On the 24th September 2018, the Helsinki Policy Forum convened a high-level roundtable in New York in the margins of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly. The meeting was held at the Residence of the Ambassador of Finland to the United Nations and hosted by H.E. Timo Soini, Foreign Minister of Finland. The opening session included interventions by H.E. Abdellatif Bin Rashid Al Zayani (Secretary General of the Gulf Co-Operation Council); Alistair Burt (Minister for the Middle East at the FCO) and Ana Menendez (Under Secretary General and Senior Advisor on Policy to the Secretary General of the United Nations).

The central purpose of the meeting was to identify and advance the potential steps that could be taken in the Gulf-MENA and in Europe in order to strengthen cooperation in the region and address shared challenges. Discussions were framed around three key questions:

What are the current challenges in the Gulf-MENA region?

What are the obstacles that are preventing these challenges from being addressed?

How do you think countries of the region and Europe should address and respond to these challenges?

It was recognised that many of the challenges confronting in the Gulf-MENA region are growing worse rather than improving. There is a strong perception that the  international norms and laws embodied by the UN Charter are now more honoured in the breach than the observance.  Conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen continue to cause immense human suffering. Tensions between key regional powers, not least Iran and Saudi Arabia, remain acute and have created a climate in which confrontation trumps co-operation. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a festering sore at the heart of the region that has undermined confidence in the international community. Meanwhile, structural challenges – limited economic growth, persistent inequality, and high rates of population growth – have the potential to increase instability unless effective responses can be found.

Policymakers throughout the Gulf-MENA region and Europe acknowledge that these challenges cannot be addressed unilaterally and so will require greater collaboration. In spite of the current political realties and absence of trust, there are technical areas – the economy and the environment to take two examples – where mutually beneficial initiatives can be developed. In the the longer term, it was suggested that national interests needed to be realigned to foster greater inter-dependence and so reduce the potential for conflict.

A key outcome of discussions was the launch of a new network of female parliamentarians from across the Middle East and Gulf, in order to create another space where understanding can be increased, (mis)perceptions can be explored and peer-to-peer support can occur.

The Helsinki Policy Forum (HPF) was established in 2014 to provide a space for a high-level, honest, exchange of views on the challenges and opportunities facing the Gulf-MENA region and Europe. It brings together government ministers, senior parliamentarians, political leaders, government officials, and financial experts from Europe and the Gulf-MENA,. It facilitates an informal discussion aimed at deepening understanding and informing policy-making on identified issues of concern to promote enlightened policy responses to shared challenges.