On the 31st of January Forward Thinking convened the second meeting of the Helsinki Policy Forum’s Economic Working Group at the Oxford and Cambridge, London. The meeting brought together prominent businessmen, academics and economists for an in-depth discussion on the economic challenges in the Gulf-MENA region and how Europe (and the wider international community) should be responding.

In spite of pockets of innovation, most countries in the Gulf-MENA region face profound economic challenges and a worsening outlook. The situation confronting young people is particularly bleak. Too few aged under 40 have a stake in their society, and without the prospect of meaningful employment cannot marry or move from their parent’s home.

Across the region there is a need for wide-ranging economic reforms and new approaches that can deliver the inclusive growth. Without change, there is a real risk that popular frustrations will grow and, eventually, explode into mass unrest. Participants agreed that the challenges – although very different – are particularly pressing in Tunisia, Jordan and Iraq and require urgent attention. Europe, which will suffer directly from any increase in instability in the Middle East, must be at the forefront of helping governments in the region think strategically about how to embark on this process of change.