EU's first Gulf envoy foresees a positive transformation in ties

Luigi Di Maio spoke to The National during a three-day visit to the UAE

The European Union's first envoy to the Gulf, Luigo Di Maio, in Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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An EU-GCC ministerial meeting in Oman next month will set the tone for future ties between the two blocs, the European Union's first special envoy to the Gulf region, Luigi Di Maio, told The National.

Relations between the two sides are undergoing a “positive and strategic transformation", he said.

Mr Di Maio, the EU's special representative to the Gulf, arrived in the UAE on Wednesday on a three-day visit after taking office in June. His post was created following the launch of an EU-led strategic partnership with GCC countries last year.

The meeting in Oman is “a good opportunity for us and will be a new milestone of our relations”, Mr Di Maio said in an interview at the EU delegation office in Abu Dhabi.

“Our relations have not been at the level that we deserve,” he said.

Mr Di Maio said the EU and the GCC, comprising the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, must take the lead in helping Africa and poorer countries in the Middle East with climate change.

Since "the European Union, the UAE, and GCC countries, in general, are important donors [to] humanitarian aid projects" around the world, the next step would be to "collaborate more in third countries, for instance, all the countries in Africa or in the Middle East that are under the negative effects of climate change, they need our help", he said.

The former Italian foreign minister said he had focused on listening as he visited regional states and met their leaders in recent months, in order to understand individual sensitives.

“We can write the perfect strategy in Brussels but we need to work together about how we can converge and execute our shared ambitions and priorities.

“The real point is now to prioritise with the countries of the GCC and of the region, to have a road map, a common road map to go ahead,” he said.

The EU, which has established a close trading and investment relationship with Gulf states during the past few decades, is proposing to expand ties by including green transition and energy security, regional stability and global security, people-to-people contact, and new levels of institutional co-operation.

Regional stability

Mr Di Maio said the EU saw diplomacy as the only way to ensure regional stability, and would welcome any process towards that goal, including normalisation of ties.

"We want to support any kind of de-escalation in the region because there is no economic development and prosperity without security stability," he said.

"Mutual understanding, respect and non interference were the words that I heard a lot of times during the last few days of my visit here."

Mr Di Maio said collaboration on humanitarian aid was another area of focus.

European ties with the UAE

Mr Di Maio that although the EU-UAE relationship was not at "the level it deserves", there was momentum and the Cop28 global climate summit in Dubai would boost ties.

"Your presidency on climate, renewables, the protection of the environment, will be vital," he said.

Cop28 will be the first summit to evaluate the progress made since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, which calls for action to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The UAE is "doing an amazing job when it comes to climate change and especially on hydrogen and it's an interest of the European Union", Mr Di Maio said.

Hydrogen, which can be produced using renewable energy and natural gas, is expected to play a key role in the coming years as economies and industries switch to a low-carbon world to mitigate climate change.

The UAE has more than a dozen hydrogen projects in the making.

Mr Di Maio held talks with senior Emirati officials, such as Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi.

He toured the capital and visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which he described as impressive.

"Everything you are building here [in the UAE] is about tolerance and how to bring together people. And this is a very important signal and message to all the world," he said.

"Cop28 is a very important boost by supporting the UAE ambitions, and your presidency on climate, renewables, the protection of the environment, will be vital," he said.

Updated: September 11, 2023, 7:23 AM