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European Union and The Middle East. Why the EU needs to increase its presence and engagement in the Middle East

It is a fact that the Middle East has an important role in the European Union’s external policy, but the bloc has been lacking a coherent and effective regional strategy. The European Union is aiming for a more coordinated policy for its diplomatic and commercial relations with the various countries in the Middle East.

Although the Middle East plays an important role in the EU’s external policy, bilateral relations still form the basis for most of its diplomatic actions. As a result, individual member states, rather than EU institutions, shape the bloc’s policy toward the region. According to the European External Action Service, EU policy “towards the North African and Middle Eastern countries seeks to encourage political and economic reform in each individual country in due respect for its specific features and regional cooperation among the countries of the region themselves and with the EU.”

 

In the past bilateral relations have been forming the basis for the relations and individual member states, rather than EU institutions, have been defining the bloc’s policy toward the region.

Part of the issue has of course been the divergence of views and opinions between mainly Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, and even with Brexit removing one of the views, the EU still needs to find a way to align the other member countries into a streamlined policy.

A perfect example of the sometimes-divergent reactions was demonstrated by the reaction of the EU and various member countries to the recent Middle East peace plan presented by the Trump administration.

The EU, via its top diplomat Josep Borrell urged Israelis and Palestinians to study the plan carefully, while stressing that the EU aims for “negotiated and viable two-state solution that takes into account the legitimate aspirations of both the Palestinians and the Israelis”. France welcomed the effort but reiterated its wish for a two-state solution, while Germany expressed concerns about the plan itself. On the other hand, the UK was much warmer to Trump’s plan and lauded the effort and time put into it.

The majority of the countries in the Middle East of course were very negative towards the plan and the lack of a unified response from the European Union has left the countries in the region wondering what the position of the European Union is exactly as it comes to the plan.

It is to avoid this kind of divergence that the EU needs to start proactively defining a clear policy consensus towards the Middle East as a region and individually towards the various countries in the region.

In 2019, The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc is increasing its engagement in the Middle East, as she opened a new mission in Kuwait City. The office in Kuwait’s tallest skyscraper is the third such EU mission in the Gulf, after Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

This also sends a message to the whole region; the European Union is increasing its presence and engagement in the Middle East. What happens to the Gulf matters to Europe and what happens to Europe matters to the Gulf,

The opening came amid a tense standoff between the United States and Iran which has affected the Gulf.

“In a moment of regional and global tensions, Kuwait is a voice of wisdom and force of peace and this is what made us natural partners,” Mogherini said.

Kuwait has strong relations with Brussels and Washington and, unlike Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, it maintains good ties with Tehran.

The current overall policy of the European Union towards the Middle Eastern countries seeks to encourage political and economic reform in each individual country and facilitate cooperation among the countries of the region themselves and with the EU, but a more defined and specific set of policies.

In the recent years, it has been clear that the European Union and its member countries are the most important diplomatic partner of the Middle East. The number of diplomatic efforts, various peace plans, material assistance in the region has been second to none, yet all these incessant efforts have not led to much success.

The relations between the European Union and the Middle East are crucial for both parties and that is why it is critical that the bloc succeeds in defining a common foreign policy in regard to the region.

By J. Costa

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