Even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Europe and the Gulf-MENA faced an increasingly complex policy environment, in which new crises emerge before existing issues are resolved.  In an ever more interconnected world, the prosperity and stability of Europe and the Gulf-MENA are increasingly bound together. Events in one have direct ramifications for the security of the other. The Covid-19 pandemic stands as a potent example of this and highlights how policy challenges increasingly demand multilateral responses if they are to be truly addressed.  In light of these challenges, there is an urgent need for senior policymakers from Europe and the Gulf-MENA to meet and explore their response to issues of mutual interest and concern.

To deepen discussions around these themes, Forward Thinking, in collaboration with the MFA of Finland convened a high-level working group of the Helsinki Policy Forum on the 16th of June. This meeting was opened by H.E. Pekka Haavisto, Foreign Minister of Finland and brought together officials from across the Gulf-MENA region and Europe.

The hopes that Covid-19 would lead to a diplomatic detente in the Middle East are yet to be realised. However, there is a growing awareness that the region could benefit from greater cooperation in the field of healthcare and pandemic prevention. There are a number of technical areas – from better sharing of data; removing barriers for the import and export of medicial equipment; collaboration on the manufacture of PPE; or agreeing on mechanisms for the production and distribution of an eventual vaccine – that could prove mutually beneficially. Realising cooperation in these areas may not be simple because of enduring political tensions. However, given the scale of the challenges and the possibilty of a second wave there is an urgent need for countries to see what can be acheived. The scale of the economic harm wrought by the pandemic (which will continue for as long as it remains uncontained) could act as a powerful incentive for international cooperation in the field of health.

An immediate priority remains achieving ceasefires in some of the region’s enduring conflicts – Libya, Syria and Yemen. Ceasefires would not only ease the humanitarian suffering of these countries but would enable a more effective response against the virus. The goodwill generated by a ceasefire could also contribute to wider efforts to de-esclate regional tensions and contribute to an atmosphere more conducive to cooperation.

Opening remarks were provided by several prominent figures, including H.E. Dr. Abdullah Al Rabeeah. His Excellency is an Advisor to the Royal Court of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Supervisor General King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief).

With the king permission of Dr. Al Rabeeah, we have reproduced the text of his speech below.

Your Excellency Pekka Haavisto,

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I participate in this important forum for the second time on behalf of the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

We meet today as the world faces a major challenge represented by the new Corona (COVID-19)
pandemic which has affected almost 8 million people globally, with close to 450,000 deaths.

This pandemic has changed a modern world with significant economic, social, political, health, and other
challenges; some of these may have a considerable impact upon our lives.

Based upon these challenges, and also upon the strong historical relationship between the MENA region
and Europe, there is an urgent call for more effective planning of well-designed cooperation and
collaboration with the aim of sharing data, common objectives and initiatives to solve conflicts in the
MENA region; there is also a need to look for shared economic opportunities and stability which will
lead to regional prosperity.

Saudi Arabia, as a host of G20 and a major player in the MENA region, has led many initiatives regionally
and globally, including some to minimize the consequences of COVID-19, in order to reach long-lasting
regional stability; the goals of these initiatives include conflict de-escalation and demanding the end of
interference in the internal affairs of other countries, measures which will lead to a stable MENA region
sustained by prosperity of nations and an interactive economy.

As clear evidence of Saudi Arabia’s noble initiatives, and as a host of G20, it has announced a donation
of 500 million US Dollars as follows: –

– USD 200 million to support WHO in controlling the pandemic globally.
– USD 150 million to support GAVI in obtaining a vaccine to help countries in need.
– USD 150 million to support SEPI towards vaccine development.

In addition, Saudi Arabia has supported the WHO Fund to support countries with fragile health systems
with an amount of 10 million US dollars.

In the European region, Saudi Arabia has supported the UK, Greece, and Italy to control COVID-19.

Regionally –
– Saudi Arabia, through its humanitarian arm KSrelief, has provided support to the following countries to
control COVID-19: –
1) Yemen: USD 25 million
2) Palestine: USD 4 million
3) Somalia: USD 3 million

4) Also, Saudi Arabia is preparing to help several other countries and regions in need, particularly Africa.
On the 2nd of June, Saudi Arabia co-hosted the Yemen HRP 2020 Pledging Conference virtually for the
first time, and pledged USD 500 million, affirming its position as the top donor country to Yemen for the
last few years.

For Yemen’s stability and peace, Saudi Arabia has and will support all dialogue that will bring political
stability and peace in accordance with UN initiatives and the three accepted initiatives, namely, the
Yemen National Dialogue outcome, the GCC initiative and UN Resolution 2216; to support that position,
Saudi Arabia has called for the following:-

1) Support for UN Envoy – initiative including the Stockholm Agreement.
2) A cease-fire by all parties for the whole month of Ramadan.
3) Meaningful political negotiations that will minimize aggravations to the humanitarian crisis caused by
COVID-19.

Although the UN and the international community supported the Saudi Arabia initiatives, some parties
did not respond or act in response to that noble call.

Respected Forum –
Let me call upon the following recommendations: –
1) The Helsinki Forum supports the initiatives taken by Saudi Arabia and the UN to reach a cease-fire
that will lead to a political solution in accordance with the three initiatives, the UN Envoy’s initiative, and
the Stockholm Agreement.
2) Acknowledgment of Saudi Arabia’s support towards global control of COVID-19.
3) A need for further discussions between the Europe and MENA regions towards adaptations and
modifications needed because of COVID-19 that will revive the economy, promote health and
sustainable development, and create stability.

Let me conclude with the following: –
Last night while preparing my remarks, another drone attack aimed at Saudi Arabia was intercepted.
This marks a total number of 357 drone attacks and 313 ballistic missile attacks by the Houthi militias.
Such high technology was claimed to be Yemen produced, in contradiction to many credible reports.
I am left with a puzzle: How can a country with the worst humanitarian crisis afford such capabilities
and finances?