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

 


In Jeddah, Italian gastronomic delights whet the Saudi appetite

‘It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before. (Supplied)
‘It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before. (Supplied)
Updated 30 November 2021

In Jeddah, Italian gastronomic delights whet the Saudi appetite

‘It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before. (Supplied)
  • World Week of Italian Cuisine in Saudi Arabia concludes with feast in Jeddah

JEDDAH: The celebrations in Saudi Arabia for the sixth annual World Week of Italian Cuisine concluded with a showcase of Italian gastronomic delights, accompanied by authentic Italian music, at the country’s consulate general in Jeddah.
A number of Italian food brands, restaurants and catering companies took part in the event on Sunday, which celebrated Italian culinary arts by serving up traditional dishes to representatives of the Italian and Saudi communities.
“It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before,” said Abdulrahman Rammal, one of the Saudi guests. “Our previous knowledge of Italian food was limited to certain meals, such as pizza and pasta, but the Italian Cuisine Week created more-knowledgeable awareness of the world of food.”
He said that a number of Italian sweets companies also presented their latest products, and added that such cultural events encourage Saudis to learn more about other nations and their peoples.
Stefano Stucci, the consul general of Italy in Jeddah, told Arab News: “The event is a worldwide initiative of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, with the support of Italian embassies and consulates around the world, aimed at promoting the quality and heritage of Italian cuisine, as distinctive signs of our identity and culture.”
The consulate general in Jeddah said it organizes, with selected partners, a number of events designed to promote Italian cuisine culture, and the uniqueness and diversity of authentic Italian ingredients and products.

Food exports play a vital role in the Italian economy. With an annual turnover of more than $163.4 billion, they represent the second-highest-ranking Italian manufacturing sector and account for 8 percent of national gross domestic product, according to Federalimentare, which protects and promotes the Italian food and beverage industry.


Saudi foreign minister meets Mexican officials

Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard and Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle in Mexico City. (SPA)
Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard and Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle in Mexico City. (SPA)
Updated 30 November 2021

Saudi foreign minister meets Mexican officials

Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard and Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle in Mexico City. (SPA)
  • They discussed enhancing investment opportunities in a number of sectors as well as bilateral efforts in stabilizing energy markets

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with a number of Mexican officials as he visited the country.
He met his counterpart Marcelo Ebrard in Mexico City on Monday.
The pair discussed coordinating efforts to serve the interest of their nations.
They also praised Saudi Arabia and Mexico’s efforts on international security and stopping the spread of weapons that threaten the people across the globe.
Prince Faisal also met Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle.
They discussed enhancing investment opportunities in a number of sectors as well as bilateral efforts in stabilizing energy markets.
Prince Faisal also had meetings with the President of Mexican Council on Foreign Affairs Sergio M. Alcocer and the President of the Mexican Senate Olga Sánchez Cordero.
Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat, on a tour of Latin America, arrived in Brazil on Thursday to meet officials in Brasilia then opened the Kingdom’s new embassy building in the country on Friday.


Riyadh Season: Groves offers relaxing spa, shopping, entertainment, culinary experience

The zone contains several open spaces including an area surrounded by palm trees where visitors can discover its various activities. (AN photos by Saleh Al-Ghanim)
The zone contains several open spaces including an area surrounded by palm trees where visitors can discover its various activities. (AN photos by Saleh Al-Ghanim)
Updated 30 November 2021

Riyadh Season: Groves offers relaxing spa, shopping, entertainment, culinary experience

The zone contains several open spaces including an area surrounded by palm trees where visitors can discover its various activities. (AN photos by Saleh Al-Ghanim)
  • This place is ‘all about nature, relaxation, and quietness, so each zone has its flavor’

RIYADH: One of Riyadh Season’s 14 zones, the Groves, has opened its doors for visitors to experience its spa, restaurants, shops, and shows.

The Groves has combined work and relaxation through an area called The House, which consists of business meeting rooms in a luxurious environment.
Siham Hassanain, general manager of the Groves, told Arab News that the zone was a garden that reflected its name, meaning field of trees.
She said: “Visitors can hear the sound of fountains, water, and birds ... the place also has a special scent. The logo of the Groves contains the four elements of life which are water, air, fire, and earth.
“So, I used these four elements of life in the Groves. The water resembles the relaxation of the place, fire means action and attractions, earth means food, and air means memories.”
The zone contains several open spaces including Al-Jalsa, an area surrounded by palm trees where visitors can view the site and discover its various activities.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Groves has combined work and relaxation through an area called The House, which consists of business meeting rooms in a luxurious environment.

• People can enjoy a number of attractions while at the Groves, including birds of Eden, an afternoon high tea experience where a selection of the finest teas are served in an aviary filled with classical live music.

People can enjoy a number of attractions while at the Groves, including birds of Eden, an afternoon high tea experience where a selection of the finest teas are served in an aviary filled with classical live music. Other restaurants such as GEM.IN.I and El Lechazo offer a range culinary delights.
Followers of fashion can buy from local designers showcasing their latest collections, and dog owners and their pets can meet in Riyadh’s first-ever canine park, Lucaland.

Dog owners and their pets can meet in Riyadh’s first- ever canine park, Lucaland.

Hassanain, founder of Siham International Trading Co., a Saudi firm operating in the hospitality, food, and beverage industry, noted that the Groves was located in the city’s Diplomatic Quarter with commanding views of Wadi Hanifah.
“Nature and trees are all around. Wadi Hanifah offers a unique experience ... a place to relax.
“Each zone in Riyadh Season has its own unique experience. If you want a vibrant area, go to Boulevard Riyadh City. Visit Al-Murabaa to try international restaurants. If you are looking for an Arabian night experience in the desert, Riyadh Oasis is the place.
“But the Groves is all about nature, relaxation, and quietness, so each zone has its flavor,” she added.


Madinah Library offers visitors 180,000 books

Madinah Library offers visitors 180,000 books. (SPA)
Madinah Library offers visitors 180,000 books. (SPA)
Updated 30 November 2021

Madinah Library offers visitors 180,000 books

Madinah Library offers visitors 180,000 books. (SPA)
  • The library houses around 180,000 books and 71 classifications, most of which are books on the prophetic biography with 86 titles, and other specialist administrations and departments

MADINAH: The Prophet’s Mosque Library in Madinah is seeking to enrich visitor knowledge through its 180,000 books.

The library, which is affiliated with the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, is considered one of the most important places that visitors to the Prophet’s Mosque are keen to visit.

It aims to offer people the opportunity to acquire skills and expertise, as well as enrich their knowledge, through its diverse range of books in more than 21 languages.

The library houses around 180,000 books and 71 classifications, most of which are books on the prophetic biography with 86 titles, and other specialist administrations and departments.

It also includes a smart digital library offering computers with e-books.

Authorities have allocated a location for the library on the northwestern roof of the second expansion of the mosque.

 


Saudi Arabia denounces Israeli president’s visit to West Bank holy site

Saudi Arabia denounces Israeli president’s visit to West Bank holy site
Updated 30 November 2021

Saudi Arabia denounces Israeli president’s visit to West Bank holy site

Saudi Arabia denounces Israeli president’s visit to West Bank holy site

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia denounced the visit of Israel’s president to Ibrahimi mosque in the West Bank, calling the act a flagrant violation of its sanctity.

Saudi Arabia called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to stop the Israeli government and its officials’ continuous practices towards Islamic sanctities, according to a Saudi foreign ministry statement. Saudi Arabia called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to stop the Israeli government and its officials’ continuous practices towards Islamic sanctities.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited the site on Sunday to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, sparking scuffles between Israeli security forces and protesters.

Herzog said he was visiting the Cave of the Patriarchs, known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi mosque,  in Hebron to celebrate the ancient city’s Jewish past and promote interfaith relations. But his visit to the city, known for its tiny ultranationalist Jewish settler community and difficult living conditions for Palestinians, drew widespread criticism from Palestinians and left-wing Israelis.

— With Reuters