EU to appoint special envoy to the Gulf by the end of the year

Officials say both sides are keen to strengthen ties, particularly in the field of energy

Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell, pictured in New York this week, held a meeting with GCC officials. AFP
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Officials in Brussels expect the first special European Union envoy for the Gulf to be appointed by the end of the year with the aim of strengthening relations including in the fields of energy and international assistance, The National can reveal.

The EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, announced the appointment of a special envoy in February. He highlighted at the time that Europe was the first investor and second trade partner with the Gulf.

“Our relationship has to be enhanced.” said Mr Borrell, who reiterated his intention to strengthen ties on Thursday after a meeting with the Gulf Co-operation Council on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Peter Stano, the European Commission's lead spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, declined to give more details on Friday, but said that an announcement will be made “quite soon”.

The EU currently has nine special representatives who are always based in Brussels but travel the region and co-ordinate with member states.

By appointing a special representative to the Gulf region, Brussels is breaking with a history of focusing such appointments on conflict regions such as Kosovo and the Horn of Africa, an EU official said.

“We are showing that special attention is needed here for a positive reason. We want to strengthen our engagement on both sides,” they told The National. “We really mean it.”

The EU in May unveiled a new partnership strategy with the Gulf. The partnership focuses on a range of topics, including trade and fighting climate change.

But energy relations came into particular focus with the start of the war in Ukraine in February as Brussels actively seeks to find alternative sources of energy to Russian gas.

Russia currently accounts for less than 9 per cent of Europe’s gas supplies, a figure that was above 40 per cent before the start of the war. The continent has found alternative suppliers in Norway, Azerbaijan and Algeria, but is also looking to the Gulf.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz is travelling to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar this weekend. Mr Scholz was in Canada last month where he signed a joint declaration of intent to establish a Canada-Germany hydrogen alliance.

Accelerating energy diversification was one of the main objectives announced by the EU Commission’s president Ursula von der Leyen in her state of the union address on September 14.

The EU wants to annually produce 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030 and will set up a European hydrogen bank to guarantee hydrogen purchases. Europe aims for no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 as part of its Green Deal, which was approved in 2020.

Analysts widely view alternative energies such as hydrogen as one of the most promising fields of EU-GCC energy co-operation. “Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman are increasingly interested in securing a prime spot in the international hydrogen market,” wrote ECFR research fellow on Europe and the Gulf, Cinzia Bianco, in a policy brief last year.

Together the EU and the GCC represent 20 per cent of the global economy, according to the joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council published in May by Mr Borrell and the European Commission.

“Gulf partners are reliable liquefied natural gas providers and have a considerable role and further potential in the context of overall sustainable energy security and a smooth transition to net-zero,” the joint communication said regarding the strategic partnership with the Gulf.

Updated: September 23, 2022, 1:39 PM