On the 18th of October the Annual meeting of the Helsinki Policy Forum was held in Helsinki. The event was hosted by H.E. Pekka Haavisto, Foreign Minister of Finland and facilitated by Forward Thinking. 

The Forum, established in 2014, provides a neutral space and working environment to facilitate informal, non-binding and regular contact between leading countries of Europe and the Gulf-MENA region in order to work towards a sustainable dialogue on peace and security to address shared challenges.  

The October meeting brought together high-level parliamentarians and political leaders, government officials, and financial experts from across Europe, the Gulf, Middle East and North Africa.  We were delighted to be joined by H.E. Aymen Al Safadi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Jordan, who provided the opening remarks at the meeting. A broader account of the Jordanian Foreign Minister’s visit to Finland can be accessed here.

H.E. Pekka Haavisto welcoming participants to the Forum

Discussions explored the differing perspectives on several key crises in the region, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the Turkish intervention in Northern Syria (and its potential implications for efforts to find a political solution to the conflict); the deepening conflict in Libya and the potential risk it poses to Europe; as well as the tensions in the Gulf.

However, the meeting also provided an opportunity to unpack some of the broader themes and structural challenges that are shaping the international relations Gulf-MENA region. In particular, participants debated the risks and opportunities that may emerge from the USA’s perceived withdrawal from the region, as well as how the European Union and its member states can play a greater role in fostering sustainable security. It was acknowledged that far more attention needs to be paid to the economics of the Middle East, especially how to create sufficient opportunities for the region’s young people. Climate change also represents an increasingly urgent threat to the stability of the region that needs to be higher on the agenda of policymakers. Although tensions in the region are acute, issues like the economy and environment have the potential to provide the basis for some level of co-operation between states that, if realised, could help to create a new regional atmosphere.