The Saudi capital Riyadh is preparing and equipping itself to host the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for its regular summit. Flags adorn the masts in the main streets and huge welcoming banners hang from the bridges, complete with slogans and expressions that convey the meaning and objective of the Council and this particular summit. Interestingly this time, the word “union” is repeatedly being used on the welcoming banners. In fact, this is very much the word of the moment, as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz expressed his earnest personal desire to transform the Council from its current “cooperative” entity to a union comprising of its members.
This is a rational demand and a natural development in the political relations between neighboring states that have many elements of integration, not to mention their cultural, political, economic and intellectual compatibility. Hence the idea of creating a new political concept between them is an intuitive issue, but the real challenge remains in the details and in the “shape” that this desired union will take on.
It is no secret that the union as an idea came as the result of the expectations for a long relationship between the GCC members, and the desire of the people to achieve greater integration between them, because the accomplishments of today are not commensurate with their aspirations or goals. Of course, this is in addition to the serious political and security risks and challenges that the GCC countries face, as a result of the changes evident in the Arab world and at a regional level within the Gulf itself.
Each member state has its concerns, worries, goals and aspirations regarding the idea of a union, and thus the word “sovereignty” has appeared as the biggest threat to the success of the idea itself, because some member states have the complete conviction that a union practically means eliminating all forms of sovereignty and entering into a new political form that may hinder their plans and aspirations.
Of course, there are a lot of political models of unions around the world to choose from. There are those that are clear and well-known, such as the European Union that has produced a shared currency, relaxed border and customs controls, and increasing authority for the European parliament and central bank in Belgium. However, at the same time, it provides a degree of freedom over some issues to some countries (Britain for example refused to join the European shared currency and opted to keep its own currency: the pound sterling).
Other unions are based solely on economic components, such as the proposed North American Union between the US, Canada and Mexico. There is another successful union in Asia, known as ASEAN, which incorporated small-scale Asian economic tigers, and then adopted development and reform gradually to transform them over time into an active and influential collective force.
The Gulf Union is an intuitive and necessary step, but how to activate it remains the most important problem. This is not forgetting that the size of membership remains an unresolved issue, with regards to both Morocco and Jordan, and the situation with them is still unclear. In light of the conflicting messages and contradictory statements previously issued by some officials in this regard, there is still uncertainty about these two countries definitely joining the Council. The case in favor of Jordan and Morocco could also be argued for Yemen, which was at one point engaged in dialogue about joining the Council. There was talk of it participating as an observer in the first stage, before joining in full.
All the issues concerning sovereignty, its details and the freedom of each state to apply its own laws and regulations, even if they do not fall in line with other countries, these are the guarantees that the Council is a genuine interface and not a superficial entity, with regards to everything that is happening in the member states. It is not a mere flowery picture of how things should be. The Gulf Union, if it is launched with conviction and without compromise, will be a quantum leap, not only in terms of form and name, but in terms of goals, hopes and ambitions, and we must take advantage of this historic political opportunity. The GCC rulers have a stable relationship, and there is exceptional economic strength, and if these factors were translated in practical terms via a new federal entity, and developed with regulations, policies, laws and legislation, the countries and people involved would achieve their desired quantum leap. Only then could we say that the idea has been a success, and that the Gulf Union is actually a force, because all the current frustration, fears, warnings, anxiety, suspicion and mistrust of the most powerful members, this is more dangerous than all the “enemies” combined.
The governments and people of the GCC have an important opportunity and a historic choice, and similar circumstances may not come again to achieve it. This opportunity must be used wisely to form a genuine union, as that is the ultimate goal.