New EU Strategy on Cooperation with the Persian Gulf, Its Challenges

2023/05/31 | Note, political, top news

Strategic Council Online - Guest Opinion: Normalization of Iran-Saudi relations with China's mediation, which is an indication of Beijing's more significant influence and role in new regional trends in the Middle East, increased speculations about the possibility of changes in the geostrategy of other powers. Abbas Aslani – Expert on international relations

The appointment of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, Luigi Di Maio, as the first envoy of the European Union in the Persian Gulf region, can be considered a sign of the attention of the Europeans to the new regional trends in the Middle East. Referring to the creation of this new position in the Union’s foreign policy apparatus, Peter Stano, the lead spokesperson of the European Union, has confirmed that Brussels wants to raise its participation in the Persian Gulf region to a new strategic level. Therefore, such movements raise questions about the motives, objectives, opportunities, and challenges of the European Union in the Persian Gulf.

EU Strategy in the Persian Gulf

The European Union’s strategic view of the Persian Gulf has more history than recent regional developments. The first joint meeting of the ministers of the European Union and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council was held in 1985. Then in 1989, the institutionalized cooperation of the European Union and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council was established based on a bilateral agreement. In this framework, various formats were formed for consultations, political and sectoral cooperation, as well as for exchanging opinions about bilateral, multilateral, and regional relations. But apparently, the said process has yet to be effective so far, which has made Brussels think of changing its strategy and creating new pillars. Of course, the different political and security considerations of the two sides and the unilateral policies of the United States in the region can also be considered factors in the slowness of developments in the relations between the European Union and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council.

Under the influence of this failed process, the European Union unveiled Brussels’s comprehensive new strategic plan for the architecture of relations with the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council member states last year.

Based on this strategy, the European Union representative office was opened in Qatar last year. In this framework, the establishment of a diplomatic representative office in Oman, the introduction of the European Union special envoy in the Persian Gulf, and considerations for establishing the European Union Chamber of Commerce in the Persian Gulf to facilitate trade relations were also foreseen.

Political-economic motives

European countries are traditional players in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Among the European countries, Britain and France have a significant military presence in the Persian Gulf region. Still, Europe, in the form of the European Union, has always had more political influence in the past two decades. Now the European Union special representative for the Persian Gulf is also tasked with facilitating the political dialogues of the European Union and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council on bilateral and multilateral issues and ministerial meetings and the new cooperation mechanism in the field of security in various fields as well as increasing trade cooperation.

But the new development in the European Union’s policy towards the Persian Gulf cannot be considered independent of international and regional trends. Although the economic and diplomatic presence of the European Union in the region is not new, new international and regional trends have increased Europe’s motivations for greater mobility in the region. For this reason, observers evaluate the overall program of the European Union in competition with other powers, including China and Russia.

However, the keywords “energy security” and “Ukraine war” in the European Union’s strategy towards the Persian Gulf clarify the primary motivation of Brussels for a new strategic focus on the region. The Persian Gulf countries, as the most significant energy producers in the world, play an essential role in the stability of energy markets, and in the medium term, when the European Union is engaged in an economic war with Russia, the Persian Gulf can become a significant producer and exporter of energy to Europe.

In addition, since the European Union and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council together constitute 20 percent of the world’s economy and more than half of the world’s direct foreign investment also belongs to these two parties, the economic and trade cooperation between them can play a role to be decisive in economic trends.

Challenges facing Europe in the Persian Gulf

The European Union’s efforts for strategic relations with the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council are facing many obstacles and challenges. First, strategic relations depend on the existence of an organic political and economic link between the two sides, which does not exist between the two sides, and the history of relations between the European Union and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council also shows that this component plays an important role in the failure of the efforts made. The European Union expects political reforms from the Persian Gulf countries, at least in the announced policies, which is unacceptable for those countries. At the same time, the Persian Gulf countries do not have an optimistic view of the European Union’s people-oriented approach to their societies.

Besides, Brussels will not be able to provide more concessions to the Persian Gulf countries in the short term, which will further influence their motivation regarding expanding relations with China, Russia, and Iran. Previously, one of the strategies of the Americans and Europeans to keep the region’s countries within the framework of the strategic considerations of the West was to conclude arms contracts. Still, the sources of supplying weapons to the region have increased.

The new round of efforts of the European Union with traditional methods does not have the necessary ability to make a serious change in the long-term strategy of the Persian Gulf countries. The countries of the region, more than looking for oil and gas agreements or supplying weapons, have more technical and industrial demands and ambitions, and based on this, some analysts also emphasize that in the competition of international powers in the Middle East, the power will be in the hands of the player who can provide more technical and industrial support to the region.

However, the European Union is expected to have a longer list of ideas to facilitate the security and economic dialogue with the Persian Gulf Council and the region’s countries. The EU’s special envoy in the Persian Gulf will likely seek to create a new basis for the implementation of the new strategy of the European Union in the Persian Gulf.

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