Commissioner Proposes EU Veto Power on Chinese Infrastructure Investments after Italy’s BRI Deal

Commissioner Proposes EU Veto Power on Chinese Infrastructure Investments after Italy’s BRI Deal

Lots of strategic infrastructure throughout the EU is already in Chinese hands, Oettinger has cautioned.

The European Union should have the right to veto Chinese infrastructure investments in its members if they don’t serve the Union’s common interests, Budget Commissioner Gunther Oettinger has declared after Italy became the first major Western power to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

On Saturday, Italy became the first G-7 member and EU heavyweight to become part of the signature foreign policy initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping, also known as the New Silk Road.

Until now, the largest EU member state to have joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative had been Poland. A total of 14 other EU member states, mostly in Eastern Europe, have become part of the BRI.

However, Italy’s scope and its status as the first major Western power to do so has sent shockwaves throughout the capitals of its main allies.

The United States, the EU, Germany, and France have been the most vocal in the West about their worries that China might be using its BRI infrastructure investments to project its political clout and acquire sensitive technology, including through what has been called “debt-trap diplomacy”, a term derived from the case of Sri Lanka which in 2017 had to cede control of a strategic port to China as it could no longer service its BRI loans.

The EU Commissioner for Budget, Germany’s Gunther Oettinger, proposed on Sunday that the EU should have the right to exercise veto over Chinese infrastructure investments throughout the Union that might ultimately prove detrimental to its common interests.

Oettinger’s Chinese investment veto right suggestion came just as Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas piled criticism on Italy for its accession to the Belt and Road Initiative, warning about the risks associated with doing business with China.

One of the deals that are part of the Italy – China memorandum of understanding signed on Saturday concerns projected Chinese investments of EUR 7 billion (USD 7.9 billion) in the strategic Italian ports of Genoa and Trieste.

“[It] Italy and other European countries, infrastructure of strategic importance like power networks, rapid rail lines, or harbors are no longer in European but in Chinese hands,” the German EU Commissioner told Funke Media group on Sunday, as cited by DW.

“The expansion of transport links between Europe and Asia is in itself a good thing — as long as the autonomy and sovereignty of Europe is not endangered,” he elaborated.

In his words, the EU leaders should consider either an EU veto right to block future Chinese-funded infrastructure projects, or a requirement that such projects first receive the consent of the European Commission, the executive of the European Union.

Oettinger is convinced that EU member states do not always take into account national and European interests adequately enough, referring to their desire to attract foreign investment, including from China.

“Europe urgently needs a China strategy, that lives up to its name,” the EU Budget Commissioner urged.

“An European veto right, or a requirement of European consent — exercised by the Commission — could be worth considering [with respect to Chinese infrastructure investments],” he said.

(Banner image: Gunther Oettinger on Twitter)

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