On the 19th of December, Forward Thinking facilitated a meeting of the Helsinki Policy Forum’s (HPF) steering group in Helsinki. The meeting brought together high-level government officials, parliamentarians and economists from Egypt, Finland, France, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Turkey and offered an opportunity for a discussion on developments in the region, an assessment of issues and challenges countries of the region have in common, and to identify recommendations to de-escalate tensions in the region

The Middle East continues to suffer from a host of unresolved conflicts – from Gaza, to Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen – as well as structural challenges around the economy. Short terms challenges compound long term issues, creating an underlying fragility in the region. Tensions between key regional powers are acute, limiting the possibility for co-operation, in spite of the many areas where it may be mutually beneficial. In this context, there is enormous human suffering and policymakers struggle to move beyond managing immediate crises and instead developing a long term vision for the future.

However, in spite of these many challenges, at the Steering Group meeting it was felt there were reasons for quiet optimism. In Yemen, momentum for a diplomatic solution may be gathering following the first round of negotiations in Sweden. In Iraq, the formation of the government is now complete and provides a platform to help the country rebuild after its war against Daesh.  Even in Syria there are signs of movement in the diplomatic process, with the latest Astana group meeting making some progress on the potential membership of a new constitutional committee, that now needs to be discussed and agreed with the UN Special Representative.

If these opportunities are to be realised, there is an urgent need for renewed diplomatic energy both within the region and from Europe.  The Steering Group sought to identify practical recommendations than can assist in this process and to explore how greater international and regional co-operation might be realised.