GCC-EU maintain close political, economic, and security relationships


The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the European Union (EU) maintain close political, economic, and security relationships, with converging interests in regional security and cooperation in both the Middle East and Europe. Stability and peace in the Middle East enhance the security and development of GCC countries, while conflicts in the region pose significant security risks for EU member states. This mutual interest drives their collaboration on resolving conflicts in Palestine and Ukraine and promoting stability and cooperation in their respective regions.

Both the GCC and the EU share similarities in their origins, evolution, and objectives. Over the past eight decades, Europe has transformed remarkably, becoming a model of regional integration despite various challenges. Similarly, the GCC, though initially formed in response to regional security threats, has established essential features of economic cooperation over the past four decades. Both organizations prioritize peace and stability in the Middle East and Europe to achieve their institutional goals of survival and growth.

Saudi Arabia, much like Germany in the EU, leads the GCC. It has been a pillar of stability and growth in the Gulf, the Middle East, the Muslim world, and globally due to its unique attributes as the largest Gulf state, the richest Arab nation, a significant player in the Islamic world, and a key stabilizer in the global energy market. Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has undergone significant socio-economic transformation. This strategic program emphasizes that regional stability is crucial for the sustained prosperity of the Saudi people, driving the country’s foreign policy and regional stability efforts.

The Saudi leadership understands that regional stability is essential to achieving Vision 2030’s socioeconomic goals. Hence, it has spearheaded political reconciliation and economic development initiatives in the Gulf and the Middle East. Following the turmoil of the Arab Spring, the region saw deadly conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Reconciliation efforts have facilitated Syria’s return to the Arab League, mitigated factional strife in Iraq, established a ceasefire and political path in Yemen, improved relations between Turkey, the Gulf, and Egypt, and resolved the GCC rift with Qatar. Saudi Arabia has also normalized relations with Iran, despite past destabilizing actions by the Iranian regime.

However, the Middle East’s complex landscape includes forces that undermine regional security and cooperation. The recent Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent Israeli military response in Gaza have stalled reconciliation efforts, including the Abraham Accords. Israel’s continued settlement expansion in occupied Palestinian territories has further complicated peace prospects. Although there were discussions of Saudi-Israeli normalization, these depend on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. This opportunity has been jeopardized by militant proxies and ultranationalist elements amid the Gaza conflict.

The international community, especially the Arab and Muslim populations, has reacted strongly to Israel’s actions in Gaza, potentially fueling extremist sentiments. This poses a risk of increased terrorism, affecting both Gulf nations and EU member states. Previous conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Libya led to the worst refugee crisis in EU history. The prospect of peace in Palestine appears increasingly remote.

Recognizing the danger of global inaction on Gaza, the GCC, led by Saudi Arabia, has engaged in active diplomacy to push for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and conflict containment. Despite Iran’s support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis, diplomatic efforts between Saudi and Iranian leaders continue to reduce tensions. The Kingdom and the GCC have maintained their modernization and integration plans, despite the regional fallout from the Gaza war, including Houthi attacks on international shipping and Hezbollah-Israeli clashes. The GCC and the EU must prevent the Gaza conflict from spreading further.

Previously, the GCC and the EU adopted incremental approaches to political change during the Iraq war and the Arab uprisings. The EU shares an interest in the stability and cooperation promoted by Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. Both organizations support the urgency of a ceasefire and humanitarian assistance in Gaza and endorse the two-state solution to the Palestine conflict, with the Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Initiative providing a crucial negotiation framework.

Saudi Arabia has consistently advocated for the revival of this comprehensive peace plan, endorsed by the Arab League and the UN, which offers security for Israelis and a state for Palestinians. The EU’s participation in the Middle East Quartet has yet to yield a sustainable political agreement, but the Arab Peace Initiative holds potential for achieving this goal.

In the context of the Ukraine war, the GCC has maintained a neutral stance, balancing relationships with global powers. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has positioned himself as a mediator, enjoying rapport with both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Saudi Arabia hosted a significant diplomatic gathering last year, excluding Russia, to explore options for ending the war. The Kingdom has provided humanitarian support to Ukraine and facilitated prisoner swaps between Kyiv and Moscow, reinforcing its role in seeking a diplomatic resolution to the conflict.

The GCC-EU relationship, based on a cooperation agreement signed in 1988, includes annual meetings to discuss progress and strategic dialogues on trade, investment, climate change, energy, and research. The EU is the GCC’s second-largest trading partner and a significant source of investment for Gulf countries. High-level visits and meetings, such as the 27th GCC-EU Joint Council and Ministerial Meeting in Oman, have strengthened their relationship.

Both organizations share interests in regional security and have collaborated on resolving conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, as well as counterterrorism initiatives. As the Gaza conflict threatens to reignite extremism, the GCC and the EU must enhance their security cooperation and push for a lasting solution to the Palestine question within the two-state framework under the Arab Peace Initiative. The EU must also influence the US to reconsider its unconditional support for Israel.

Finally, China’s Belt and Road Initiative has significantly invested in Saudi infrastructure under Vision 2030, including transport networks, green energy projects, technology parks, and industrial zones. The EU should harness the potential rewards of this development spree. Vision 2030 aims to transform Saudi Arabia into a global economic hub by diversifying its economy. However, its real value lies in its potential to catalyze regional security and cooperation, benefiting both the GCC and the EU.


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