GCC-EU strategic partnership passes an important milestone

GCC-EU strategic partnership passes an important milestone

EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council passed another milestone by holding a high-level meeting on security cooperation (SPA)
EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council passed another milestone by holding a high-level meeting on security cooperation (SPA)
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Two years after the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council announced their strategic partnership, they passed another milestone this week by holding a high-level meeting on security cooperation. All 33 member nations of the two blocs attended, with most represented by their foreign ministers.

Security cooperation between the two groups has been born out of necessity and is growing to fulfill that need. Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy and vice president of the European Commission, stressed at the start of the meeting that: “In times of turmoil and escalating tensions, peace and multilateralism are challenged in both our regions and we need more than ever to work together to resolve the crises, to prevent escalation and support a safer and more stable international environment.”

There was high representation from both sides for the GCC-EU High-Level Meeting on Regional Security and Cooperation, which was held in Luxembourg on Monday. This was the first forum of this nature. While the GCC-EU Joint Ministerial Council has been meeting annually since the signing of the 1988 Cooperation Agreement to discuss and decide on all issues related to their partnership, the Luxembourg gathering was security-focused. The wars in Gaza and Ukraine dominated the discussions.

The chronology of events leading to Monday’s security meeting has been accelerated by geopolitical events. During a meeting in Brussels in February 2022, GCC and EU ministers announced a strategic upgrading of their relationship. At the same time, they adopted a five-year program covering 2023 to 2027 to reflect this transformation by including more political and security dialogue. In May 2022, the EU adopted a “Joint Communication” on the strategic partnership with the Gulf; “joint” here meaning a consensus between all EU institutions and commitment to the upgrade.

Security cooperation between the two groups has been born out of necessity and is growing to fulfill that need

Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

The Brussels ministerial meeting of 2022 was held amid rising global tensions. It was held on Feb. 21, three days before the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which led to dramatic changes in Europe’s energy and security priorities. European countries have since sought to reduce their reliance on Russia for their energy needs and increase their imports from other sources, including the GCC states. The Ukraine war brought home the EU’s acute security vulnerability and the need to strengthen its partnerships around the world.

In June 2023, the EU appointed Luigi Di Maio, a former Italian foreign minister, as EU special representative for the Gulf — a new post created to help accelerate the strategic elements of the newly upgraded partnership between the two groups. The Luxembourg meeting this week owes a lot to Di Maio’s energetic advocacy of the need for greater security cooperation, as Borrell stressed and several other ministers also highlighted.

The 27th meeting of the GCC-EU Joint Ministerial Council was held in Muscat on Oct. 10, 2023, three days after the attack on Israel by Palestinian militants, which sparked the war against Gaza. Just as the war in Ukraine shaped the early days of the GCC-EU strategic partnership, Israel’s war on Gaza is now shaping the current phase of their engagement. The war has split the EU into different camps and made it difficult to reach consensus within the bloc, thus affecting the prospects for growing the GCC-EU strategic partnership.

Despite the disagreements among EU members on the war in Gaza, the Joint Council agreed in Muscat to hold a regular and structured GCC-EU regional security dialogue at the level of senior officials and to establish joint working groups when needed, within the framework of this security dialogue. This aimed at coordinating efforts on regional and global issues, including nuclear, missile and drone proliferation; maritime security; cybersecurity; counterterrorism; terrorism financing, recruitment and ideology; human trafficking; drug trafficking; irregular migration; organized crime; and energy security, the security of global food supplies and disaster preparedness and emergency response.

More countries have now realized the need for a change in policy on Gaza and for Europe to play a more constructive role

Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

To carry out that decision, EU and GCC experts and senior officials met in Riyadh in January this year to map out the security cooperation between the two blocs. As a first step, they agreed to develop mechanisms for cooperation in five key areas: nuclear nonproliferation, maritime security, cybersecurity, counterterrorism and emergency response. The Luxembourg meeting this week agreed with those five priorities.

Since the breakout of the Gaza war, the energetic diplomacy of Borrell, Di Maio and foreign ministers from both sides has been able to turn the tide within Europe and reestablish consensus on Gaza. As it became evident that Israel had gone beyond self-defense in its war of annihilation against Gaza, with tens of thousands killed, mostly women and children, and almost the entire population homeless, the tide started to shift. More countries have now realized the need for a change in policy and for Europe to play a more constructive role, instead of acquiescing to Israel’s policy of mayhem and destruction.

By the time the Luxembourg meeting was held, a new consensus had emerged. Led by countries such as Belgium, Ireland and Spain, all ministers at the meeting agreed on the need to stop the war, increase humanitarian assistance and move forward on a political solution based on the two-state solution along the 1967 lines. They also agreed on the need for the two blocs to take joint steps to achieve these goals. Those steps could include working harder to achieve an immediate and sustainable ceasefire in Gaza, securing an exchange of prisoners, organizing an international conference to discuss the wider Middle East conflict and more recognitions of the state of Palestine by European nations.

Participants at the Luxembourg meeting agreed that the EU and the GCC now share many interests and have converging views on many topics, making it possible to do more together. With increased polarization in international relations generally, it has become imperative for the two blocs to partner in addressing geopolitical crises, especially Gaza/Palestine, and increasing regional security.

  • Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the Gulf Cooperation Council assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily represent the GCC. X: @abuhamad1
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