Feb 052013

Sharaka Conceptual Paper nr.1

by Silvia Colombo and Camilla Committeri

This paper provides the conceptual framework that will guide research carried out in the context of the project “Sharaka – Enhancing Understanding and Cooperation in EU-GCC Relations”. The aim of the paper is to shed light on the past, present and future characteristics of EU-GCC relations, assessing their strengths and weaknesses while putting forth ideas and recommendations aimed at deepening and widening this cooperation.

Relations between the twenty-seven member states of the European Union (EU) and the grouping of six Gulf states included in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) dates back to 1988 with the signing of the EU-GCC Cooperation Agreement. Yet, during the last two decades structural and contingent factors have hindered this relationship, preventing the emergence of a truly strategic cooperation. On the one hand, European states have shown a preference for bilateral agreements rather than engaging in multilateral cooperation to address short term trade and economic goals. Similarly, the limited regional integration of the GCC has contributed to a weakening of the cooperation dialogue. This is reflected in the fact that negotiations for the establishment of a EU-GCC free trade area (FTA) were unilaterally interrupted by the GCC in 2008. On the other hand, the global financial crisis and the Arab uprisings have challenged the status quo of this partnership, emphasising the urgent need for a review and renewal of the EU-GCC strategic relationship. Against this backdrop, the paper argues that there is a huge potential to develop EU-GCC relations, provided that obstacles are overcome and challenges confronted at a multilateral level.

The first section of the paper contextualises the current state of EU-GCC relations by assessing the history of cooperation between the two regions while highlighting the challenges and opportunities lying ahead. The second section provides a sectoral analysis of EU-GCC cooperation encompassing the economic, financial, energy and cultural dimensions. It explores the reasons for the scarce results achieved during the past 20 years of cooperation. In particular, it argues that excessive focus on economics and trade, together with the lack of flexibility of both actors, has restrained the potential of EU-GCC relations. In light of the above, efforts should be made to devise a more strategic relationship centred on the most promising areas of cooperation as identified in the Joint Action Programme of 2010. Particular attention should be paid to cooperation in foreign policy issues, with an emphasis on the southern Mediterranean region, and to cooperation in the areas of higher education, training and research.