The seventh Helsinki Policy Forum was held in Helsinki, 22-24 April hosted by Timo Soini, Foreign Minister of Finland. The meeting brought together parliamentarians, government officials and economic experts from across Europe and the Gulf, Middle East and North Africa (Gulf-MENA) including individuals from: Bahrain, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom as well as the European Union, Gulf Cooperation Council and Sovereign Order of Malta. The meeting focused on how to address crises and instability in the Gulf-MENA region and Europe with discussions focused around exploring issues of mutual concern and interest including, the economy, the conflict in Yemen, environmental challenges and prospects for broader regional dialogue.

The post Cold-War international order is fraying. This is visible through the flouting and violations of international law – including the use of chemical weapons, indiscriminate use of ballistic missiles, land mines, siege and starvation as methods of warfare, or excessive force when dealing with civil protests – and exemplified by a UN Security Council regularly paralysed by veto on pressing issues. Essential norms are being chipped away at and undermined, for which all leading countries of the world must take responsibility.   The lack of coherence at the international level, with world powers and regional countries pursuing competing agendas, makes resolving conflicts in the Gulf-MENA region more difficult.

The Gulf-MENA is the global epicentre of war and humanitarian crises, as witnessed in Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. What happens in the region has direct implications and repercussions for Europe.  As a result, the Europe-Gulf-MENA region should be viewed as one region with the Middle East a cornerstone of European security.

The current instability in the region is neither intractable nor inevitable. Dialogue at the regional level, and with Europe, is essential to promote regional ownership to regional challenges. Without a change of course, the current trends for the region, and Europe, threaten to bring increased conflict, economic failure and migration.

The absence of dialogue increases mistrust, the risk of misunderstanding and misperception and the likelihood of deepening conflict.  Where engagement brings results, isolation polarises and sanctions are often ineffective. The region needs mechanisms for regular dialogue in order to understand the red lines of different country’s, evaluate the perceptions governments hold regarding the policies and intentions of others, and to explore the possibilities to address mutual interests. Europe is seen to have a role to play in facilitating such dialogue but only when invited by the region.

H.E. Timo Soini opens the 7th Helsinki Policy Forum