EU and GCC search for common ground, but the relationship still lacks vision.

EU FLAGSDespite co-operation on a number of technical issues EU-GCC relations in the past have lacked vision and vigor.

OxGAPS Forum Special Correspondent contributed this op-ed following the meeting in Brussels last week of officials from the two blocs.

The European Union (EU) and the Gulf co-operation Council  (GCC) last week held a round of talks in Brussels aimed at taking forward the relationship between the two political and economic blocks.

The immediate objective of the talks was to prepare for the extension of the Joint Action Programme which has been implemented since 2010 and which comes to an end this year. The Joint Action Programme provides for co-operation in areas such as ICT, nuclear safety, clean energy, research, and economic dialogue. The GCC is the EU’s fifth largest export market (€75 billions worth of exports in 2011), and the EU is the grouping’s biggest trading partner, with trade flows totaling €130 billion, or 13.5% of the GCC’s global trade.

The EU and the GCC entered into a co-operation agreement in 1988. That Agreement provides for annual joint councils/ministerial meetings (between the EU and the GCC foreign ministers), and for joint cooperation committees at senior officials’ level.

The most recent EU-GCC ministerial meeting took place in Luxembourg on 25 June 2012, co-chaired by High Representative-Vice President Ashton and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal. The next ministerial meeting is due to take place on 1 July 2013 in Bahrain.

Many feel however that despite the co-operation on a number of technical issues EU-GCC relations in the past have lacked vision and vigour. This is partly due to the fact that member states of both blocs prefer to deal with each other bilaterally rather than through the framework of the regional bodies. It is also partly due to the fact that there remain serious differences in perception about issues such as human rights. Only days before the meeting in Brussels last week, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton issued a tough statement condemning the execution of a number of people in Saudi Arabia who were accused of theft. The EU has a strong policy of opposition to capital punishment under any circumstance.

There are also concerns that EU-GCC relations and agreements are too much trade and business focused and do not make adequate provisions for people to people contacts.

The European Parliament also has a standing delegation with the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, namely the six GCC countries and Yemen.

The Delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula is responsible for maintaining relations between Parliament and the countries of the Peninsula (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The delegation is chaired by German MEP Angelika Niebler of the European People’s Party. According to the European Parliament the delegation was created in 1979, the year of the first direct elections to the European Parliament, and its work represents an expression of keen interest in the democratisation process in the region, particularly with those states which possess functioning parliamentary institutions. The delegation’s missions also make it possible to highlight Parliament’s priorities, particularly in the field of human rights.

In addition, the delegation monitors closely the negotiations towards the signature of a free trade agreement between the EU and the GCC, which is intended to provide a new institutional framework for commercial and political relations between the two parties.

Many feel that it is time for relations between the EU and the GCC to make a qualitative leap forward and this can only be possible if there is more emphasis on people to people relations especially in the fields of culture, sports, youth and women.

This op-ed was contributed to OxGaps Forum by a special correspondent.

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