On 10thApril, the Bussola Institute launched a research paper explaining the background and procedures for the forthcoming round of elections for the European Parliament which are due to take place from 23 to 26 May, and their possible consequences for the development of relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the European Union (EU).
The paper was researched and written by two Bussola researchers, Dr Christian Koch and Nadine Aly and is intended to explain the European electoral process, particularly to audiences in the Arabian Gulf states, as well as exploring potential opportunities and challenges that might arise in EU-GCC relations as a result of likely political shifts arising from the outcome of this most important electoral round.
The Institute was fortunate to receive support from Brian Hayes MEP, a senior representative from Ireland. He told those attending that this was a key moment for Europe and that the new Parliament was likely to face increased challenges, both from the predicted surge of representatives from the more extreme wings of the political spectrum, the continuing uncertainties surrounding the UK’s intention to leave the EU, and mounting evidence of renewed uncertainty for the health of the global economy.
He also observed that one aspect of likely change will be how the EU approaches its future relations with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – both collectively and separately. He agreed that this has been a neglected area during this last parliament. Accordingly, he expressed gratitude for this timely and informative publication of Bussola’s analysis.
Also speaking at the launch, report author Christian Koch highlighted several issues that are especially pertinent to the latest round of European elections. In particular, and arguably as we are already seeing, there is the strong likelihood that Europe’s politicians, as well as the watching media, will be so preoccupied with the election, its outcomes and the changing political alignments, that Europe’s relations with the Gulf risk being even further neglected at a time when important changes are taking place there as well – not least in their pursuit of post-oil economic development and a gathering focus on the new opportunities emerging from deepening ties with the powerhouses of Asia. Equally, in the Gulf states, it remains evident that the European Parliament continues to be regarded as being of limited relevance to decision making within the EU as a whole. Arguably, misunderstanding on both sides therefore risks missing some important political and economic opportunities that this paper highlights.
Dr. Koch also observed that there is a risk that the continued lack of focus on EU-GCC relations will perpetuate, and even accelerate, the development of bilateral ties, thus missing the efficiencies and wider opportunities of acting as a coherent European whole. It is these kinds of misunderstanding and neglect that the Bussola Institute has been established to address and the papertherefore very much fits into Bussola’s mission to provide better understanding of political, social, economic, security and cultural drivers that impact policymaking in Europe and GCC states.
It was also agreed that the paper is interesting in its finding that many of the issues around which campaigns are being framed in Europe are also identified as important in terms of the GCC’s public agenda: the continuing fight against radicalization, extremism and terrorism, combating youth unemployment, setting improved conditions for economic growth and sustainability, the fight against climate change and protecting the environment. These are all areas of shared concern. As such, they represent opportunities for constructive engagement and future development.
The forthcoming election for the European Parliament will not only see the election of 751 MEPs (unless the UK completes the Brexit withdrawal agreement before 22 May, in which case the number will reduce to 705), but will influence the election of new Presidents for the Council and the Commission and the national composition of both. The pan-EU exercise also represents the democratic will of more than 500 million Europeans. It is therefore a key event that will have profound consequences for the future of EU-GCC relations. Following the launch of this time paper, it was widely agreed that Bussola’s analysis makes a helpful contribution to understanding the many issues and opportunities involved on all sides.