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48 - Relations with Gulf Cooperation Council States

Grade: C+
Unity 2/5
Resources 2/5
Strategy 2/5
Impact 3/5
Total 9/20
Scorecard 2012: C+ (10/20)
Scorecard 2014: B- (11/20)
Scorecard 2015: B- (11/20)

European policy was marked by a focus on commercial gain and an unwillingness to hold frank conversations on regional issues

European policy towards the GCC is guided by the pursuit of commercial gain and the need to deepen strategic partnerships in the context of growing Gulf assertiveness in the region, particularly on the part of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, as well as the fight against ISIS. In 2015, Europe’s aims were pursued almost exclusively at a bilateral level, with France and the UK – the key European interlocutors – often unwilling to allow the EU greater space in the Gulf.

France saw the strongest development of its relationship with GCC states, as President Hollande become the first Western leader to attend a GCC leaders’ summit, and Paris secured over $15 billion worth of Gulf-linked arms contracts. While the UK fell behind on contracts, it continued to deepen its own Gulf ties, including through the establishment of a naval base in Bahrain, funded by the Bahraini government, and an intelligence-sharing agreement with Qatar. 

France’s partnership is largely the result of its strong support for Gulf positions in the region (as well as the Gulf’s wish to demonstrate discontent with the perceived lack of US backing). Like London, Paris has been unwilling to hold more frank exchanges where interests diverge – in terms of the Gulf’s aims and local allies in trouble spots such as Yemen, Libya, and Syria – for fear of jeopardising economic and strategic relations, a card which was strongly played by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular. This unwillingness to question the Gulf states’ policies was reinforced by the need to reassure the Gulf that the Iran nuclear deal does not presage a broader shift towards Tehran. UK and French support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen was driven by these motives.

This support has often come at the expense of wider European unity, as some member states’ desire for diplomatic outreach on Yemen was blocked by Paris and London. Europe’s leverage is weak, as shown by the Gulf’s assertive pursuit of its regional interests, and this positioning has hampered Europe’s ability to address crises unfolding on its borders.