The Helsinki Policy Forum met in Helsinki on the 21st of June to discuss developments in the Gulf-MENA region and Europe. Participants included government officials and foreign policy experts from Finland, Germany, Italy, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the UAE, and the UK. The Forum continues to provide a space where states can frankly discuss challenges in a confidential setting, while also identifying where there are opportunities to work together and how to reduce regional tensions.
Concerns were expressed over the global implications of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Rising food and energy prices present a double blow to many Middle Eastern economies that were already struggling after Covid-19. There is a potential for unrest, particularly in fragile or conflict affected states such as Lebanon, Syria or Yemen. Europe and the wealthier countries of the region are alert to this challenge but need to coordinate support to mitigate the worst effects and prevent further humanitarian crises.
The JCPoA was discussed extensively, and there are growing fears that the negotiations may not succeed. All sides were urged to reinvigorate efforts to try and salvage a deal, which while not perfect, is likely to contribute to stability in the region. In contrast, fears were expressed that if a deal is not reached there is a real prospect of an arms race or even conflict.
While the challenges facing policymakers are profound, there are also opportunities for fruitful cooperation. Europe, although prioritising the Ukrainian crisis, still sees the need to work closely with partners in the Middle East and has recently made a significant signal of intent through its Joint Communication on a ‘Strategic Partnership with the Gulf’. This aims to deepen the EU’s cooperation with the GCC. There are also plans to appoint a European special envoy for the region. Supporting a transition to a green economy to address climate change was highlighted as one potential area where states need to collaborate as a matter of urgency.