A Convergence of Strategic Views

A Convergence of Strategic Views

During an official visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Annette Weber, the EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, gave an exclusive interview to Arab News. This interview was a unique opportunity to touch on the diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and the European Union (UE) and the interests shared by the two allies, particularly in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa. 

During her visit, she met with several senior Saudi political figures including Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir; Minister of State for African Affairs Ahmed Abdul Aziz Kattan; Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center as well as Sultan Al-Marshad, the CEO of the Saudi Fund for Development.

In the interview, Weber indicated that her visit to the Kingdom, her first to the country since she was appointed in July 2021, was an opportunity to better understand Riyadh’s position on the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa and further discuss the current political situation in Sudan and Ethiopia.

“I think we are aligned on almost everything. We share the same concerns but we also (agree on) the way forward, what we need to do and how to engage. We had very fruitful, very positive meetings,” she said.

Asked about the role that Saudi Arabia might play in assisting Europe in its missions in the region, Weber referred to the crucial role played by the Kingdom and welcomed the creation in January 2020 of the Council of Arab and African Countries Bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, an organisation that endeavours to secure the maritime routes of this highly important area for international trade. This area is all the more important to Europe as it represents the bloc’s most important transit route to Asia, carrying 23 to 30% of European trade. In this context, “The Red Sea is really much more a connector than a divider,” she added.

The European diplomat was in Manama, Bahrain, just before arriving in Saudi Arabia. During her stay on the island, Weber indicated that her mandate was essentially aimed at ensuring the rapprochement between the EU and the Horn of Africa and proposing a new strategic plan for the region in order to help the countries of the Gulf and the Horn to fully unfold their considerable potential. 

The Special Representative also emphasised the crucial role of multilateralism, especially in situations of armed conflict. Weber said she regretted the current dynamic in the region, which leads to instability and increases the need for humanitarian aid, stating that Ethiopia, among others, had the potential to become a major investment location for the EU. Weber pointed out that the views of Europe and Saudi Arabia converged in this regard: countries of the Horn could be poised to help accelerate the race for a greener economy and the current situation risks jeopardising the important gains the region made over the past few years. “In the future the economy will be about smart technology, about efficient water management, rather than about humanitarian assistance. But we cannot judge people who have been displaced by war, so this is where we need to come in and help ,” she indicated.

The Special Representative stressed the urgency of the situation in Ethiopia, stating that a real civil war could break out in the country, which could cause the whole region to ignite. The consequences would be such that the EU and Saudi Arabia would also be heavily impacted. To alleviate the tensions and prevent unrest from flaring up, international actors, especially the EU, the United States and Saudi Arabia, should come together and work towards the negotiation of a ceasefire.

Weber also expressed her concern regarding the Sudanese situation since the military coup last month. Although the situation has become calmer since the signing of a transitional agreement, the Special Representative insisted on the importance of achieving a form of lasting stability. In this perspective, Weber emphasised the critical role of influential actors in the region, including the Gulf states.