The EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council

A troubled relationship

Authored by: Tobias Schumacher

Routledge Handbook of EU–Middle East Relations

Print publication date:  December  2021
Online publication date:  December  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367330767
eBook ISBN: 9780429317873
Adobe ISBN:


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Relations between the European Union (EU) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are characterised by two structural asymmetries and one similarity. First, the EU and the GCC feature different degrees of regional integration. Unlike the EU, the GCC is a regional grouping that has not supranationalised trade. Secondly, the EU has tried to combine the promotion of democratic norms and values with pragmatic, free market-oriented principles in its relations with the GCC. In contrast, the GCC regards the 1988 cooperation agreement as a springboard to deepen inter-regional economic and political ties, while leaving domestic rule-related issues untouched. At the same time, relations are marked by realpolitik-inspired influences of individual Member States and their pursuit of bilateral agendas and privileged relations to the detriment of collective decision making and action. By critically examining key policy fields and issue areas, this chapter demonstrates that the simultaneous interplay of these factors has precluded the EU from advancing relations to a level that reflects the geo-strategic importance of the Gulf region and from concluding a free trade agreement – the most salient issue in EU–GCC relations – throughout the past three decades.

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