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.”


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.”


* 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.”


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


Saudi Arabia announces 19 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 19 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 8 min 47 sec ago

Saudi Arabia announces 19 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 19 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 448,093
  • A total of 7,572 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 19 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,017 new infections on Sunday.
Of the new cases, 344 were recorded in Makkah, 198 in Riyadh, 155 in the Eastern Province, 84 in Asir, 68 in Madinah, 60 in Jazan, 23 in Najran, 18 in Hail, 10 in Tabuk, 10 in Al-Baha, five in the Northern Borders region and two in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 448,093 after 1,133 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 7,572 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 15.6 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.

Saudi Arabia’s Tawakkalna app operating in 75 countries worldwide

Saudi Arabia’s Tawakkalna app operating in 75 countries worldwide
A man displays his details on his mobile phone using the Tawakkalna app as he enters a mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 June 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Tawakkalna app operating in 75 countries worldwide

Saudi Arabia’s Tawakkalna app operating in 75 countries worldwide
  • An app launched last year by Saudi authorities to help track coronavirus infections is available in 75 countries worldwide
  • The Tawakkalna app was recently updated to show someone’s COVID-19 health status, showing them to be vaccinated or infected, and now functions as a “passport”

JEDDAH: Countries in the first phase of the app’s international availability include: Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Algeria, Sudan, Somalia, Morocco, Tunisia, Djibouti, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, South Africa, Lebanon, Nigeria, India, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh, Portugal, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, the UK, Norway, Austria, the US, Japan, Greece, Spain, Estonia, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Brunei, Belgium, Poland, Germany, Singapore, Switzerland, France, Finland, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Canada, Latvia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Malta, Malaysia, Monaco, New Zealand, Netherlands, Maldives, and Azerbaijan.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs office in Jazan temporarily closed the Budaiya Mosque in Abu Arish governorate after it was confirmed that the imam had COVID-19.

Field teams undertook preventive and precautionary measures, including sterilization operations and comprehensive maintenance, in preparation for reopening the mosque and receiving worshippers at a later date.

The ministry noted the keenness of worshippers and their active role in reporting mosques that did not comply with health and safety instructions and failed to implement preventive measures.


464,780 Total cases

446,960 Recoveries

It asked everyone to report future similar incidents by calling 1933.

Saudi Arabia on Saturday reported 16 more coronavirus-related fatalities, taking the overall death toll to 7,553.

There were 1,077 new cases, bringing the total number of infections 464,780. There are 10,267 active cases, of which 1,562 are in a critical condition.

Of the newly recorded cases, 348 were in Makkah, 225 were in Riyadh, 149 were in the Eastern Province, and 69 were in Madinah.

Authorities said a further 906 patients had recovered from the disease, increasing the total number of recoveries to 446,960.

The country has so far carried out more than 20.27 million PCR tests, with 75,059 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Testing hubs and treatment centers set up throughout the country have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people since the onset of the pandemic.

Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or only mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual.

Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms such as fever, loss of taste and smell, and breathing difficulties.

Appointments for both services can be made via the ministry’s Sehhaty app.

Saudi Arabia has vaccinated 15,633,787 people to date.

Makkah governor inaugurates prototype of new public transport system

Makkah governor inaugurates prototype of new public transport system
Updated 12 June 2021

Makkah governor inaugurates prototype of new public transport system

Makkah governor inaugurates prototype of new public transport system


JEDDAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal on Saturday inaugurated the prototype of a public transport bus in Makkah.

This will serve citizens as well as pilgrims and visitors of the holy city by introducing an integrated service system in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

On the sidelines of the Digital Region Projects Exhibition, Prince Khaled was briefed on the operational mechanism of the new transport system, which aims to accommodate needs resulting from the expected growth in the population in Makkah and in the number of visitors to the Grand Mosque and the holy sites.

The new transport system aims to support economic development in Makkah and provide easy access to the Grand Mosque and other mosques in the city as well as educational and health facilities, commercial and recreational areas, and contribute to reducing pollution and protecting the environment by reducing dependence on small cars.

The bus network consists of two stages. The first phase will consist of 12 lines and about 83 stops in which medium-sized buses are used, while the other five lines will be express lines with dedicated tracks, a length of 172 km and about 342 stops, in which buses of greater capacity and frequency are used.

The project also includes operating more than 400 buses, including 240 regular buses that can accommodate up to 85 seats, and 160 buses with a capacity of 125 seats. This is in addition to the construction of a bus accommodation station, which includes a control building, drivers’ management building, gas station, light maintenance workshop, bus washing and maintenance station, heavy maintenance workshop, bus stops and drivers’ housing facilities.

The buses are equipped with environment protection systems that reduce Euro-4 carbon emissions, include protection systems through surveillance cameras inside and outside the bus, a collision-avoidance system, electronic screens showing the destination to be reached, as well as a hydraulic system to help people with special needs, and places for strollers and people with special needs.

The vehicles will also have Internet service (Wi-Fi) and an audio-visual system displaying trip information to passengers. Buses will operate for an average of 22 hours a day.


Saudi decision to allow 60,000 vaccinated residents on Hajj and bar foreigners welcomed

Saudi decision to allow 60,000 vaccinated residents on Hajj and bar foreigners welcomed
The event, scheduled to be held in July, will be limited to those who have been vaccinated and are aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses, the statement added. (SPA)
Updated 13 June 2021

Saudi decision to allow 60,000 vaccinated residents on Hajj and bar foreigners welcomed

Saudi decision to allow 60,000 vaccinated residents on Hajj and bar foreigners welcomed
  • The Muslim World League, in a statement issued on behalf of all scholars under its umbrella, supported the measures taken by Saudi Arabia to confront new mutated variants of the virus

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s decision to only allow 60,000 residents vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to perform this year’s Hajj, and to bar Muslims from abroad for a second straight year, has been widely welcomed.

The Hajj — a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lives — packs millions of pilgrims into religious sites and could be a major source of contagion amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the pilgrimage will be “open for nationals and residents of the Kingdom, limited to 60,000 pilgrims,” the Kingdom's Hajj Ministry said, quoted by the Saudi Press Agency.

The event, scheduled to be held in July, will be limited to those who have been vaccinated and are aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses, it added. Those wishing to perform the pilgrimage will have to apply online.

Only around 10,000 Muslims took part in the Hajj in July last year.

Khalifa Shaheen Al-Marar, UAE minister of state, said his country “welcomes the Kingdom’s decision and supports all measures the Kingdom takes as part of its efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, contain its spread and ensure the safety and security of pilgrims and the community.”

Al-Marar added: “The scientific achievements of Saudi Arabia testify to the importance the Kingdom attaches to science as the key driver in supporting healthcare and overcoming the major challenges from the impact of the pandemic.”

Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa, Bahraini minister of justice, Islamic affairs and endowment, said the decision “falls in line with preserving Hajj rituals and meeting Shariah exigency.”

The Muslim World League (MWL), in a statement issued on behalf of all scholars under its umbrella, supported the measures taken by Saudi Arabia to confront new mutated variants of the virus.

Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, MWL secretary-general and chairman of the Association of Muslim Scholars, said the rules of Islamic law emphasize the inevitability of taking all safety precautions in such a pandemic.

He added that several senior scholars of the Islamic world contacted the MWL expressing support for the Kingdom’s decision.

The statement stressed the “exceptional efforts” made by the Saudi government, “which clearly demonstrates its concern for the safety of visitors and pilgrims of the Grand Mosque and visitors to the Prophet's Mosque.”

Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the Saudi decision emanates from the Kingdom’s success in organizing last year’s Hajj season, held following all the precautionary measures, which effectively contributed to preventing the virus’s spread.

He said the Kingdom assumed responsibility toward organizing the Hajj, which required it to take strict decisions and measures based on current health data and well-established Islamic jurisprudence rules.

Egyptian Grand Mufti Shauqi Allam also hailed the decision.


Saudi Arabia’s Jouf Olive Festival celebrates prosperity of ‘blessed’ tree

Saudi Arabia’s Jouf Olive Festival celebrates prosperity of ‘blessed’ tree
Saudi cities have become centers of olive oil production. (SPA)
Updated 13 June 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Jouf Olive Festival celebrates prosperity of ‘blessed’ tree

Saudi Arabia’s Jouf Olive Festival celebrates prosperity of ‘blessed’ tree
  • Over 140,000 tons of fruit produced in KSA annually, and 120,000 tons of oil
  • Farmers from nine countries invited to share industry experiences with local producers

MAKKAH: The Jouf Olive Festival celebrates the crop, and this year, in its 14th year, hosted 45 farmers representing the region all competing for the Prince Faisal bin Nawaf Award, worth SR500,000 ($133,000) and given by the prince, who is also the regional governor.

The festival also hosted, for the first time, farmers from the US, Spain, Argentina, Italy, China, Palestine, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt, to share their experiences of the industry.

Omar Al-Hamwan, director general of public relations and media and the official spokesperson for Jouf Municipality, said Saudi Arabia’s olive production amounts to 120 tons annually, and there is a specialized committee to monitor the volume of sales at the end of the festival and to crown the winners of the award.

He added that no oil could be entered into the festival unless it was certified and tested by the laboratory of Jouf Municipality, to ensure its quality, acidity and suitability for human consumption.

Other Saudi cities have also become centers of olive oil production, he said, such as Tabuk and Al-Baha, but Jouf still produces the largest volume.


Saudi Arabia now has over 20 million olive trees, more than 80 percent of which are in the Jouf region.

He added that Basita, an agricultural area in Jouf, has the largest olive farm in the world, owned by Al-Jouf Agricultural Development Co., which produces 10,000 tons of the finest oil annually, citing the abundance of water in the area as one of the reasons behind the success.

The CEO of Al-Jouf Agricultural Development Co., Mazen Badawood, said that this year’s festival was one of the best in terms of organization, direction and participation.

“Each year, we see a new image of the festival, and this time we witnessed an improvement as many wonderful activities were added, so as to place olive cultivation in a good light and highlight its importance in Saudi Arabia and worldwide,” said Badawood.

He added that the olive tree was a blessed tree, mentioned in the Qur’an and in the Prophet’s teachings, that provided great economic returns, whether from its fruit, leaves, or even its wood.

He pointed out that the olive tree consumes less water compared to other crops, noting that Al-Jouf Co. uses modern drip irrigation techniques for sustainability.

Olive cultivation is carried out by planting both trees for both traditional and intensive farming. Al-Jouf Co. is considered one of the pioneers in cultivating and developing olive trees in the region, especially for intensive production.

Badawood said his company is proud to be the owner of the largest modern organic olive farm in the world, with more than 5 million trees and a planting area of over 7,300 hectares.

“Saudi Arabia now has over 20 million olive trees, more than 80 percent of which are in the Jouf region, which is famous for olive cultivation thanks to its suitable environment,” he explained.

Badawood noted that the Kingdom produces over 140,000 tons of olive fruits annually, with 120,000 tons of oil being made as a result.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia consumes about 45,000 tons of olive oil per year, 15,000 to 18,000 tons of which are locally produced while the rest is imported.

However, he noted, with the expansion of olive cultivation, there is an opportunity for self-sufficiency in the near future, which goes in line with the Kingdom’s vision of increasing sustainability and decreasing imports.