Today, the European Union is the greatest and most integrated bloc of independent states, with a GDP of around 12,000 billion Euros. The European Union (EU) is the world’s greatest exporter; accounting for one-third of the world’s total economic production.
Often, people exaggerate by referring to a certain date and claiming that on such and such a day, the world changed. However, this usually dubious claim is so much truer in our case. On Tuesday, 1 December 2009, the EU changed and with these changes brought greater hope and inspiration not only to the EU citizens, but indeed to all its neighbours and partners.
As the EU has embarked on a new era, with the Treaty of Lisbon coming into force, it is important to underline the global implications of this treaty and its significance to our friends and neighbours in the Arab world, and in the Gulf region in particular.
Since the 1989 EU-GCC accord, the EU and the GCC have forged close cooperation on all fronts. The EU is by far the GCC’s most important economic partner and the major market for Gulf exports. For instance the EU goods exported to the Gulf [total] about 70 billion Euros and the EU goods imported from the Gulf region [total] 37 billion Euros. EU investment in the Gulf region is over 2.5 billion Euros. An EU-GCC Free Trade Agreement would even further enhance this cooperation and broad-spectrum exchange.
Economic cooperation has been further cemented by cultural exchanges and people-to-people interaction.
Over the last several years, cooperation in fields such as science and technology and exchanges amongst researchers and students have been steadily increasing. Recently, the European Union has launched a special facility for the Erasmus Mundus programme for the Gulf region to enhance cooperation in the education field. And we look forward to more fruitful cooperation in the future.
The changes brought by the Treaty of Lisbon will facilitate these cooperative ventures. The Treaty of Lisbon aims to achieve more efficient and democratic decision-making mechanisms within the 27-country bloc.
Indeed, the history of the 27-country bloc represents a unique experience. A lot of countries and regional entities are inspired by the European Union’s experience. The first European entity was established in 1957 with only six member states (the Treaty of Rome). With the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, the European Union (EU) was created, paving the way for further cooperation in foreign, military and monetary policies.
Under the new treaty, with the appointment of a new EU President and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who will also be Vice-President of the European Commission, the EU will have a stronger say on global issues and will strengthen its role in dealing with world challenges, such as economic and financial crises, climate change and terrorism.
The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security policy will bring greater coherence to the way the EU conducts foreign policy and will enhance the EU role in mediation and intervention to assist parties in resolving conflicts in areas such as the Middle East.
In addition, the treaty enhances the influence of citizens, national parliaments and of the European Parliament on the way the EU operates. It gives Europeans a more direct say in decisions made within the Union.
The treaty creates the ‘European citizens’ initiative,’ which enables one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of member states to call directly on the European Commission to bring forward a legislative proposal in any area of EU competence. This sort of direct participation should lead to greater engagement with the increasingly influential European institutions.
The Treaty of Lisbon gives the European Parliament more power, enabling it to decide on most EU legislation in coordination with the Council of Ministers. Yet, with more power, comes more responsibility. The EU with its new apparatus will be more accountable to its citizens.
In conclusion, with the structural changes of the EU’s decision-making apparatus, now that the Treaty of Lisbon has come into force, the EU and the GCC will certainly be able to further enhance their cooperation in all areas.
We are close neighbours and as such, exchanges in all fields – political, economic and cultural – should be enhanced. A strengthened, unified European voice will thus make the EU an even more active, attractive and reliable partner to the Gulf States.
*This article is written jointly by three EU Ambassadors in Riyadh: Ambassador Luigi Narbone, Head of the Delegation of the European Union, Ambassador Jan Thesleff, Ambassador of Sweden, whose country currently assumes the EU Presidency, and Ambassador Manuel Alabart, Ambassador of Spain, whose country will assume the next EU Presidency for a transitional period from 1 January 2010.