved digital levy would have taxed most online sales. Washington viewed this as a threat to U.S. technology companies. /AFP


EU digital tax put on ice

Also on Monday, the Commission announced it was shelving plans for a levy on online sales – at least until the fall. G20 heads of state meet in Rome, Italy at the end of October, where they could put the final touches on a new global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent after the group's finance ministers endorsed the plan this past weekend.   

"Successfully concluding this process will require a final effort, a final push from all parties, and the Commission is committed to focusing on this effort. For this reason, we have decided to put on hold our work on a proposal for a digital levy," EU Commission spokesperson Daniel Ferrie announced during the daily press briefing on Monday.

While Brussels was keen to position the postponement as a way to focus on a global tax, pressure to scrap the levy had been mounting from Washington, which believes the digital tax could unfairly target Silicon Valley tech giants and interfere with the global deal. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday to meet with EU officials. 

Work still needs to be done ahead of the G20 October meeting, including various carve-out agreements. The UK, for example, reportedly wants its financial services sector to be exempt from the new tax.  

There is also work to be done on bringing more countries into the fold. Ireland and Hungary, which are already low-tax jurisdictions, are notable holdouts in Europe, so far refusing to sign on to the minimum tax rate.

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