Like many others, I started 2022 feeling hopeful. The fight against COVID-19 had been long and hard. The virus was still with us, but we were gradually returning to normal – or rather to the new normal. In Europe, our economies had mostly bounced back, but in partner countries, recovery was still a work–n-progress. The European Commission had just launched Global Gateway, its €300 billion infrastructure investment strategy, with the objective to drive sustainable recovery globally.
On 24 February 2022, everything changed. War was back on European soil – something I never expected to witness during my lifetime. Russia’s brutal, full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine was an attack on everything we as Europeans believe in: the UN Charter, the rules-based global order, and the universal values of freedom, democracy, rule-of-law, and human rights.
Ukraine pushed back, defending its independence and our core values. We stood on Ukraine’s side united, offering substantial humanitarian, macroeconomic and military support. We sanctioned the aggressor, whose actions -- Ironically -- helped cement Ukraine’s place in the European family.
The war may have begun in Europe, but the crisis quickly became global. It sent shockwaves through global grain, fertilizer and energy markets. Global hunger began to rise dramatically. And so did competing narratives and rampant disinformation.
Despite the crisis in Ukraine, the EU did not turn its back on international partners struggling with food insecurity and other challenges. Quite the opposite. We took an active role both in rallying support for Ukraine and in mitigating the global impacts of the war. We stepped up support for our partners on food security, pledging to mobilise more than €8 billion through 2024, and we frontloaded resources in regions that needed help most urgently.
We supported the most vulnerable in difficult contexts around the world, such as the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. We reminded the world that development and peace are two sides of the same coin. In Afghanistan, the Taliban plunged the country into an ever-growing humanitarian emergency. By providing support for basic needs and services through UN Agencies and CSOs, we continued to stand by the Afghan people. We also dedicated special attention to women and girls, supporting secondary education only where they were allowed to attend school.
In Europe, we came up with plans to curb imports of Russian fossil fuel. We put new emphasis on strategic autonomy – and so did our international partners. They expressed a desire to become more resilient and autonomous in critical sectors such as health, food, and energy. We heard them and harnessed the full scope of Global Gateway, offering both the soft and hard infrastructure necessary to support our partners’ green and digital twin transitions while reducing inequalities.
Over the course of the year, Global Gateway gained impetus as the EU’s positive, mutually beneficial partnership offer – one that builds sustainable links, not unbalanced dependencies. It became closely tied to our geopolitical objectives. Building on the success we had mobilising aid during the pandemic, we ensured that Global Gateway was a real Team Europe effort. The EU institutions, Member States, and European development finance institutions came together to define Global Gateway flagships. We brought the private sector and civil society on board to strengthen Team Europe further. The European Development Days became a forum for stakeholders to discuss Global Gateway.
The first big Global Gateway milestone was the Summit between the EU and the African Union in February 2022. There, we agreed on a €150 billion investment package benefitting our sister continent. We wasted no time in starting to implement it, delivering tangible projects that bring direct benefits to people. A prominent example is the flagship on local health manufacturing in Africa, with Africa, for Africa. In December 2022, the EU and AU Commissions met in Brussels to take stock of our progress.
The diversity and richness of my portfolio continue to delight and motivate me every day. In 2022, work took me not only to Africa, but also to other regions. We strengthened our strategic partnerships with our partners in the Gulf, Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The EU-ASEAN Summit also brought partners from South-East Asia to Brussels.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine made engaging in multilateral fora all the more important. I explained and defended the EU’s stance at UN General Assembly in New York and the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings in Washington D.C.
Geopolitical unrest caused like-minded partners to close ranks. G7 coordination increased substantially, and along with it transatlantic cooperation. I was very pleased to see revival of the G7 and G20 development tracks. At COP 27 and COP 15, the EU confirmed its commitment to tackling perhaps the greatest challenges of our time: climate change and biodiversity loss.
Drawing from the lessons learned during the pandemic, I launched the EU’s new Global Health Strategy together with colleagues. It is a key component of Global Gateway. I am also proud to have presented the first-ever EU Youth Action Plan in external action. I truly believe that young people should be in the driver’s seat when formulating policy that will shape their future. The Youth Action Plan is now our toolbox to engage, empower, and connect youth around the world. Change starts at home, so I made sure to involve the International Partnerships Youth Sounding Board in the preparation of the Action Plan and asked the EU delegations to set up structures to consult young people.
Education is another personal priority of mine, and 2022 was a pivotal year for global education. At the UN Transforming Education Summit, the EU demonstrated strong leadership and called on other donors to follow suit. We encouraged stakeholders to increase their investment in education and help put SDG 4 back on track. The successful Summit was only the beginning. The SDG 4 Education 2030 High-Level Steering Committee, which I participate in, will monitor our progress and ensure that we follow through on our goals.
The year 2022 demanded a lot from all of us, and it was certainly not what we expected. At times, it made us feel like all hope was lost. We were facing a “perfect storm” of crises, as the UN Secretary-General Guterres called it. But we endured as a union and eventually became even stronger, more united, and more inclusive. We need to build on this unity in 2023. The Geopolitical Commission has fully materialised and is now on the frontlines of global challenges, working toward meaningful solutions. In this work, International Partnership is one of our greatest assets.