The Arabian Peninsula and the Greater Middle East have always been at the axis of our history. Be it as the birth place for several empires, nations, cultures or religions. Undoubtedly, of the greatest men in earth!
This Region is at the centre of our economic and financial development, particularly in the last decades and at the crossroads of three continents, though now with the increased role of being one of the major suppliers of raw materials and energy to the rest of the world.
Last years, some of the gulf countries decided to assume an active role in promoting stability and dialogue in the Greater Middle East and North of Africa, following the Arab Spring revolutions.
It’s now time to look more closely at the Region, particularly to the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and rethink where to should our relations aim the next decades.
Representing a population of almost 50 million and 40 per cent of the world’s recoverable oil deposits, the GCC is a regional organization with 6 member countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The GCC was launched in 1981 with the objectives of enhancing coordination, integration and inter-connection among its members States. In 2012, the GCC countries were the 6th biggest trade partner of Europe (EU 27), after the US, China, Russia, Switzerland and Norway (and very close to the last) and Europe (EU 27) was the biggest trade partner of the GCC countries (2011).
History proves that when different cultures, peoples and religions dialogue and promote mutual understanding and cooperation, the world advances smoothly, peacefully and happily aiming at common prosperity and widespread advantages.
Against radicalisms and misunderstandings; misinterpretations and old fears; delusions and misconceptions.
The truth is that the universal values which are at the foundations of our societies are the same, though applied differently in countries and Regions with their own culture, religion and particular history and heritage.
That’s why we should bring (again) to the table the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and the GCC countries, ‘officially’ suspended by the GCC in 2010, after several interruptions since 1990- the distant year when negotiations began!
Two years and a half ago we approved at the European Parliament an opinion report from the International Trade Committee, of which I was the rapporteur, where we asked for the resumption of the negotiations. My report had three basic proposals:
1. The opening of an EU Delegation in each one of the 6 GCC countries. Actually, there are only 9 countries above 1 million inhabitants where the EU doesn’t have a Delegation. 4 of those 9 are: Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain…?). It’s a case to say: strange diplomatic priorities…
2. A regular heads of State and Government summit between the EU and the GCC, to begin as soon as possible, regardless of the FTA conclusion.
3. A request to the HR/VP and the Commissioner for Trade to assess alternative approaches to the region-to-region FTA. This is to say, if some of the GCC countries feel already prepared to engage in a further commitment with the EU, we should advance for bilateral Agreements with each one of them.
In my point of view, this should be our agenda for the Gulf next months and years. It was true two years and a half ago, it’s still true today! And if we assume these objectives and work together with our Arabic partners, there’s an old proverb that illustrates perfectly the result of this attitude: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together!” Let’s go together, let’s get far!