European Union to open its third Gulf delegation in Kuwait amid converging regional interests

  • The European Union is opening a new delegation in Kuwait City, its press office announced Wednesday. The delegation will be its third in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
  • The decision comes amid increased cooperation between the EU and the oil-rich monarchy and reflects Kuwait’s role as a stabilizing influence in the Middle East, the EU’s Federica Mogherini said.
  • The move is also strategic for Europe, given its desire to be closer to key negotiations affecting stability in the region. Kuwait and the EU see eye-to-eye on issues such as Iraq’s reconstruction and the Qatar blockade.

The European Union is opening a new delegation in Kuwait City, its press office announced Wednesday. The delegation will be its third in the Gulf Cooperation Council, joining offices previously established in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

The decision comes amid increased cooperation between the EU and the oil-rich monarchy and reflects Kuwait’s role as a stabilizing influence in the Middle East, the EU’s top diplomat and European Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini said Wednesday.

“Opening a new Delegation in Kuwait City will allow us to further step up our political, economic and sectoral engagement. Establishing a permanent presence in the country illustrates that we consider our partnership with the Kuwaiti people a priority.” Mogherini described Kuwait as an “important partner” for the EU for “peace, security and prosperity in the country and wider region.”

Kuwait in 2016 was the first Gulf state to reach a Cooperation Arrangement with the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic arm, pledging increased joint work in areas like investment and energy. And European diplomats have cited their support for Kuwait’s “Vision 2035”, a plan to turn Kuwait into a commercial and financial hub for the northern Gulf.

Shared regional interests

But the move is also strategic for Europe, given its desire to be closer to key negotiations affecting stability in the region. Kuwait and the EU broadly see eye to eye on the issue of the Qatar blockade, launched in 2017 by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Kuwait, which did not take part in the blockade, maintains smooth relations with Doha and has made several attempts to mediate between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors in attempts to quell the conflict, though so far to no avail.

“Kuwait has shown willingness to play a diplomatic role in some of the most complex contexts in the region including Qatar and Yemen,” Cinzia Bianco, GCC analyst at London-based Gulf State Analytics, told CNBC Thursday. These are issues that are of high importance to Europe, but in which it lacks significant means to have a real impact, she said. “Therefore, closer coordination with Kuwait for the EU is also a way to stay closer to negotiations on key issues.”

Kuwait also shares the EU’s desire for a stable and economically developed Iraq, and it hosted the International Conference for the reconstruction of Iraq in February of this year. The country of 4 million was the victim of a brutal invasion by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1990, but 15 years after his ouster is pledging billions of dollars toward its reconstruction, seeking to prevent further instability that it fears could spill over its borders.

Importantly, the country lacks the sectarian agenda often ascribed to regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran, and prides itself on the relative harmony between its Sunni and Shia communities, the latter of which constitutes around 40 percent of its population.

“Kuwait regards the tuning down of sectarianism in Iraq and the region as highly beneficial for its own stability and is, to that end, willing to at least have a conversation with Iran,” Bianco said. “The EU also regards the tuning down of sectarianism as crucial to stability in the region.”

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