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EU-GCC Relations: What the Future Has in Store

BY Leone Radiconcini



EU-GCC Relations: What the Future Has in Store

On 17 January 2022, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) Secretary General, Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, and Chief Negotiator, Abdulrahman Al-Harbi, traveled to the European Commission in Brussels—meeting with the Commission’s Executive Vice-President, Valdis Dombrovskis (Economy and Financial Affairs, Trade), Commissioner Johannes Hahn (Budget and Administration), Commissioner Ylva Johansson (International Security and Migration) and European Union’s (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission (HR/VP), Josep Borrell. The visit followed-up an invitation extended by HR/VP Borrell during his trip to the Gulf region in October 2021, which signalled EU’s renewed interest in expanding relations with the GCC.

During their meeting, the delegates dialogued over a wide assortment of shared interests and global challenges, such as: green and digital transition, climate change and counter-terrorism. Apart from the more traditional subject matters, such as trade, conceptualising the green transition appears to be one of the most relevant issues that could help boost the relations between the two regional organisations. GCC countries are indeed facing a critical increase in temperatures and have therefore implemented different long-term strategies to face the potentially dramatic consequences of climate change in the medium and long terms. At the same time, the EU is implementing the European Green Deal, a plan for green transition that could meet the needs and interests of the Gulf countries and help them in the attempt of diversification of their socio-economic structure.

The improvement in relations between the two regional organisations appears to be even more relevant, considering the forthcoming 26th EU-GCC Joint Council and Ministerial Meeting, which will be held on 21 February 2022, the first such meeting in six years. Since then both the leadership in the EU and the political situation in the Gulf have critically changed and the Joint Council offers a great opportunity for both sides to define the fields and means through which cooperation can be boosted.

The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union, held on 18 October 2021, represented a starting point for discussions meant to be held on the 26th EU-GCC Joint Council. During the discussions, the EU Foreign Ministers acknowledged the relevance of the Gulf and discussed ways to strengthen the European position in the area. The discussions held during the Foreign Affairs Council represented a fundamental moment for the definition of the European Commission strategy in the Gulf and for the preparation of a Joint Communication on a “Partnership with the Gulf”. This partnership is due to be approved by the Commission between the first and the second quarter of 2022 and will define the development of EU-GCC relations in the short and medium term.

All this considered, the forthcoming Joint Council has great potential and could represent a milestone in the improvement of EU-GCC relations. On this subject the following policy recommendations can be made:

  1. Make the Joint Council a more frequent format: having regular, yearly meetings of the EU-GCC Joint Council could help promote good relations, mutual understanding, and check the status of EU-GCC cooperation. This will become even more relevant with the probable increase in fields of cooperation and common projects.
  2. Define a common strategy to promote regional safety and security: the willingness of GCC countries to dialogue with EU institutions represents a crucial starting point for promoting dialogue in the region. Peace and stability in the Gulf and, generally, in the Middle East are vital interests for both organisations.
  3. Supporting the socio-economic and green transition in GCC countries: with the European Green Deal, EU institutions have defined the medium and long term priorities for the Member States. However, Europe cannot combat climate change alone and the GCC countries are promoting plans that could greatly benefit from European support and expertise and offer business opportunities for European companies. Therefore, strengthening cooperation on these socio-economic and green transition plans would be in the interest of both parties.