A Euro-Arab summit could boost the cumbersome Middle East peace process and help tame other conflicts in the region. The EU holds regular summit meetings with key partners such as the US, India and China but also developing regions in Africa, Asia and Latin American but the Arab world is one major geographic region that has conspicuously been absent from the EU’s agenda.
For years, both Arab and European leaders have been lobbying for such a meeting but it was only last December at the EU-Arab League Foreign Ministers’ Cairo meeting that a more concrete agreement in favor of a summit was founded including a commitment made to “work towards” it. Since then, the idea has been endorsed by the League of Arab States (LAS), and there have been a few working sessions but more preparations are yet to get underway. However, without more impetus right now, there is no much chance that it will be happening in 2018 given the time needed to coordinate about 50 countries involved.
Why the delay? First of all, new frictions have appeared in the Arab world such the crisis over Qatar which affects the cooperation among Arab countries themselves and there are also doubts on the EU’s side about the prospects for a good turnout given domestic issues such as Brexit and “summit fatigue”. Importantly, even if the summit were to take place very soon, it would not be easy to come up with meaningful political messages on the most important political challenges, so there is a risk that it will become an elevated “talking shop”.
However, the summit could become a solid platform for digging into the deep-rooted economic challenges that the region faces. Europe is most likely to continue to be the number one source of foreign investment, development aid and trade for the region, as it will also remain an important player in the region’s economic security – an important area for the EU’s own interest. A way to further foster closer cooperation between both sides is for Europe to provide loans and assistance programs as well as funds that focus on infrastructure and job creation for the region’s youth. While there has been much talk about this, very little action has been taken so far. Moreover, the two regions’ private sector organizations and companies could organize a parallel investment summit and non-profit organizations could come together too given their vital role in development and governance.
If the summit is really to happen, some serious work needs to start right now. The UN annual meetings in New York will give an opportunity for the leaders to take the idea forward. EU’s head of diplomacy Federica Mogherini and LAS Secretary Ahmed Aboul Gheit will be crucial in shifting preparations into gear and work on the agenda. Failing that, the schism within the Arab world and its cynicism about their own institutions and indeed Europe’s real interest in their plight will only deepen.
‘The Case for a Euro-Arab Summit’ – Opinion by James Moran – Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).
(The Opinion can be downloaded here)