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CEPS Project


Enhancing Understanding and Cooperation in EU-GCC Relations



Europe and the Gulf have a number of common interests, ranging from trade and finance, energy and climate change, to education, culture and communications. The European Union (EU) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) remain committed to promoting these mutual interests and to reinforcing their cooperation. This two-year project proposal put forth by a consortium led by Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) explores how to enhance understanding and cooperation between the EU and the GCC, focusing on the key strategic areas identified in the Joint Action Programme of 2010.

The main goals of this project are:

  • promoting public awareness of the EU among socio-political stakeholders and citizens in the GCC countries and their engagement with the EU;
  • establishing closer links among EU and GCC research and academic institutions through an exchange research programme involving post-doctoral students and junior researchers from both regions;
  • advancing policy-oriented research and debate over the current state of EU-GCC relations by identifying the major challenges facing them and proposing effective mechanisms to deepen EU-GCC cooperation. A key goal is to identify new areas of cooperation beyond those of the Joint Action Programme, notably by enhancing political dialogue and undertaking initiatives aimed at creating new links between the respective civil societies.


The main dimensions of the project are outreach, training and research.

First, the outreach dimension envisages a lecture programme to be delivered by high-level scholars and think tank analysts from the European partner institutes in the GCC states. These lectures are aimed at enhancing knowledge and understanding of the EU, its institutions and policies. In particular they will cover four issue areas: EU institutions and decision-making processes after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, with particular emphasis on the example set by the EU experience in regional economic and political integration; EU external action policies, with a particular focus on trade, aid and, more broadly, contractual relations with neighbouring and other regions; CFSP/CSDP in the Mediterranean and the Middle East; and the state of EU-GCC relations, including cooperation between EU and GCC institutions, e.g., parliaments and civil societies.

The lectures, covering all GCC member states, will target diplomats and officials, academics, researchers and students, civil society actors, business representatives and the media.

Secondly, the training dimension includes an exchange research programme involving both European and GCC doctoral students and junior researchers. Four fellows, two from the European partners and two from the GCC, will be offered a three-month fellowship. This activity is aimed at: a) helping the fellows familiarize with – or deepen their knowledge of – the EU and GCC norms, structures and modus operandi; b) allowing them to carry out research and write about a specific aspect of EU-GCC relations; and c) exposing them to a European or to a Gulf-based research environment, in particular its working methods.

The research dimension will first explore EU-GCC relations in policy domains of common interest such as trade, investment, transport, energy and environment, and research and education. Strengthening cooperation in these fields will create synergies and yield mutual benefits. Second, the research team will identify new areas of potential cooperation, particularly in the area of political dialogue and civil society. Third, the project will dwell on the triangulation of cooperation with the Mediterranean after the recent developments in North Africa and the Middle East. Building on previous research on EU-GCC cooperation in the Mediterranean developed through participation in the Al-Jisr Project on EU-GCC Public Diplomacy and Outreach Activities (2008-2010)[1] and in view of the renewed attention towards this region, the research team will look into possible means of enlarging EU-GCC cooperation to the Mediterranean.

More specifically, the project will explore the extent and potential for EU-GCC cooperation in the following policy sectors, including discussing existing divergences and ways forward: finance and investments; economic and trade cooperation; energy, environment and climate change; transport and maritime security; media and communications; and higher education and scientific research, with a particular emphasis on youth employability and the role of civil society to promote civic participation and social development.

These topics will be explored in three one-day closed-door workshops to be held respectively in the United Arab Emirates, in Oman and in Brussels. Workshop participants will include diplomats from EU member states, EEAS diplomats and officials, economic stakeholders, civil society representatives and media from GCC and European countries, with a view to ensuring impact in both regions and increasing the visibility of EU-GCC relations. One section of each workshop will consist of a roundtable discussion with the participation of specific target groups, such as journalists, education operators, businessmen, etc. The results of the research and the policy proposals will be compiled in a final report and presented in a final public conference to be held in Muscat, Oman.

Finally, the project will place strong emphasis on dissemination through the creation and regular update of a dedicated website. This will not only ensure wide dissemination and easy access to the project’s results but will also represent a valuable tool for further awareness-raising among specific target groups. A section of the website will be devoted to the posting of videos concerning the project activities. The website will function in both English and Arabic.

Dissemination activities will also include the publication of an e-Newsletter, information products/leaflets and press releases concerning the project to be handed out at workshops and tailored meetings as well as distributed widely through the website. The e-Newsletter will be produced quarterly in both English and Arabic and will have three goals: a) providing timely information about the project results; b) creating opportunities for networking with other organizations working on the same topic; and c) disseminating relevant project products to target audiences and groups. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter will also be used to ensure effective targeting of interested groups, e.g., the youth in particular.

CEPS Involvement in Sharaka

CEPS will participate in the following work packages:

WP 1: Conceptual Framework

WP 2: Outreach

WP 3: Training

WP4a: EU-GCC cooperation in the investment and finance sectors

WP4b: EU-GCC cooperation in the economic and trade sectors

WP 7: Policy Proposals

WP8: Dissemination

WP9: Scientific Coordination

WP10: Management

CEPS will lead the research on the EU-GCC cooperation in trade, investment and finance (WP4a, 4b)

In the 1980s, Gulf countries initiated a process of regional integration resembling EU’s which ultimate goal is to create a monetary union. Reflecting both regions’ economic and political the EU and the GCC concluded a Cooperation Agreement in 1988. The Agreement sought to deepen political dialogue, economic as well as socio-cultural cooperation with the goal of creating a free trade area (FTA) between the two regions. However, twenty four years after its conclusion, the Agreement has brought little advances: political dialogue remains weak and negotiations for the EU-GCC FTA are long stalled.

The institutional paralysis notwithstanding, EU-GCC economic relations have flourished over the last decade. On commercial grounds, trade flows between the two regions have remained stable and resist the financial crisis. Between 2006 and 2009 they have amounted to 411 $ bn and the GCC is EU’s 6th export market. If foreign direct investment (FDI)  inflows and stocks have slightly decreased due to the economic and financial turmoil, they were still important over the period and accounted for 128$bn and 432$bn respectively. Considering the magnitude of Gulf sovereign wealth funds’ investments in the EU would show even higher figures.

Against this backdrop, the research will unravel and analyze EU-GCC economic and financial relations with a view to propose a model of deeper commercial and financial partnership. On trade grounds, the research will delve into the sector distribution of trade and analyze how it is influenced by the business environment, while paying due attention to FTA negotiations.  As regards finance, EU-GCC linkages will be analyzed with a particular focus on the importance of Islamic finance; GCC’s regulatory frameworks and potential convergence with EU standards while considering the effects of a potential contagion of the financial crisis. Taking stock of the Southern Mediterranean countries’ importance for both actors, when relevant, studies under these research areas will explore the possibilities for achieving an integrative partnership between the EU and the GCC in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Personnel Involved

Dr. Rym Ayadi – Senior Research Fellow and head of financial institutions research program

Dr. Emrah Arbak – Researcher

Willem-Pieter de Groen – Research Assistant

Salim Gadi – Research Assistant

[1]               The Al-Jisr Project on EU-GCC Public Diplomacy and Outreach Activities, which was supported by the European Commission, started in July 2008 and was completed on October 31, 2010. See

Willem Pieter De Groen

Head of Financial Markets and Institutions Unit

+32 (0)2 229 39 57