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EU splashes out on its own metaverse, launch party sees six attendees

The European Union created its own youth-oriented metaverse-like digital venue for $400,000, but the 24-hour launch party on a virtual beach attracted exactly six attendees.

The EU’s notoriously bad habit of spending buckets of European taxpayer money on projects that attract close to zero attention enters the virtual realm.

The Union’s foreign aid department announced earlier it was hosting a flashy one-day virtual “beach party” to mark the opening of its brand new digital venue, part of the EU’s “Global Gateway” strategy.

But despite offering “music” and “fun,” last week’s event only attracted half a dozen people. The venue was simply empty, Vince Chadwick, a Devex news correspondent who attended the grand gala concert, announced on Twitter.

I decided to try out the EU’s digital space on a Wednesday afternoon, hoping that the virtual venue was a bit more lively. Alas, I found emptiness too – house music was blaring on repeat on the beach, with non-responsive avatars bouncing around.

I actually had to wait in a queue for about half an hour to enter the “immersive experience” because 16 people were supposedly ahead of me in it. But when I finally took my first shaky steps in the computer-generated space, I only met one other user, Barbara.

After we exchanged greetings, the fellow stroller said she didn’t really know what she was doing there as the graphics were just so poor. I could see there was a Grand Hall, a Coffee Cinema, and some other locations, but I got stuck on a rock soon after and had no choice but to return to my physical workstation.

A map of locations in the Global Gateway "immersive experience". Courtesy of the EU.

All this cost the EU taxpayers around $400,000, the official idea behind this virtual embarrassment, unveiled with a trailer in mid-October, being to spread the word about its “Global Gateway” investment plan.

The intended audience are 18-35 year-olds on TikTok and Instagram, who, according to calculations in Brussels, are not engaged in political issues and should ideally be more aware of what the EU does on the world stage.

Then again, if these people are active on TikTok or Instagram, why not just find them precisely there? Especially when it’s already obvious that the EU’s own metaverse and the message it wants to send doesn’t reach people at all.

The “Global Gateway” program, unveiled a year ago by European Commission boss Ursula von der Leyen, aims to mobilize €300 billion under its foreign aid budget through to 2027. It’s partly a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an aid development program launched by the Asian superpower without caveats such as transparency or human rights.

Its policy document mentions all the cool buzzwords like “digital,” “green,” or “connectivity,” while also working in traditional development staples such as health and education.

Yet critics say it’s still not clear what does and doesn’t fit within the framework of the program. And the disaster that is the aforementioned virtual tool only proves that, for the EU, communicating what the initiative means in practice remains an insurmountable challenge.

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