The Gulf Research Center (GRC) established a dedicated research program on relations between the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which include Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, and the European Union in July 2004 to provide a framework for understanding, researching, and analyzing the growing and increasingly diversifying ties between these two critical regions.
As part of its research endeavor, the GRC is launching a project to increase the cooperation and understanding of the Gulf’s relations with the Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8), defined as a regional cooperation that includes Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden. Even though the NB8 are considered an important part of Europe and thus also highly relevant for the Gulf, little attention has been paid to enhancing cooperation between the two regions. The GRC aims to fill this gap in order to increase engagement between the Nordic-Baltic and the Gulf countries.
In the first phase, the GRC will produce an introductory paper which will provide a general overview of NB8 relations with the Gulf outlining the relevant issues and questions the research project aims to pursue. The GRC will then release eight subsequent papers on the bilateral relationship between the GCC and each of the eight Nordic and Baltic states, providing a thorough overview of the current status of relations and what prospects are for the future. In the final stage of the project, the GRC will produce a comprehensive wrap-up synopsis of the project, outlining the major findings of the research and providing policy recommendations.
This initial research paper will provide an overview of current GCC-NB8 relations and lay out potential areas of political, security, economic, cultural, and environmental cooperation. The paper will look at the following research questions:
• What are the key issues?
• What are the key priority areas to focus on?
• What are the views in terms of moving forward?
• How can dialogue on regional security be improved?
• How can the NB8 maintain de-escalation in the region?
• How can both regions increase collaboration on security issues (counterterrorism, intelligence sharing, cyber security)?
• What current trends are impacting economic ties?
• How can joint investment opportunities be capitalized on?
• What are the primary areas to focus on?
• What is the current status of the cultural ties?
• How can student mobility be enhanced?
• What are the steps in promoting exchange programs?
• What are the key environmental issues?
• How can regional cooperation be enhanced?
• What is the most promising way forward?
The Nordic Region
The Nordic region consists of the five sovereign states: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, and the three autonomous territories connected to these states: the Faroe Islands, Greenland (Denmark), and Åland (Finland). The Nordic countries have had close cooperation, both formally and informally. The formal Nordic cooperation, also referred to as institutionalized, was formed after the Helsingfors Agreement (also known as the Helsinki Treaty), which came into force on July 1, 1962, and has been revised on several occasions. It takes place both in the Nordic Council and in the Nordic Council of Ministers (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, 2023).
The Nordic Council, established in 1952, acts as the parliamentarians’ forum for cooperation, while the Nordic Council of Ministers, established in 1971, acts as the governmental forum. In the Nordic Council of Ministers (also known as NORDEN), the presidency lasts one year and rotates between the five Nordic countries. The annual budget of the Nordic Council of Ministers is approximately EUR 130 million, of which each of the Nordic countries contributes to the budget based on their respective GDP figures (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2023). The Secretariat for Nordic Cooperation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinates intergovernmental cooperation.
In August 2019, the Nordic Prime Ministers published a vision for the Nordic cooperation to become “the world's most sustainable and integrated region in 2030.” To meet this goal, the Nordic region is pursuing three priorities: a green Nordic region, a competitive Nordic region, and a socially sustainable Nordic region (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2023). Currently, Iceland holds the presidency for the 2023 term. Iceland’s Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, presented the program for the Icelandic Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers with the headline: “The Nordic Region - A Force for Peace” (Government of Iceland, 2023). Iceland's presidency will focus on the three priority areas of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Vision 2030.
Outside of the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic countries also have informal collaboration (without a formal council formation), such as regular meetings between the embassies of five Nordic countries and their missions abroad on foreign policy (the so-called N5 format), defense policy, and development cooperation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, 2023). The Nordic countries also cooperate on foreign and security in the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO), finance and investments in the Nordic Investment Bank (NIB) alongside the Baltic states, environment, climate change, and green transition in the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO), development in the Nordic Development Fund (NDF), culture in the Nordic Culture Point, and health in the Nordic Institute for Advanced Education in Occupational Health (NIVA).
The Baltic Region
The Baltic region consists of three states: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The governments and parliaments of the three countries cooperate closely with each other. The Baltic Council of Ministers (BCM) acts as the forum for intergovernmental cooperation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, 2023). Once a year, the BCM convenes in the format of the Prime Ministers’ Council. Additionally, at least once a year, the prime ministers hold informal meetings. The BCM has established five committees of senior officials on the issues of defense, energy, environment, internal affairs, and transport.
In addition, parliamentary cooperation takes place through the Baltic Assembly (BA), which was established on November 8, 1991. Twelve to sixteen lawmakers from each of the Baltic states are represented in the BA, which has five standing committees: the Economics, Energy, and Innovations Committee; the Education, Science, and Culture Committee; the Natural Resources and Environment Committee; the Legal Affairs, and Security Committee; and the Welfare Committee. The Baltic Assembly’s chairmanship, which coincides with the BCM’s chairmanship, lasts one year. In 2023, Estonia assumed the presidency in the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers.
The Baltic states are also members of the EU and NATO, where joint activities focus on foreign and security policy, defense cooperation, energy, and transport. Additionally, the three states work together in other regional cooperation formats, such as the Three Seas Initiative (3SI). The 3SI is an initiative aimed at developing cooperation on transport, energy, and digital issues to increase the economic growth and resilience of states between the Adriatic Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Black Sea. To support the implementation of the 3SI, the Three Seas Initiative Investment Fund was created to provide economic support to the political initiative.
Nordic-Baltic Cooperation (NB8)
The Nordic-Baltic Cooperation (NB8) is a regional cooperation format established in 1992 to unite the five Nordic countries and the three Baltic states. On the political level, the annual meetings of Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers have served as the main format of cooperation since 1993. Latvia currently holds the presidency for the 2023 term with the following priorities for cooperation: strengthening a rules-based international order, strengthening military security and deterrence, and strengthening resilience (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, January 2023).