Relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the EU

The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (often referred to as the GCC, but officially known as the CCASG) is a regional organisation, with six members: The Kingdom of Bahrain, the State of Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Set up in 1981, its objectives are to enhance coordination, integration and inter-connection among its members. All GCC members are also members of the Arab League. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are prominent members of OPEC.

Political relations with the EU

The EU established bilateral relations with the GCC countries through the 1988 Cooperation Agreement , intended to:

  • strengthen stability in a region of strategic importance;
  • facilitate political and economic relations;
  • broaden economic and technical cooperation;
  • broaden cooperation on energy, industry, trade and services, agriculture, fisheries, investment, science, technology and environment.

The Agreement provides for annual joint councils/ministerial meetings between the EU and the GCC foreign ministers and for joint cooperation committees at senior official level. The Agreement allowed for the development of closer cooperation on issues such as energy, transport, research and innovation, and the economy.

The last EU-GCC ministerial meeting took place in Doha, Qatar, on 24 May 2015, co-chaired by the EU High Representative - Vice President Federica Mogherini and H.E. Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar as GGC rotating presidency. The most recent EU-GCC Joint cooperation Committee meeting took place on 4 April 2016 in Riyadh. An annual Senior Officials Meeting is also held annually to discuss EU-GCC relations and regional issues – the most recent one took place in Brussels on 14 April 2016.

The EU Delegation in Saudi Arabia is accredited to five GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia). A second EU Delegation opened in Abu Dhabi in 2013 and covers the United Arab Emirates.

Trade Relations with the EU

The GCC is the EU's fifth largest export market (€111.6 bn of exports in 2015, +15% year on year), and the EU is the grouping's biggest trading partner, with trade flows totalling €155.5 billion, or 14.7% of the GCC's global trade. In return, the GCC represents 4.4% of the EU's total trade.

The 1988 Cooperation Agreement contained a commitment from both sides to enter into negotiations on a free trade agreement. Negotiations have started and been suspended several times since 1990. Negotiations resumed in March 2002, but were suspended by the GCC in 2008. Further informal contacts have taken place ever since. The EU remains committed to concluding the agreement.

Instruments for cooperation

Until recently the Industrialised and High-Income Countries Instrument (ICI) had been used as the main instrument for financial cooperation between the EU and the Gulf region (and other high-income countries). Amongst other projects, the ICI financed the EU-GCC Clean Energy Network for cooperation among various players in the EU and GCC on clean energy, and the EU-GCC Trade and Business Cooperation Facility. In 2014, the ICI has been replaced by the Partnership Instrument  which provides a new framework for cooperation between GCC and the EU in multiple areas, including security, social, economic, educational, cultural and scientific fields, as well as human rights. The Partnership Instrument is inter alia supporting the 2nd phase of the EU-GCC Clean Energy Network.