There may be many political challenges on the agenda of the Gulf States in 2010, and these will be discussed by the 6 Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] countries at the 30th GCC summit that began yesterday. However the economic file remains the yardstick by which the outcome of the GCC summit will be assessed on the basis that the issue of economic integration and unity represents the fundamental basis of the GCC.
This is the general rule with regards to regional blocs around the world, most notably with regards to the European Union [EU] which began with the idea of a common market between six [European] countries; however this soon expanded in several waves after the rest of the [European] countries saw the benefits of this new market system and the EU today has 27 member-states. After the common market established itself, and this resulted in real gains, its bodies and institutions expanded economically and politically, and there became a need to have representatives for EU foreign policy, an EU High Court, and laws that fulfil everything that is needed.
The GCC was formed in the midst of the Iraq-Iran war and [other] challenges to the Gulf region it has endured in the face of political and military crises that have affected the region, from the first [Gulf] war to the third, not to mention other crises in the wider Arab world, and also the issue of terrorism and problems with other neighbouring countries. Economically, the GCC has achieved a lot but as the Bahraini Prime Minister told Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview yesterday, this was neither fast nor slow.
This is something that is easily explained, for whilst there are common interests in any [political or economic] bloc, disagreements or differences in vision over certain issues must also appear, and it was natural that this would happen in the GCC, and that this would lead to the delay of some projects. What is important is that this is placed in its natural framework with regards to discussions or solutions.
If we go back and look at the experience of the EU, we will see that many stages of its development included ups and downs, ranging from the single currency, its commitment to the standards of the European Constitution, and even the most recent agreement that required referendums to be passed [in many European countries]. Even with regards to its foreign policy, there is more than one voice, and more than one policy and vision, however despite this the world now engages with the EU as a respected bloc.
As for the crucial point that the GCC has now reached, this is with regards to the currency unity which will pave the way for joint [financial] operations. This is something that four of the six GCC countries have committed to, and continuing efforts are being made to persuade the two hold-out countries. This is a crucial point because not only is the [acceptance of] a single currency a very important economic decision, as this will set the monetary policy of these countries into the hands of one joint institution, this is also a political decision, as currency is politics, and one of the tools of sovereignty, not to mention that this will bind all countries to common [financial] standards most notably with regards to financial rates, budget deficits and inflation rates.
What is being gambled on is that if this project goes forward with those member-states that approve it, the future success of this single currency will tempt others to join it, which is what happened in Europe with the Euro [currency].
Another issue that requires thinking about is with regards to opening the door for other countries – such as Yemen – to apply for GCC membership. This is with regards to how the GCC sees its future; will it remain a closed club, or will it open its doors to other countries if they meet the required conditions?