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EU agrees strategic partnership with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

The European Union Foreign Affairs Council on Monday approved a strategic partnership with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

EU agrees new strategic partnership with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

The EU has approved a new strategic partnership with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

On 18 May, EU High Representative Josep Borrell and the European Commission released the Joint Communication that provides an operational roadmap towards a strategic partnership with the GCC in a wide range of key policy fields, including climate change and green transition, energy security and a response to global humanitarian and development needs and global and regional security challenges.

EU-GCC relations have been based on a Cooperation Agreement from 1988, which establishes regular dialogues on cooperation between the EU and GCC on trade and investment issues, macro-economic matters, climate change, energy, the environment, and research. Regular ‘Senior Official Meetings’ between the EU and individual GCC countries also cover trade and investment-related issues. A more structured informal EU-GCC Dialogue on Trade and Investment was launched in May 2017.

Commenting on the new partnership, former British diplomat Anthony Harris writes in Modern Diplomacy:

“Will this new approach work? It is easy to see problem areas that might disrupt talks between the two sides. The Gulf States’ economies still depend heavily on fossil fuels, something that the EU is striving to get away from. There is the war in Ukraine, on which there are very divergent views. The war is of huge importance to Europe and will in all probability distract the EU from other plans for some time. Iran is another contentious issue, where the EU is much keener that some of the Gulf States to see the JCPOA renewed. This will not be a topic to be included in the EU-GCC partnership talks, but it could also be a major distraction. Ongoing issues like human rights, women’s rights and cyber surveillance will also have to be navigated. European governments will not give up their close interest in these and the EU will insist on having a dialogue about them.

Britain has its own plans for economic cooperation, but prefers to go it alone. The government launched talks on a proposed Free Trade Agreement with the GCC last October. It is less ambitious than the EU plan, and is aimed principally at selling British goods and services to the Gulf States and boosting investment and jobs in the UK. The Gulf States have welcomed this initiative while cautioning that an FTA will take some time. It will be interesting to see which approach will be more successful.

The EU however sees advantages in establishing a partnership over a very wide range of sectors with the GCC states. On the fossil fuel issue, there could be a grand bargain since many EU countries now urgently need oil and LNG, as a consequence of the embargo on Russian energy supplies. If the GCC states can assist in the short-term, European countries could work with the GCC in slower time on developing green hydrogen and renewables and assisting them in lowering their dependence on hydrocarbons. Of all the Gulf countries, the UAE generates the highest percentage of its energy from renewables, but the Saudis, Emiratis and Qataris all see the need to be part of the transition to green energy, and have set ambitious targets to do so. They are also aware that the EU states can move quickly over energy supplies if they have to. There is scope for close cooperation here.”

Separately, the Euro-Gulf Information Centre reports that senior EU officials travelled to SaudiArabia to discuss cooperation:

Picture: Burj Al Arab, Dubai (Source: Pixabay)