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42 - Relations with Gulf Cooperation Council States

Grade: B-
Unity 3/5
Resources 3/5
Outcome 5/10
Total 11/20
Scorecard 2012: C+ (10/20)
Scorecard 2014: B- (11/20)

Separate national agendas dominated EU engagement with the Gulf in 2014, preventing the bloc from increasing its leverage on issues affecting it. 

During 2014, the EU did not improve engagement with the Gulf States as a united bloc, as different states pursued separate agendas. Western policy was largely dictated by the US on a range of issues including Egypt, Syria, Iran, and ISIS. On ISIS, this lack of leadership has been particularly important, since the phenomenon of foreign fighters returning from jihad in Syria and Iraq as well as radicalisation through the spread of jihadist thought concerns Europe arguably more than any other region in the world. To date, the handling of returning fighters has been a political issue only in Europe, even if the number of those from Arab countries fighting in ISIS’s ranks is greater in absolute terms.

It was Washington that pushed Saudi Arabia to set aside disputes with Qatar over support for the Muslim Brotherhood to enable concerted action in reaction to ISIS. EU policy fully embraced the fait accompli of Egypt’s military coup and the Gulf-bankrolled new order, but did not appear to use its Gulf State connections to lobby for policies that would lead towards reconciliation and stability.

The pursuit of national commercial agendas in the Gulf was again manifest in 2014, with France winning a Saudi-brokered contract to supply arms to Lebanon and the UK trying to maintain Qatari investments in Britain against a backdrop of domestic press attacks over migrant labour rights and Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup. Britain’s close ties to Bahrain also came under scrutiny given the failure of political reconciliation there. EU states benefited from the GCC states’ decision not to intervene to prop up energy prices later in the year. On the other hand, the Gulf States are aware of the key role that Catherine Ashton and the EEAS have played in the Iran nuclear talks. EU states are, however, still not in a position to engage with the GCC on major regional challenges such as ISIS, Syria, or the MEPP, or on more sophisticated strategies for stemming radicalisation.