Geopolitical changes propel Germany-Gulf partnership

Geopolitical changes propel Germany-Gulf partnership

Geopolitical changes propel Germany-Gulf partnership
Olaf Scholz walks by a map of Ukraine at the Bundeswehr Operations Command in Schwielowsee, Germany, Mar. 4, 2022. (Reuters)
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The King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies on Sunday convened an important session on “Foreign and Security Policy in the Framework of the German-Arab Gulf Dialogue on Security and Cooperation.” The meeting was especially timely given the Ukraine crisis and the changes it has brought to Germany’s policies. Ukraine is the first major crisis facing the new German government. Up to now, GCC-German engagement has been quite limited compared to other partnerships, especially considering the great potential Germany and the Gulf states have to offer each other.
For both geopolitical and domestic reasons, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the new ruling coalition in Berlin this month made a significant shift in the country’s foreign and energy policies, which could lead to a comparable shift in Germany’s approach to the region. Sunday’s meeting outlined possible changes in German-Gulf — and especially German-Saudi — relations to accommodate the changing circumstances in Europe.
In response to the escalation in the Ukraine crisis, Germany has shelved, at least temporarily, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline by stopping certification of the second pipeline designed to bring in more gas from Russia.
Last Wednesday, Germany took additional steps to diversify its energy supplies in a bid to cut its dependence on key supplier Russia, announcing a €1.5 billion ($1.65 billion) order for non-Russian liquefied natural gas. It has also decided to slow its phasing out of coal as an energy source. According to Economy Minister Robert Habeck, “pragmatism must trump every political commitment.” He stressed that the security of supplies must be safeguarded, referring to fears of blackouts or the rationing of gas.
Russia is Germany’s largest supplier of gas, accounting for about 38 percent of its supplies. As part of its diversification, Germany plans to buy the non-Russian LNG despite Moscow having met all of its contracted supply obligations so far. The new supplies are likely meant for the medium to long term.
In a change to the country’s plan to phase out coal, Habeck said that “as a precaution and in order to be prepared for the worst,” he had decided to keep coal-powered plants “on standby and maybe even let them operate.” Germany is now open to the idea of relying on coal-fired power plants that are currently in reserve, reviving mothballed stations or delaying shutdowns planned for this year.
The significant geopolitical changes and Germany’s new energy policies have added a sense of urgency to the acutely needed upgrade in GCC-German engagement, but that change has been in the works for some time. For the past five years, and especially since 2019, the two sides have been engaged in frequent discussions on enhancing cooperation and improving public perceptions about each other.
In addition to the direct GCC-German channel, the two sides have discussed how to utilize existing GCC-EU frameworks, including the Joint Action Program (2022-2027), which was approved by the GCC-EU Joint Council and Ministerial Meeting in Brussels on Feb. 21.
The focus of the discussions at Sunday’s King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies meeting was on the need for a regular political dialogue aimed at building a GCC-German partnership to contribute to regional security and the security of energy supplies. That also means cooperation to safeguard maritime security and freedom of navigation, as well as combating terrorism. European participants referred to the climate security nexus and maritime security as potential areas of cooperation, with special reference to the protection of straits and other international passageways through which energy supplies transit. They stressed that, for the enhanced GCC-German partnership to be effective, there has to be concrete discussions on establishing a partnership on energy stability and security with discussions on the future of the energy map, including numbers and timelines on the development of renewables as well as oil, gas and hydrogen.
It is also important to have a discussion between the GCC Interconnection Authority, the institution managing the intra-GCC electric grid, and its counterparts in Germany and the EU to explore the possibilities for connecting the Gulf and European electric grids. This may be one of the best ways to trade in energy between the two blocs.

The two sides have long been engaged in frequent discussions on enhancing cooperation and improving public perceptions about each other.

Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

Trade and investment should also be an important part of the proposed partnership, not only in energy but in all areas. European participants suggested exploring a preferential investment agreement on green tech, for example.
Health cooperation is another important area for this partnership. COVID-19 has put health systems worldwide to the test. Germany and the GCC member states could share their experiences in dealing with the pandemic and draw important lessons for fighting the next one and for economic management under the stressful conditions imposed by the disease.
Education and scientific research, especially the recent experience with running schools and research labs under COVID-19 restrictions, are two other important areas for cooperation.
People-to-people participation is the mortar needed to keep the partnership cohesive and sustainable, including through tourism, the arts and cultural exchanges. Youth and student exchange programs could also help propel it to future generations.
All of these proposals for enhanced GCC-German engagement could be done bilaterally between Germany and the GCC as a group or bilaterally with individual member states. Many of them could also be carried out through the GCC-EU bloc-to-bloc partnership. The recently agreed GCC-EU Joint Action Program for the next five years includes many mechanisms for engagement in almost all these areas. In addition, the EU has recently released a new energy strategy. Partnership with the GCC could be an element in this strategy.

  • Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1
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