May 16, 2010
Director of International Studies
(Originally published in The National, May 9, 2010)
A more concerted effort is needed from both the GCC and the European Union to improve co-operation, an expert on international relations says.
Speaking at Zayed University yesterday, Dr Christian Koch, the director for international relations at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, said: "Both sides must seek each other out on issues such as foreign policy. It is time to take advantage of the growing interest in the Gulf region."
He said the GCC could learn from the history and experience of Europe, particularly in the area of quality education for its people.
In his speech, Dr Koch stressed the areas of energy and the environment as fields with the potential to produce better co-operation between the organisations.
He added that the enduring complexity of the EU and the GCC's lack of coherence had hindered the partnership's success.
"Europe needs to develop a Gulf strategy," he said. "More resources must be devoted to the relationship. More must be done to heighten the political nature of the relationship.
"Other than one ministerial meeting each year, they should bring together the heads of state."
Dr Koch spoke on Europe Day to diplomats, academics and members of the public on the present and future of GCC and EU relations.
The GCC and the EU first signed a co-operation agreement in 1988, allowing the two bodies to work together in areas such as fisheries and industry and trade. But little additional progress was made until after 2003, when the GCC formed a customs union.
While oil is still a big factor in the region's importance, Dr Koch said trade had increased the significance of the Gulf.
"The importance of oil brought the GCC back into the minds of Europeans over recent years," he said. But he suggested that the EU has come to appreciate the economic vibrancy of the GCC.
"In this financial crisis, the Gulf has looked like a breath of fresh air," he said. "The economy will only increase."
He said the Gulf states were playing a greater role in world diplomacy with projects such as the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, a plan put forward by the future King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; and Qatar's mediation efforts in Lebanon.
"Gulf diplomacy was previously unheard of, but there is a commitment from now on to get involved," Dr Koch said.
One of the areas of development which would be of benefit to the region, he said, was to develop the tribal areas in countries such as Afghanistan by using the cultural expertise of members of the GCC and the political and technical experience of the EU.
"The EU can come up with technical expertise and the GCC can come in with its own financial resources and legitimacy in the region."
That approach, he said, could "promote better development" while avoiding the appearance that the West is interfering.
Dr Salah al Taie, the head of the Red Crescent Authority's relief and emergency department, said it already has a similar system in place with the Arab League, but current arrangements tended to be piecemeal.
"We work together with Europe when we are in certain situations," he said. "We always have plenty of meetings with the EU in times of crisis and we respond to everything very quickly."
Dr Koch said that obstacles remain in relations between the two organisations, including the relative weakness of the GCC's secretariat, compared to the institutions of the EU, and a lack of cohesiveness among the GCC nations, in the eyes of Europe.
"If you need relations to move forward, you need a champion on the inside, specifically for the Gulf region," he said. "This is yet another issue competing for the attention of the policymakers."