(Source: European Commission)
Why do we need a strategic partnership with the Gulf?
We are living at a time of insecurity and significant global challenges. The rules-based international order is put into question, the world faces the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy will need to recover and we have an imperative to act on the green and digital transition.
The EU is a global actor that is taking the lead in addressing those challenges, from climate change to a human-centric approach to digitalisation that respects fundamental values. The Gulf is a dynamic neighbouring region and an important gateway between Europe, Asia and Africa. Its security, stability and prosperity bear direct consequences for the EU. For these reasons, both the European Union and the countries in the Gulf stand to gain from a stronger and more strategic partnership building on an already long-standing relationship dating back to the 1989 Cooperation Agreement.
What does the EU stand to gain from this partnership?
A more strategic partnership between the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will enhance the prosperity and security of both partners and make a real difference in addressing global challenges, such as climate change, the green and digital transitions, post-Covid recovery and many others.
For example, the Gulf region has a key role to play in the fields of green transition and energy security. As the world’s largest producer of fossil fuels, the Gulf today plays a fundamental part in stabilising oil markets. However, in the medium-long term, the Gulf can also become an important producer and exporter of renewable energy, including hydrogen. The GCC countries have some of the best solar and wind resources in the word and are reliable Liquefied Natural Gas providers. As such, a stronger partnership with the Gulf is crucial for the implementation of the European strategy to REPowerEU and the International Energy Strategy.
Together, the EU and the GCC represent 20% of the world economy and cover more than half of world foreign direct investments. In 2020, the EU was the GCC’s first import and fourth-largest export partner. An increased trade and investment relationship will be beneficial to both parties, also in view of the Gulf countries’ objectives of diversifying their economies away from dependency on oil and gas revenues. Tourism is another field that could contribute in economic prosperity of both partners.
Cooperation on digitalisation, including on the digital up-skilling of citizens in the Gulf and the deployment of digital networks and infrastructures through the Global Gateway strategy, could open up possibilities for further cooperation on the data economy and a human centric approach to artificial intelligence. Space cooperation on GPS and Galileo are also important fields of potential cooperation.
Finally, the wider Gulf region is volatile. Instability there has direct effects on the EU’s security and economic interests, and reverberates in the EU’s neighbourhood. The Gulf states are becoming increasingly active in their own region and in the broader Middle East and beyond. Lasting stability in the EU’s broader neighbourhood will require close cooperation with them. The Gulf and the EU can work together on security related issues, both as regards region-led confidence building initiatives, and to address crises and challenges emerging in neighbouring regions such as the wider Middle East, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. Cooperation on maritime safety and security and humanitarian and development cooperation issues are important in that context.
What do Gulf countries stand to gain?
Climate change is a global challenge, but the Gulf region is and will be particularly affected by it.
The EU is a pioneer in addressing climate change and leading the green transition. The expertise, technology and know-how developed by the EU can be an important element to help Gulf countries deal with their own transitions in a spirit of partnership. Further cooperation is envisaged on a series of environment related fields such as sustainable management of marine resources, biodiversity, waste reduction and management, and combating desertification.
Gulf countries are trying to diversify their economies away from dependency on fossil fuels. They are aiming at creating jobs and opportunities for their citizens. Through this partnership, the EU and the Gulf can develop new business and employment opportunities, especially for youth and women, in sectors related to the green and digital economy, sustainable tourism, research and innovation.
As promoter of multilateralism and social transformation the EU will be there to accompany the promising societal and economic changes underway in the Gulf countries, including on human rights and gender equality.
The EU will use its convening power and its leading role as a peace-building actor to work together with the GCC – a model of regional cooperation – in assisting countries in the region in any region-led initiative to enhance security cooperation, conflict prevention, mediation, and confidence building initiatives. At the same time, working together on global development and humanitarian fora will reflect the important role Gulf countries play as global reliable donors to address humanitarian concerns through multilateral agencies.
The cooperation on research and innovation through the Horizon Europe Framework Programme, the student mobility through the Erasmus+ programme and Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters will create new markets and jobs and at the same time address societal challenges like the climate and energy transitions or global health.
Enhanced inter-institutional coordination between the EU and the GCC is important for the achievement of the above objectives. As shown by the EU experience itself, regional cooperation can reduce conflicts, improve shared prosperity and interconnectivity between the countries.
Finally, more mobility especially for youth and students and inter-cultural cooperation will foster mutual understanding between the two regions and the already present cultural links.
How will the partnership contribute to fight climate change?
A more strategic partnership will help the green transition of both regions.
In the short-term, the EU will need the help of Gulf countries in stabilising oil and energy markets and import low-carbon sources of energy for its own smooth green transition. In the medium-longer term, the EU can help Gulf countries move away from dependency on fossil fuel and in their ambition to become producers and exporters of renewable energy, meeting their net-zero goals.
Given that an integrated gas and hydrogen infrastructure, hydrogen storage facilities and port infrastructure is necessary in both the EU and the Gulf countries, the EU will work on a Mediterranean Green Hydrogen Partnership and will involve Gulf countries.
Moreover, green transition and climate adaptation and mitigation require large-scale investments globally. The investment capabilities of the EU and Gulf Countries combined, together with the EU expertise and know-how, could unlock the necessary capital, expertise and experience to push forward the green transition in other areas of the world and foster sustainable investments in the broader Middle East as well as in Africa.
How will the partnership enhance regional security?
Preserving peace, security and stability in the wider Gulf region is a key priority for the EU. Instability in this region has direct consequences on the global economy, maritime safety and transports, plans to address climate change and it reverberates to other regions of the world.
A more peaceful and stable Gulf region will also be a more integrated and inter-connected region. For these reasons, the EU and the GCC partners will work beyond the already ongoing cooperation to foster dialogue and confidence building measures, deepen engagement on counter-terrorism and to address hybrid threats with a view to progressively build a regional security architecture.
The growing regional presence of EU Operation ATALANTA creates space for more engagement on maritime security, on the basis of international law.
The EU will keep supporting the ongoing efforts by GCC countries to reinforce respect of rule of law and good governance, foster healthier and more open information environments, inclusive dialogues with civil society, transparency and accountability. The normative and pioneering role the EU plays to implement legislation that protects people from unlawful and unnecessary surveillance and data collection can also improve the security and well-being of Gulf citizens.
Finally, the EU could share good practices on disaster prevention and preparedness.
What will this partnership bring to the people?
Gulf countries are undergoing deep societal and economic transformation that open up opportunities for further cooperation and exchanges. In recent years, Gulf countries have undertaken ambitious social reforms, marking a turning point in these societies that were unthinkable of until recently. While human rights challenges do remain, the frank and open relationships established between the EU and the Gulf countries gave way to the promotion of human rights dialogues with a number of countries, some for the first time.
In this sense, the EU will share its experience in promoting inclusive dialogue with civil society and will support efforts by GCC countries to live up to international commitments on human rights.
Mobility and exchanges between people in Europe and in the Gulf region will increase chances for cooperation and mutual understanding, especially with the promotion of opportunities for the increasingly globalised and engaged youth in the Gulf.
How will this partnership promote human rights?
Gulf countries engaged in ambitious domestic development policies, often accompanied by social reforms that marked a turning point in these societies. While human rights challenges do remain, there has been significant progress for example with the dismantling of the kefala system for migrant workers.
The social reforms and the frank and open relationship established between the EU and the Gulf countries takes the form of several human rights dialogues, in which both parties take stock of progress made and address a number of cases and issues of concern. Notably, for example, the European Union and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia held their first ever Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels in September 2021. It offered an opportunity to have detailed discussions on a wide range of topics.
The EU is strongly encouraging efforts to live up to international commitments on human rights, including ratifying relevant UN human rights treaties, as well as ratify and implement International Labour Organization conventions and recommendations.
The EU also stands by the principle that human rights apply online and offline and encourages Gulf countries to adopt and implement international legal standards pertaining to digital rights, on which the EU is a global leader.
The EU also intends to strengthen its engagement to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in close cooperation with the governments, civil society, private sector and other key stakeholders in the Gulf region, building on progresses made in this field.
How can the Gulf countries be partners in the implementation of the Global Gateway?
The green transition and climate adaptation and mitigation will require large-scale investments globally. The Global Gateway provides a useful framework for a joint venture with the Gulf to foster sustainable investments in the broader Middle East region as well as in Africa. It could be instrumental in bringing together the investment capabilities of the EU and Gulf countries and their financial institutions and effectively engage the private sector to unlock the necessary capital, expertise and experience. It is therefore important to identify opportunities for cooperation on Global Gateway initiatives and promote Gulf partners’ collaboration with EU institutions, Member States, financial institutions and the private sector, reflecting the Team Europe approach.
Why is development and humanitarian aid cooperation important?
We live in a challenging world in which humanitarian and development needs are on the rise. Gulf donors are already major providers of primarily bilateral aid for humanitarian and development cooperation.
They are substantial and reliable donors who are taking more and more a global responsibility to address crises around the world. Cooperation on humanitarian aid and development cooperation is necessary to make sure that aid is delivered in a coordinated approach for partner countries, and preferably through multilateral agencies.
Why stronger institutions are needed?
The GCC is a model for regional cooperation and there is increased momentum and a strong mutual interest to give to EU-GCC relations a more strategic orientation.
Structured cooperation with the GCC and its members is governed by the Cooperation Agreement concluded in 1989 and with agreements signed with the six GCC member countries. This framework of bilateral and regional cooperation and dialogue encompasses various formats for political and sectoral consultations and cooperation, as well as for exchanges on regional developments at different levels.
A stronger institutional cooperation can lead to more partnerships on topics of mutual interests. For example, sectoral ministerial meetings between the EU and GCC will help pursue the implementation of joint activities on health, trade and investment, migration and mobility, education and research, energy and climate change, digitalisation and disaster preparedness.