Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the EU

08/02/2021 - 11:39
Relations with International Organisations and Fora

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.

All GCC members are also members of the Arab League. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are prominent members of OPEC.


Political relations with the EU

The EU established bilateral relations with the GCC countries through the 1988 Cooperation Agreement , intended to:

  • strengthen stability in a region of strategic importance;
  • facilitate political and economic relations;
  • broaden economic and technical cooperation;
  • broaden cooperation on energy, industry, trade and services, agriculture, fisheries, investment, science, technology and environment.

The Agreement provides for annual joint councils/ministerial meetings between the EU and the GCC foreign ministers, as well as meetings of the EU-GCC Regional Directors and Joint Cooperation Committees at senior official level. The Agreement allowed for the development of closer cooperation on issues such as energy, transport, research and innovation, and the economy, as well as regular political consultations.

The latest EU-GCC ministerial meeting took place in Brussels, Belgium, on 18th July 2016.  On 25th June 2020, the 29th meeting of EU-GCC Joint Cooperation Committee took place in a virtual format because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

The EU is diplomatically present in the region with three EU Delegations accredited to the six GCC Countries, notably the EU Delegation in 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.


Trade Relations with the EU

The GCC is the EU's sixth largest export market (€78.1bn of exports in 2019, + 5% over 2018), and the EU is the grouping's second biggest trading partner, with trade flows totalling €121.2 billion, or 13.7% of the GCC's global trade. In return, the GCC represents 3.0% of the EU's total trade.

The 1988 Cooperation Agreement contained a commitment from both sides to enter into negotiations on a free trade agreement. Negotiations have been suspended several times since 2008, although informal contacts have continued. The EU remains committed to resuming negotiations on free trade agreement with the GCC.


Instruments for cooperation

To advance dialogue and cooperation with the GCC countries on strategic areas of mutual interest, the EU funds, through the Partnership Instrument (PI), 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.