The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) 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.

EU-GCC relations are based on a Cooperation Agreement Document signed in 1989, which establishes regular dialogues on cooperation between the EU and GCC on economic relations, climate change, energy, environment, and research.

On 18 May 2022, the Commission and the High Representative presented a Joint Communication on a strategic partnership with the Gulf, proposing a comprehensive and stronger partnership between the EU and the GCC and its Member States.

EU-GCC Cooperation Framework

The cooperation agreement of 1989 created a Joint Council and a Joint Cooperation Committee, establishing within its framework regular ‘Senior Official Meetings’ and ‘Ministerial Meetings’ between the EU and the GCC countries. In addition, dialogues have been launched, which focus on more specific topics such as trade and investment related issues (Trade and Investment Dialogue, 2017) as well as the EU’s direct assistance of GCC countries in their economic diversification strategies based on the exchange of EU experience and expertise (Economic Diversification Dialogue, 2019). The latter has been successful in identifying new business opportunities and areas of economic cooperation between the two regions, as well as between the EU and individual GCC countries.

The most recent EU-GCC Joint Cooperation Committee took place in Riyadh on 3 February 2021. It was followed by an EU-GCC Ministerial Joint Council meeting in Brussels on 21 February 2022.

The EU is present in the region with three EU Delegations accredited to the six GCC Countries, notably the EU Delegation to Saudi Arabia accredited to the GCC and covering Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia, the EU Delegation to the United Arab Emirates and the EU Delegation to Kuwait which is also accredited to Qatar. In February 2022, the HRVP announced the opening of an EU Delegation in Doha later in the year.

Trade Relations with the EU

The EU is the 2nd biggest trade partner of the GCC (after China), representing 12.3% of the GCC’s total trade in goods with the world in 2020 with 7.8% of the GCC’s imports coming from the EU. The EU thus ranked as the GCC’s number one import partner. In 2020, the EU was the 4th biggest export partner of the GCC as 6.9% of the GCC’s exports went to the EU.

The 1989 Cooperation Agreement included a commitment from both sides to enter into negotiations on a free trade agreement. Negotiations started but have not yet allowed for an agreement to be reached. Informal contacts continue.

Instruments for cooperation

To advance dialogue and cooperation with the GCC countries on strategic areas of mutual interest, the EU funds various projects in the region such as the EU-GCC Clean Energy Network, the EU-GCC Dialogue on Economic Diversification and the Enhanced EU-GCC political dialogue, cooperation and outreach.

Furthermore, in February 2022, the EU-GCC Joint Cooperation Committee endorsed a Joint Cooperation programme for the period 2022-2027, aiming to enhance the partnership between the EU and the GCC. This step is of vital importance as Gulf countries have become key players on the international stage in addressing the major global challenges of our time, such as the fight against climate change, the green transition, COVID-19 and the post pandemic recovery, as well as meeting growing global development and humanitarian needs.