France has named an energy sector veteran as its envoy to a multinational rail and ports project that is seen as a Western alternative to China’s Belt and Road initiative, linking the Middle East and South Asia.
Gerard Mestrallet, the former head of gas utility Engie, will be France’s envoy for the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC).
The IMEC was launched on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi in September last year and is part of Washington and Brussels’s plan to counter China’s flagship global infrastructure project.
It aims to link countries in the Middle East by rail lines and connect them to India by port, helping the flow of energy and trade from the Gulf to Europe, US and European officials have said, by cutting shipping times, costs and fuel use.
Mestrallet is someone seen as well-connected, whom French President Emmanuel Macron wants to help “France to become a key player in this project”.
The move aims to ensure French companies are best-positioned in the early phases of the project, his office said on Monday.
A memorandum of understanding on IMEC was signed late last year by the European Union, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the US and other G20 partners.
IMEC is envisioned to consist of two separate corridors with an east corridor connecting India to the Gulf, and a northern corridor connecting the Gulf with Europe via Israel, according to the MOU.
Along the railway route, participants intend to lay cable for power and data lines, as well as a pipeline for hydrogen derived from renewable energy for use in power generation.
The big question now is whether Israel’s brutal conduct in its war with Hamas in Gaza has the potential to disrupt the IMEC – if traders or participants no longer want to be involved in a project that includes Israel (with a rail link to Haifa port).
- Reuters with additional input and editing by Jim Pollard