EU, GCC to sign MoU on railway cooperation

Violeta Bulc
Updated 12 January 2017

EU, GCC to sign MoU on railway cooperation

RIYADH: The European Union (EU), where cross-border railway system is the key component of the transport network, has announced plans to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to lend full support in terms of experience and regulatory provisions to build and operate the Gulf railway. The cost of linking the six GCC member states by railway is estimated at $250 billion.
“The 28-member EU has really good experience in managing cross-border railway connectivity, which we will share with GCC besides our technical knowhow,” said Violeta Bulc, European transport commissioner, in an exclusive interview with Arab News here, on Tuesday. Bulc gave an overview of the EU-Saudi relations as well as EU-GCC ties with special reference to the growing cooperation including projects and plans in transport sector.
The proposed MoU between the EU and the GCC, once endorsed by the two sides, will be an important step to cater to the transportation needs of the GCC, which has one of the highest rates of population growth today. The construction of the 2,117 km-long GCC railway network is expected to be completed by 2021. According to Middle East Eye (MME), an online news portal, the total cost of the GCC railway project including linking the six countries by rail will be $250 billion.
Referring to her meeting with GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani, Bulc said that she had discussions about possibilities of cooperation in different areas with special reference to the potentials in the railway sector. She said that “the EU would like to support GCC with its experiences, especially in terms of standards and regulatory framework in the railway sector.”
“We can also share technical solutions to the problems,” said the EU official.
She said that that the GCC chief made it categorically clear the “EU should also move to ensure progress on GCC-EU free trade agreement.”
Asked about the proposed free trade agreement (FTA), which has been on the back burner for the last several years, Bulc said that “to be honest with you, GCC-EU FTA is the only long-term tool with investment to ensure growth, job creation and development.”
In fact, the GCC and the EU launched negotiations for free trade agreement back in 1990. But the negotiations met a dead end in 2008 when they were suspended indefinitely. The two blocs, which do realize the importance of FTA, are willing to initiate the negotiations again. The FTA is foreseen to provide for a progressive and reciprocal liberalization of trade in goods and services.
Referring to her wide-ranging talks with Sulaiman Al-Hamdan, minister of transport, she said that a similar MoU to boost cooperation in railway sector will be separately inked with Saudi Arabia. She, however, did not point out the dates of endorsing the two MoUs. She said that the proposed MoU will help Saudi side to acquire “standards, regulatory framework and also create better environment for businesses to engage in the deployment of addition railway tracks in the Kingdom.”
She said that Saudi Arabia is one of the key countries with deployment of European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), which is the modern management system to operate railways. Moreover, the EU transport commissioner said that EU companies have already been partners in the deployment of railway systems in the Kingdom.
Asked about the outcome of her meeting with Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, deputy minister of economy and planning, the official said that “we primarily discussed different financial models used and deployed by the EU.” “The two sides agreed to hold regular consultations as far as investment environment is concerned,” said Bulc.
She pointed out that the EU and Saudi Arabia have also agreed to work together in the areas of road safety, urban mobility and emerging technologies as well as emissions control. On the investment front and in the context of the EU, she said that “the investment plan for Europe aims to encourage investment in order to create jobs, boost growth and competitiveness, meet long-term economic needs and strengthen EU’s productive capacity and infrastructure.”
The key element is the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), which encourages investments in infrastructure projects and SMEs, she added. By providing a total guarantee of 21 billion euros for business and infrastructure projects, of which 16 billion euros is from the EU budget and 5 billion euros from the European Investment Bank, the EFSI aims to unlock additional investment of at least 315 billion euros over three years, according to a booklet entitled ‘Investment Plan for Europe’, which was released by the EU transport commission during the EU-GCC business forum here.
Referring to her meetings in the Saudi capital, Bulc said that she had met a group of Saudi women leaders and held very “constructive dialogue.” She said the two sides have agreed to identify some projects of “cultural nature”, which will eventually provide an effective platform to talk and share experiences. She also counted several new projects and plans being implemented in Europe for peace and progress.
To this end, she noted that the European Commission (EC) has adopted regulations from the new European Rail Traffic Management System European Deployment Plan (ERTMS EDP). With the new ERTMS in place, trains across Europe are set to run seamlessly by replacing differing national technical systems. The EU is also working to unify the rules and legislations for operating cross-border railway easily and effectively.

Photo exhibition recalls 90 years of Saudi-Lebanon ties

Updated 58 min 55 sec ago

Photo exhibition recalls 90 years of Saudi-Lebanon ties

  • Thousands of photos on display
  • Ties ‘rooted’ in history, says Kingdom’s ambassador

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari and Lebanon’s Minister of Information Minister of Information Jamal Jarrah on Monday inaugurated a photography exhibition celebrating 90 years of bilateral relations.

The King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives and the Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain Cultural Foundation provided the embassy in Lebanon with historical documents and photos for the exhibition, which was launched on World Photography Day. Some of the material dates back more than 90 years.

Bukhari said the exhibition’s content proved that the countries’ relations were rooted in history and recalled the words of King Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman, who said: “Lebanon is part of us. I protect its independence myself and will not allow anything to harm it.”

Jarrah, who was representing Prime Minister Saad Hariri, said: “We need this Arab embrace in light of the attacks targeting the Arab region and we still need the Kingdom’s support for Lebanon’s stability, because Lebanon is truly the center from which Arabism originated.”

The exhibition starts with a document appointing Mohammed Eid Al-Rawaf as the Kingdom’s consul in Syria and Lebanon. It was signed by King Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Faisal Al-Saud in 1930 and states that the consul’s residence is in Damascus and that his mission is to “promote Saudi merchants, care for their affairs and assist them with their legal and commercial interests.”

Black and white pictures summarize milestones in the development of bilateral relations, while others depict key visits and meetings between leaders and dignitaries.

“The exhibition demanded great efforts because the pieces were not found at one single location,” former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told Arab News. “Circulating this activity in the Kingdom’s embassies in numerous countries is a great step and has pushed the Lebanese Ministry of Information to benefit from this archive. The Lebanese people remember the important positions the Kingdom has taken over the year to support their independence and sovereignty and in hard times.”

Lebanon, particularly Beirut, is a hit with Saudi travelers although the Kingdom had been advising citizens since 2011 to avoid the country, citing Hezbollah’s influence and instability from the war in neighboring Syria. 

But the easing of restrictions since February has led to a surge in Saudis heading to Lebanon.

Riyadh earlier this year released $1 billion in funding and pledged to boost Lebanon’s struggling economy. Another sign of warming ties was an anniversary event marking the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father that featured Saudi Royal Court adviser Nizar Al-Aloula as a keynote speaker.

“The exhibition highlights the unique model of Lebanese-Arab relations that should be taught in diplomatic institutes, starting with the Lebanese Foreign Ministry,” former minister Marwan Hamadeh told Arab News. “Over the course of 90 years, we have had brotherly ties and political support for independence, freedom, growth, economy and culture and then the Taif Accord (which ended the Lebanese Civil War). Even after that, when Lebanon engaged in military adventures, the Kingdom was there to help with reconstruction and we are proud of these relations.”

Highlights include a recording of King Faisal telling President Charles Helou about the need to strengthen “brotherhood in the face of the aggression targeting our countries without respecting the sanctity of holy sites and international, human and moral norms to extend its influence not only in the region but across the world.”

There are also photos from a recent meeting that brought together King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Lebanese officials. 

An old broadcast recording can be heard saying that the “tragedy of the Lebanese civil war can only be ended by affirming the Lebanese legitimacy and preserving its independence and territorial integrity.”

The exhibition is on at Beit Beirut, which is located on what used to be the frontline that divided the city during the civil war.