Emirati and French ministers discuss ways to boost economic cooperation

The appointment of the first EU Special Representative for the Gulf region is proof of the ambition to work together, Luigi Di Maio told Arab News

RIYADH: On his first visit to Saudi Arabia after being appointed the first EU Special Representative for the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio told Arab News that recent world events show there is a need for new cooperation.

He was replying to a question whether European countries can ignore the rise of GCC and Arab Gulf countries in a multipolar world.

“I think the world is changing and there is a need to build new partnerships,”; Di Maio said in an interview on Thursday. They spoke on topics ranging from the Russia-Ukraine conflict to the economic empowerment of women and youth in the state.

“There are old partnerships that we have built over the past decades. But we are in a period where everything is changing, because of the terrible Russian aggression against Ukraine, because of the pandemic.

“And you (Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries) are taking some initiatives in the region that are very interesting to us and very welcome if they are oriented towards reducing tensions. So, I think it is not a question of ignoring or considering, but we have to work together.”

Di Maio, who took up his new role on June 1, said the creation of his role should remove all doubts about the EU’s intention to deepen ties with the Gulf region.

“The EU and 27 EU Member States have appointed an EU Special Representative for the Gulf region for the first time, a testimony to our new ambition to take our work to a new strategic level. And when I say ‘partnership’, I mean a real partnership based on dialogue, respect and results,” he said.

Asked whether the decision to create the office of the EU Special Representative for the Gulf region was spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent global energy crisis, Di Maio said the move was preceded by the conflict, And instead reflects the genuine interest of the EU. To promote closer bilateral relations.

“We started talking and building joint communications before the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he said.

“I was also a minister at that time. And I remember the process. The idea was to share what you value at the multilateral and bilateral level, and how the EU can do more to update the level of partnership.

“Then came the Russian invasion. And I think it was a great thing to approve the joint communication and work on the appointment of the EUSR, because at a time when everything is changing in the geopolitical framework at the multilateral and bilateral level, it’s very important to stay close to our partners , our strategic partner.”

Di Maio began his Riyadh visit with a meeting with GCC Secretary-General Jessam Albudaiwi, where the sides carried forward preparations for a fruitful upcoming EU-GCC Council on 10 October (in Oman) – which will give a fillip to our strategic An important milestone to implement. Partnerships.”

Di Maio met Prince Turki Al-Faisal, President of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, and Waleed A. Also met Elkherji.

He later met with his European colleagues, including Patrick Simonette, the EU ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman.

Di Maio was also invited to sample some Saudi cuisine.

Although energy is playing a key role in the relationship, Di Maio said the EU and its member states are enthused by Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification agenda, which he believes is part of the EU’s own Aligned with several projects, such as NextGenerationEU. , the European Green Deal, and the region’s growing interest in hydrogen energy.

“The hydrogen projects that you are developing here are very important and we have a strong understanding about the ambitions in the hydrogen sector, especially about Europe’s demand for hydrogen and your supply of hydrogen in the direction of Europe. You can try to negotiate. ,” They said.

“And above that we are not just talking about energy. We are talking about technologies, research. We are talking about universities, schools. Because everything is connected to hydrogen and new horizons of energy.

“And you, as countries that are now suppliers of energy to Europe, you are investing a lot in new technologies, renewable energy. So, this is a very good area where we can interact and we can try to create more synergy, I am sure.”

During this week’s visit, Di Maio was able to see firsthand the progress Vision 2030 has made since its launch by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016, designed to boost economic participation for women and youth. introduced a number of reforms, and created a favorable business environment to shift the state away from oil into new industries.

Di Maio said, “I visited the Shoura (council) yesterday and they told me how many laws they are changing to align Vision 2030 with the country’s framework of regulations.”

“You are bringing change in your country. And Vision 2030 – this is one of the key points that is showing us this change. And I met in Brussels not only your great ambassador, but also, for example, the deputy CEO of the NEOM project.

“When I met His Highness the Crown Prince, we talked about NEOM and the projects, Vision 2030 and some of the innovative projects like NEOM. I think the real challenge now is to try to work together about these projects, our Green Deal, our NextGenerationEU and your Vision 2030, the NEOM projects and so on.

Di Maio believes there is scope for far more European investment in Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects, including its smart city NEOM now taking shape on the kingdom’s Red Sea coast.

The EU and Saudi Arabia already have strong trade and investment ties. In fact, the European Union is Saudi Arabia’s second largest trading partner and number one foreign direct investor. Di Maio said he has no doubt that trade and investment ties will grow stronger.

“Absolutely. Now, especially with your new programs about new technologies, new energies and even education, and our programs and projects that we are developing in the European Union, where the (European) Commission and Member states are developing new projects oriented in the same way. , in the same direction, I think there is an opportunity to do more.

“Not just to raise statistics, but to raise the essence of our relationship through these kinds of projects that are connected to our young people and the future of our young country and you are looking forward to new opportunities these young people ”

However, the relationship between the EU and the Gulf countries extends beyond trade and energy. Di Maio said that common security concerns also play an important role in the strategic partnership.

“It is very important to say that in my mandate, one of the pillars is security,” he said.

“But not only in the classic way, where we are talking about maritime security or the classic concept of security, or we can also talk about cyber security, about counter-terrorism initiatives… As I said, We have to talk about, in an innovative way, the relationship between security and climate. It is very important.”

He said: “My mandate is to be the architect of smart solutions, supporting regional diplomatic efforts aimed at making ongoing de-escalation efforts sustainable. I have come here to listen and understand the sensibilities and priorities of the countries of the region. And I am 100 percent dedicated to this great responsibility and to implementing it successfully together with the EU Member States, the EU Institutions, you and the countries of the Gulf region.

Last week, Gulf countries strongly condemned Sweden’s decision to allow an Iraqi expatriate to burn a copy of the Quran in the capital, Stockholm.

Asked if his office had any role in preventing such acts under its mandate to build a strategic partnership with Gulf countries, Di Maio said the European Union “absolutely rejects the burning of holy texts”. — an idea he raised during meetings this week.

“In each of my bilateral meetings during this visit, I raised the issue from the very beginning of the meeting to say that individual burning of the Quran is unacceptable, and burning of the holy book in any way is a crime. . The blatant provocation is outrageous, and at the same time, as I said, the European Union rejects it, ”he said.

“I feel that racism, xenophobia and incitement of any kind have no place in our society. And now is the time to work together to prevent this from happening and prevent these acts from happening.”

At their meeting on Wednesday, GCC Secretary-General Albudawi said Di Maio conveyed the European Union’s regret, disapproval and condemnation over the burning of the Quran.

After making the transition from serving as Italy’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister to his current posting with the European Union, Di Maio said he had always seen the EU playing a huge role in building relations between Europeans and the wider world. supported role.

“At the time when I was Foreign Minister for two years and Deputy Prime Minister for the first two years, I fully supported the idea that in order to be strong as member states, we need to be interlocutors from other areas. The EU is needed as the world,” he said.

“And the European continent, especially the European Union, is the real institution that can be a lever for EU member states to forge new partnerships with the rest of the world.”