EU member states co-operated with the Gulf states on a bilateral basis. They should be more strategic in the future.
Co-operation with the GCC states and Yemen focused on four main issues in 2013: the war in Syria; military intervention in Egypt to remove the Islamist government; Yemen’s transition; and conflict in Bahrain. Overall, European policies were unclear and lacking unity as member states pursued their own bilateral relationships.
The Egyptian military’s move to remove President Mohammed Morsi, install a new government, and unleash a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood took most by surprise. Europeans avoided outright condemnation while making clear their concerns for stability and offering to involve itself in mediation. However, France and Britain took a softer line, and Saudi Arabia even used Paris as the place to issue public warnings to the West against withdrawing its support. Europeans failed to work with the Gulf states to give mediation efforts a better chance. There was also a lack of focus on Syria and Iran. Saudi Arabia and France co-ordinated hawkish positions favouring intervention in Syria and with regard to the E3+3 talks. The EU rallied in the end, with widespread praise for High Representative Catherine Ashton’s effort in mediating the landmark deal in November, but European success on Iran seemed to come despite rather than because of its relationships with the Gulf states.
Britain took an increasingly dovish approach towards Bahrain and boosted its trade with Manama, but the EU appeared disengaged. In Yemen, Europeans left mediation efforts to UN envoy Jamal Benomar, but obstruction by former regime loyalists is likely to delay presidential and parliamentary elections due in 2014. There is an opportunity for Europeans to help the process, a possibility enhanced by popular disaffection with Washington over a perceived priority for drones over reconciliation and development. Given the possible gradual return of Iran to global respectability and Gulf perceptions of US disengagement, now is the time to engage.