Last Monday (May 14, 2012), the GCC mid-year, informal summit moved the project of the Gulf Union a step closer by tasking the GCC ministers of foreign affairs, together with the Union Commission chairman, to review and complete the work started by the high-level Union Commission, whose recommendations were reviewed by the summit.
After the summit, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, who also holds the rotating presidency of the GCC Ministerial Council, indicated that the task ahead was to look carefully into the details and “details of the details” of the proposed union to ensure common and uniform understanding of those details.
Last December, the GCC heads of state welcomed the proposal by King Abdullah to transition the GCC from its cooperation phase to the union phase, as in fact had been envisioned at the founding of the GCC in 1981. At that summit, held in Riyadh on Dec. 19-20, 2011, the GCC leaders impaneled an 18-member commission to study modalities for this transition.
During a series of meeting held over a span of three months, the Union Commission found out that the idea of upgrading GCC modalities, and even overhauling them, was not entirely new, but had been under consideration for about two decades and had been especially lively over the past five years. The Commission studied earlier proposals, contained in countless reports and thousands of pages and discovered great ideas that had been proposed over the years by GCC member states, the Consultative Commission, and the GCC Secretariat.
Those earlier proposals, dating back to 1992, had two conclusions in common: that GCC integration, although impressive in some respects, was moving too slowly to achieve its stated goals, and that there was a need to strengthen or even overhaul its mechanisms of operation. All shared the same objective: How to transform the GCC into a more robust organization that could speed up the pace of integration.
At the conclusion of its work on April 28, 2012, the Union Commission submitted its vision, which included a proposed restatement of GCC goals, as Gulf Union objectives, as well as detailed proposals about the way the Union’s key institutions should work and interact.
The European Union served as a model for the Gulf Union proposals, as the EU provided the most successful grouping, and in fact the only other grouping that it is more integrated than the GCC and could as such provide some guidance. However, in many respects the Gulf Union would not be a replica of the EU for the obvious fact that politically, economically and socially Gulf countries are unique, differing in many respects from EU membership. The nature of threats and challenges facing the two groups is also different.
The GCC leaders reviewed the Union Commission’s proposals and directed their foreign ministers to study them, which is the usual GCC modus operandi. Once the ministers complete their task, their recommendations would be submitted to the next summit for a decision.
It has become quite evident over the past several months that the Gulf Union is quite popular, as opinion polls have shown overwhelming support for the idea — much greater support, in fact, than for the EU among Europeans, for example. Part of this support could be euphoric, but mostly there is genuine appreciation of the expected value of the union and of the urgent need to face a multitude of challenges and threats in the region, that are quite real, imminent and present.
As a result of that enthusiastic support, hopes were raised by the sustained discussions about the union over the past few months. It was subsequently understandable for the public to feel a letdown, when the union was not announced outright at the conclusion of last week’s summit.
However, considering the mammoth job of establishing a union, very few insiders had believed it was feasible to reach agreement in such a short time on the “details of the details,” as Prince Saud Al-Faisal said at the end of the summit.
While the proposed Gulf Union enjoys tremendous support at both the popular and official levels, this support does not obviate the need for sustained efforts to reach agreement on the practical modalities of this historical project.
Work toward the Gulf Union is certain to continue until it becomes a reality, which should not be in the too distant future.
There are of course some discordant voices that have raised doubts about the union’s value or even cast aspersions on its motives. Those noises are largely self-serving and come mostly from hard-core nationalists and extremists at the other side of the Gulf, which is expected.
In addition, a few foreign self-appointed Gulf pundits have also lent a hand to that opposition. Sometimes, such opposition is motivated by thinly disguised envy or prejudiced doubts about the Gulf people’s ability to build and sustain such an ambitious endeavor. The same types of folks raised similar doubts about the GCC sustainability 30 years ago, only to be proven wrong.