Interview: A shared ‘forward-looking spirit’ underpins EU-Saudi partnership

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Updated 09 May 2021

Interview: A shared ‘forward-looking spirit’ underpins EU-Saudi partnership

Interview: A shared ‘forward-looking spirit’ underpins EU-Saudi partnership
  • EU Ambassador Patrick Simonnet draws parallels between Kingdom’s Vision 2030 initiatives and the European Green Deal
  • Was speaking to Arab News to mark Europe Day, which celebrates peace and unity at the heart of EU project

RIYADH: On May 9 each year, the European Union’s 27 member states celebrate Europe Day in recognition of the continent’s integration, diversity and decades of peace. While the day is an occasion for the continent to reflect on its turbulent past and its present challenges, it is also an opportunity for it to look ahead, according to Patrick Simonnet, the EU ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman.

“It’s always a chance for us to remember the value of peace and unity, which is really at the heart of the European project,” the French diplomat told Arab News during an interview. “It’s something in our DNA, in our identity, what Europe actually is.”

The date is significant as it was on this day in 1950 when former foes France and Germany came together under the Schuman Declaration to create the forerunner to the European Coal and Steel Community — an agreement that laid the foundations for the modern EU, a trading bloc that today incorporates 448 million inhabitants speaking 24 languages.

“Europe Day helps us to look at where we come from, two world wars and then the decision to unite ourselves, where we are today — and I think Europe is not in a bad condition right now. We have many challenges, but we also have big projects — and Europe Day is definitely for looking at the future, what we leave as Europe to our children, how we manage this pandemic, how we tackle climate change, and all those issues.”

SIGNIFICANT DATES

1950 - French FM Robert Schuman proposes pooling of resources.

1951 - European Coal and Steel Community formed.

1957 - Treaty of Rome signed by six nations to form EEC and Euratom.

1979 - First European Parliament elections held.

1986 - Deadline set for creation of Single European market.

1992 - Maastricht Treaty establishes European Union (EU).

1995 - Schengen Agreements enter into force in 7 member states.

1999 - Euro introduced as single European currency.

2009 - Treaty of Lisbon signed in 2007 comes into force.

Simonnet believes the EU and the Kingdom share the same forward-looking spirit, creating a dynamic partnership. He draws parallels between the European Green Deal (the EU’s sustainability initiative launched in December 2019) and the key development goals of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 agenda — a plan to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil, empower its citizens, and encourage openness to visitors and investors.

“I was very happy this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Vision 2030, with 10 years to go until full implementation,” Simonnet told Arab News. “It’s a critical subject. I think you will hear that from all Europeans, but we truly find it a remarkable agenda, which also speaks very much to some of the aspects of the European Green Deal, which is the equivalent of Vision 2030 for Europe.

“It’s very ambitious. It’s an inspiration for the rest of the region. We think it’s an excellent basis for us in terms of economic cooperation. There are many sectors of common interest where we think we can work together.”

Currently, around 28 percent of all imports to Saudi Arabia come from Europe, making the EU the Kingdom’s second biggest trading partner. One particularly promising area for future trade is clean-energy production.

“There’s great potential for hydrogen exports from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Europe at a time when we, as Europe, are trying to become cleaner in the type of fuel we consume,” he said. “(That the) ambition of the Kingdom (is) to be one of the leading exporters of hydrogen, whether blue or green, is really very important for us. It could help us reach our own climate goals.”




The modern EU today is a trading bloc that incorporates 448 million inhabitants speaking 24 languages. (AFP/File Photo)

Simonnet has thrown his support behind the Saudi and Middle East Green initiatives — two programs launched in April this year to reduce carbon emissions, boost renewables, protect ecosystems and reforest parts of the Kingdom and the wider Middle East.

He reserves particular praise for Vision 2030’s commitment to tourism, including the AlUla development plan launched in April, which he says will attract foreign investment while sharing the diversity and richness of Saudi culture with the world.

“We’re all impressed by the huge potential, the huge developments in the country in terms of tourism facilities,” Simonnet said. “Tourism may be a word which is too simplistic, because it’s about diversity, it’s about culture, it’s about traditions, about nature … it is about innovation as well.

“So, it’s not just showcasing diversity of culture. It’s also leveraging that through innovation. I think the Kingdom has really great potential to be a regional hub, a world hub, and will certainly attract a lot of attention from both investors and also tourists.”

EUNUMBERS

* 6 - Founding members of European Coal and Steel Community.

* 27 - Total member states of the European Union.

* 447m - Estimated total population of the EU bloc.

Underpinning the Saudi-EU relationship are many common security concerns, including counterterrorism, the war on drugs, and the situation in Yemen.

“Yemen sits on the Red Sea. Through the Red Sea goes 20 percent of all European trade. So, if there’s something happening in the Red Sea, it has to find another (route), it’s completely disrupted. So, we have a clear security interest,” Simonnet said, reacting positively to the Saudi peace initiative announced in March.

“Security of navigation, stability, the fight against terrorism, extremism, the fight against drugs — all that is our common security agenda and that’s why we need to have lots of political consultations, lots of visits in both directions.

“This is a really strong basis for our partnership.”

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Twitter: @NoorNugali

How Europe went from debt and ruin to peace and prosperity

Europe Day, observed on May 9 every year, celebrates peace and unity on the Continent. On this day in 1950, Robert Schuman, the-then French foreign minister, set out his idea in Paris for a new form of political cooperation that would make war between European nations unthinkable.

Barely five years earlier, the Continent had emerged from the Second World War in a state of ruin, with millions dead and displaced, economies grossly distorted and governments weighed down by debt.

The widespread yearning for cooperation — first to recover and then to ensure such a conflict would never happen again — saw the birth in 1950 of a trading bloc, the European Coal and Steel Community, comprising Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

This was followed in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community, also known as the Common Market. With trade tariffs scrapped between member states, the Continent saw a decade of meteoric economic growth through the 1960s.

In 1973, the union was expanding, with Denmark, Ireland and the UK joining the bloc. By the end of the decade, the first European elections had taken place, boosting the influence of the European Parliament and its directly elected members.

The EU’s expansion accelerated in the 1980s, with Greece, Spain and Portugal joining the bloc. The Single European Act was signed in 1986 to iron out trade issues, creating the single market. The biggest upheavals were yet to come, however, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, creating a Europe without frontiers.

During the 1990s, the single market was completed with the “four freedoms” of movement — goods, services, people and money. The decade also saw the Maastricht Treaty, the Treaty of Amsterdam and the addition of three new members — Austria, Finland and Sweden. It was also the decade of the Schengen Agreement that would eventually allow people to travel without passport checks.

The dawn of the new millennium brought even more expansion, with 10 countries joining in 2004, followed by Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, and the Lisbon Treaty coming into force in 2009. This was also the decade of the euro, with several countries adopting the shared currency.

Such had been the union’s success in preserving a lasting peace, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. However, the EU has faced some of its greatest challenges in the past decade. The eurozone debt crisis threatened to tear the shared currency to shreds. The refugee crisis and a string of Daesh-inspired terrorist attacks raised doubts over the principle of free movement.

Then came the Brexit referendum, when the British voted to leave the bloc and pursue their own trade deals and border arrangements.

These events have rattled confidence in the European project and the concept of an ever-closer union. But with the emergence of China as a major world power, greater Russian assertiveness on Europe’s eastern flank, and the US reassessing its strategic aims, the friendships enjoyed by the EU’s member states have allowed the bloc to respond collectively to shared challenges and, above all, to keep the peace. — Robert Edwards BOGOTA, COLOMBIA

 


Stunning French soprano enthralls Jeddah audience

Clara Barbier Serrano performed arias by composers such as Purcell, Handel, Mozart and Puccini. Her journey into opera began 10 years ago when she was 16 years old. (Photos/ Hayy Jameel)
Clara Barbier Serrano performed arias by composers such as Purcell, Handel, Mozart and Puccini. Her journey into opera began 10 years ago when she was 16 years old. (Photos/ Hayy Jameel)
Updated 40 min 51 sec ago

Stunning French soprano enthralls Jeddah audience

Clara Barbier Serrano performed arias by composers such as Purcell, Handel, Mozart and Puccini. Her journey into opera began 10 years ago when she was 16 years old. (Photos/ Hayy Jameel)
  • Clara Barbier Serrano performs arias taking audience on a special journey through European history
  • To be in this place in this Maraya concert hall was just incredible, because it’s beautiful; it’s so magical how we can bring this music to the whole world, and then people will somehow connect to it

JEDDAH: The first recipient of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation-Community Jameel Scholarship, French soprano Clara Barbier Serrano, thrilled a Jeddah audience with her stunning performance on the Hayy Jameel stage on Jan. 22.

Serrano performed arias by composers such as Purcell, Handel, Mozart and Puccini, taking the Jeddawi audience on a special journey through European history from the 17th to the 20th centuries, via Italian opera, Mozart and finishing with French songs, accompanied by a pianist to complete a beautiful, intimate recital.
This event is considered the first classical music performance at Hayy Jameel.
In an exclusive interview at Hayy Jameel, Serrano told Arab News that she was lucky to receive the scholarship as it created chances for her, including the opportunity to perform next to Bocelli at different locations throughout the world.
“I had my first performance next to Bocelli after I received the Bocelli-Jameel scholarship, it is really always a pleasure to sing next to him,” she said.
“Now I feel more at ease when we’re on the stage together. I’m more relaxed than before because I know him a little bit. There is very nice energy that he gives on stage.”
The talented young singer performed the day before with Bocelli at one of the Kingdom’s prominent cultural destinations, the award-winning Maraya in AlUla.
“To be in this place in this Maraya concert hall was just incredible, because it’s beautiful; it’s so magical how we can bring this music to the whole world, and then people will somehow connect to it,” she said.
As a child, Serrano said that she did not know much about opera. “My family also didn’t listen to classical music, I was not particularly into it. I was listening more to jazz and things like that.”
Serrano’s journey into opera began 10 years ago when she was 16 years old. “I played the violin as a kid, and I took so many musical classes, singing in the choir, and playing the violin, I got more and more interested in the voice and then my teachers would tell me, you have a nice voice you should think solo, and that’s how I got interested in opera or more in lyrical singing.”
“At the time, I hadn’t seen many operas in my life. And it’s a very particular form of art actually. However, this interest in the voice just led me to practice this kind of singing,” she said.
Serrano said that when an opera is performed on stage a great narrative combination happens. “When we are on stage, it is like a story and a plot, it is like a theater piece being performed in a music style. The technique and the way we use our body to make the sound are very emotional. You have to take people with you in something very personal.”
Serrano received the Andrea Bocelli Foundation-Community Jameel Scholarship in 2020; she was rewarded with a two-year diploma in opera and a chance for her to be fully immersed in the opera world.
“I have been studying opera classical singing for six years, including my four years of bachelor in art and music in Germany, and now I am doing a special kind of postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Music in London,” she said.
Serrano performed with Bocelli in the 2020 “Believe in Christmas” concert at the Teatro Regio di Parma, at the annual Concerto di Natale in Assisi in 2020, and in 2021 at the Teatro di Silenzio in Bocelli’s Tuscan hometown of Lajatico.
The opera scholarship is open to students from around the world. Community Jameel, which supports the scholarship, and Art Jameel, which runs Hayy Jameel, are sister organizations founded by the Jameel family of Saudi Arabia.
The Andrea Bocelli Foundation and Community Jameel scholarship were established in 2019, with the aim of supporting up-and-coming singers to study opera at the Royal College of Music in London. The second Bocelli-Jameel Scholar was awarded to Egyptian talent Laura Mekhail in 2021.


Saudi Arabia assumes presidency of GCC Commercial Arbitration Center

Saudi Arabia assumes presidency of GCC Commercial Arbitration Center
Updated 14 sec ago

Saudi Arabia assumes presidency of GCC Commercial Arbitration Center

Saudi Arabia assumes presidency of GCC Commercial Arbitration Center
  • Saudi Arabia takes over the presidency from Bahrain

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has assumed the presidency of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Commercial Arbitration Center and will be headed by the Kingdom’s representative Fahd bin Ali Al-Omari, Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday.
Saudi Arabia takes over the presidency from Bahrain following a decision made during a board of directors meeting in December.
Tariq Yousef Al-Shammari, the center’s secretary-general, said that Al-Omari is regarded as one of the most prominent legal figures in the Kingdom, and holds a leading position in the Federation of Saudi Chambers.
He also served as vice chairman of the disciplinary committee in the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and participated in several research projects on economic systems.
Bahrain’s representative and former president, Sami Zainal, praised the GCC’s accomplishments over the past year and the efforts made by the General Secretariat to achieve the center’s strategic objectives.
Oman’s Ali bin Salem Al Kasbi assumed the position of vice president.


Cirque du Soleil to debut major international shows in Saudi Arabia

Cirque du Soleil to debut major international shows in Saudi Arabia
Updated 20 min 1 sec ago

Cirque du Soleil to debut major international shows in Saudi Arabia

Cirque du Soleil to debut major international shows in Saudi Arabia
  • The Kingdom will host a brand new Cirque du Soleil resident show unique to Saudi Arabia
  • The deal also says the two parties will establish a regional Cirque du Soleil academy and office

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture has signed an agreement with the Canadian entertainment group Cirque du Soleil to enable it to put on its renowned creative performances in the Kingdom.
The agreement was signed by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, minister of culture and chairman of the Theater and Performing Arts Authority, and Gabriel de Alba, co-chairman of Cirque du Soleil, at a meeting held in New York City.
The agreement will see Cirque du Soleil present a number of award-winning circus shows for the first time in the Kingdom, including touring shows such as “The Illusionist,” “Now You See Me,” “Paw Patrol Live,” “Race to Rescue,” “Trolls Live,” and the Blue Man Group’s world tour. The Kingdom will also host a brand new Cirque du Soleil resident show unique to Saudi Arabia.
The agreement also says the two parties will establish a regional Cirque du Soleil academy and office, to provide a curriculum of high standards led by the best global circus experts. Students from all over the Kingdom and abroad will have the opportunity to hone their performance skills through the circus’ international school exchange and artist-in-residence programs, and will also be awarded internationally recognized certificates.

Cirque du Soleil has presented six shows in Saudi Arabia since 2018, the last of which was the “Messi 10” show, which was held in November during the Riyadh Season and shed light on the life of the famous Argentine footballer Lionel Messi.
The agreement comes with the performing arts witnessing greater development in the Kingdom, especially after the establishment of the Theater and Performing Arts Authority, which announced its strategy to further improve the sector last year.
The plan includes better infrastructure for theater and performing arts, providing job opportunities, building partnerships, and providing educational and training opportunities for about 4,500 playwrights and more than 4,000 trainees by 2030.


New judicial costs system to reduce false lawsuits in Saudi Arabia

The most prominent provision mentioned is the mechanism for calculating the judicial costs of the lawsuits. (Shutterstock)
The most prominent provision mentioned is the mechanism for calculating the judicial costs of the lawsuits. (Shutterstock)
Updated 20 min 54 sec ago

New judicial costs system to reduce false lawsuits in Saudi Arabia

The most prominent provision mentioned is the mechanism for calculating the judicial costs of the lawsuits. (Shutterstock)
  • The mechanism will be in full effect starting March 13
  • Judicial costs are imposed on the lawsuit in an amount not exceeding 5 percent of the value of the claim, with a maximum amount of SR1 million, with defined regulations and criteria for estimating judicial costs

JEDDAH: Less than 50 days remain until the application of the judicial costs system, which entails the imposition of fees when filing civil, commercial, and criminal lawsuits, borne by the convicted party or the party who loses the case.

The draft executive regulations for the judicial costs system revealed that the purpose behind imposing fees on types of cases is to reduce malicious and false lawsuits, and promote alternative means for settling disputes.
The application of this system will be in full-effect from March 13.
Waleed bin Naif, a lawyer, told Arab News: “The judicial costs system objective is to reduce the overgrowth of malicious lawsuits, urge the documentation and proof of transactions and contracts, as well as directing litigants to resolve their dispute amicably.
“Judicial costs are imposed on the lawsuit in an amount not exceeding 5 percent of the value of the claim, with a maximum amount of SR1 million ($266,596), with defined regulations and criteria for estimating judicial costs,” added Bin Naif.
According to the new system, the estimation of the judicial fees of the lawsuit ranges between 5 percent and 2 percent.
The most prominent provisions mentioned are the mechanism for calculating the judicial costs of the lawsuits, estimated in a descending percentage of no more than 5 percent.
The draft also explains the mechanism for calculating the financial execution request and direct execution request, determining who bears the costs of execution requests, and ascertaining criteria for cost estimation of requests on lawsuits.
In addition to issuing rules and procedures for notification and objection to judicial litigation expenses, the draft includes issuing cost bonds for lawsuits, requests, and collection and objection methods, and clarifying cases of exemption from judicial costs.
“The provisions of the law shall apply to all cases and requests submitted to the courts, excluding the following: The first exception being general criminal cases, disciplinary cases, and requests related thereto. The second is cases and requests that are within the jurisdiction of the Personal Status Courts, except for the cassation request and the request for re-examination,” Bin Naif said.
“The third includes cases and requests that fall within the jurisdiction of the Board of Grievances. The fourth is the cases and requests related to lawsuits for the division of estates, except for a request for cassation and a request for reconsideration. The fifth includes cases and requests that arise from the application of the provisions of the bankruptcy system. While the sixth exception is for cases of termination and related requests.”


Eastern Province breaks Guinness World Record with giant Saudi Green logo

Eastern Province breaks Guinness World Record with giant Saudi Green logo. (Supplied)
Eastern Province breaks Guinness World Record with giant Saudi Green logo. (Supplied)
Updated 26 min 11 sec ago

Eastern Province breaks Guinness World Record with giant Saudi Green logo

Eastern Province breaks Guinness World Record with giant Saudi Green logo. (Supplied)
  • It comes in line with Saudi Vision 2030’s goals to protect the environment and natural resources in order to achieve sustainable development

DAMMAM: Eastern Province municipality has broke a Guinness World Record by creating the largest physical logo in the world to advertise the Saudi Green Initiative.
To form the logo, authorities oversaw the planting of 6,250 jatropha trees in the shape of a triangle opposite the Dammam Corniche, covering an area of 6,200 square meters.
More than 400 people came forward to volunteer for the project, which took more than 200 hours to complete.
Majid Al-Hogail, Saudi Arabia’s acting minister of municipal and rural affairs, gave Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Jubeir, mayor of the Eastern Province, a Guinness World Record certificate on the occasion, and a similar certificate to the municipality’s service agency, titled “Public Management of Community Participation.”
He also granted a certificate to the management of enablement and support to municipalities. It was received by Abdullah bin Saeed, deputy minister at the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing and director general of Enablement and Support to Municipalities.
Al-Hogail said that the success was a result of collective efforts at Eastern Province municipality.
The larger Saudi Green strategy to increase green space by planting trees, gardens and green spaces will improve quality of life as well as environmental protection, he added.
It comes in line with Saudi Vision 2030’s goals to protect the environment and natural resources in order to achieve sustainable development. Al-Hogail stressed the importance of afforestation in order to preserve ecological balance and its role in air purification.
Al-Jubeir said that the jatropha tree was specifically chosen for the project due to its hardiness and low water consumption. He added that the smaller Green Eastern Province initiative comes as part of the larger national effort to promote afforestation.
Bin Saeed praised the new Guinness World Record, which he labeled an “achievement for all members of the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing, as well as members of the Eastern Province municipality.”