EU stands by Global Gateway advisory roles for firms linked to Beijing

Its chairman, Lei Mingshan, was among nearly 2,300 delegates to the Communist Party’s 20th national congress last year.

A second member company, the French satellite firm Eutelsat, also retains Chinese state investment.

In response to the report, the commission said it would check internally how the firms ended up on the advisory board, which is composed of 60 companies and business groups. Subsequently, a group of cross-party members of the European Parliament wrote to the commission asking whether the firms will be excluded from the Global Gateway Business Advisory Group “within the context of de-risking from China”.

Dutch centrist Renew MEP Bart Groothuis, who was involved in the parliament’s request, said the European Court of Auditors should “look into” the inclusion of EDP on the list.

“It’s sheer negligence from the commission that idly doesn’t even assess how taxpayers’ money is spent. We want to see immediate improvements,” said Groothuis, who was previously the Netherlands’ top cybersecurity official.

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However commission spokeswoman Ana Pisonero Hernandez said: “EDP has been selected by the selection committee of experts from the commission which reviewed the 205 applications and assessed that the company fits all the set criteria.”

She said the three criteria were: to be headquartered in the EU, to be under EU control, and for business associations, to “represent the private sector from at least three EU member states”.

There is no legal definition of being “under EU control”, Pisonero said, so in the case of EDP, they looked at: if the non-EU shareholders held a controlling majority of shares of the company; the company history and embedding in the member state; the nationality of the CEO, while also checking for possible links with Russia and non-adherence to sanctions.

“While the company Three Gorges owns 20 per cent of the shares, EDP executive management is ensured by Portuguese nationals, and its governing board has a majority of EU nationals,” Pisonero said.

The decision comes as Chinese diplomats continue to float the idea of collaboration between Global Gateway and the Belt and Road Initiative.

The Chinese mission to the EU sponsored an event in Brussels last week entitled “The BRI and Global Gateway: searching for complementarity in competing narratives”. Speakers included China’s envoy to the EU Fu Cong and Luc Bagur, a director in the commission’s department for international partnerships, which runs Global Gateway.

In September, Fu said that he had “personally met with the special envoy of the EU on Central Asia, and she is very interested in having joint projects in Central Asian countries”.

However, EU sources denied that its Central Asian envoy Terhi Hakala made any such comments when she met Fu in January, or when she travelled to Beijing in September.

An EU official said Global Gateway, the EU’s belt and road alternative, “is based on the key principles of trusted connectivity: being sustainable, comprehensive, rules-based, human-centric and geographically adapted”.

They added cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative “is not excluded, but should be based on these principles”.

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Senior European officials have previously warned against Chinese firms’ involvement in Global Gateway. In June, the commission’s powerful former digital and competition chief Margrethe Vestager said it would be a “mistake” for them to win any contracts, according to Devex, a global development news site.

Pisonero said the “shareholding structure was not the main element used in the selection of [business advisory group] members as it does not in itself inform about the governing structure of the company nor the compliance with EU legislations”.

“As an EU company and as justified in their application, EDP complies with EU rules considering ESG standards and they work towards the EU objective of the green transition. Its Portuguese CEO drives the company with a business plan that is focused on energy transition, boosting renewables and with a net-zero objective by 2040 and coal-free by 2025.”

The expert group also noted EDP’s presence in China, as well as Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Cambodia and South Korea, as potential positive factors.

“This criterion was indeed further assessed linked to the other criteria, in particular to be headquartered in the EU, as well as abide by EU legislations having a track record of alignment to EU objectives taking into account environmental, social and governance,” Pisonero said.


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