Arab-EU Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh called for boosting economic, social development cooperation between both the regional groups for the mutual benefits. The two-day summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was billed as a starting point for the two regional bodies to boost cooperation on shared strategic priorities including migration, security and climate change. Arab and European states sought common ground on security threats and regional crises including Yemen, Syria and Libya.
21 Arab countries and 28 European countries, aimed at strengthening Arab-European relations in all aspects and focusing on a number of common issues and challenges, including multilateralism, trade and investment, migration and security, as well as the situation in the region. The Summit addressed a number of political and economic topics and issues related to economic and social development, including the discussion of the Palestinian issue and means of reaching a comprehensive and just peace, as well as discussing the files of Syria, Libya, Yemen and Arab, European and international efforts to reach political settlements for these crises.
The two-day Summit held under the theme “Investing in Our Stability” and focuses on the most important challenges facing the Arab and European sides and how to achieve stability in the region, the hazards of terrorism and the Middle East peace process. A second summit is due to take place in Brussels in 2022. The second and final day of the Summit included bilateral meetings between the heads of delegations followed by a closed interactive dialogue session on ways to deal with the regional challenges, followed by the interactive dialogue session. The day also included a closed second session focusing on strengthening the Arab-European partnership and ways of dealing with global challenges.
Europeans view the summit, as a way to protect their traditional diplomatic, economic and security interests while China and Russia move to fill a vacuum left by the United States. The summit in the southern Sinai desert is heavily guarded by Egyptian security forces that are fighting a bloody extremist insurgency a short distance to the north. European leaders first mentioned the summit in Austria in September amid efforts to agree ways to curb the illegal migration that has sharply divided the 28-nation bloc. But checking migration is just part of Europe’s broader strategy to forge a new alliance with its southern neighbors. Climate change, migration, trade and investment were main agenda items and conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya were discussed.
However, discussions among the participants on issues related to possible post Brexit scenario overshadowed the summit because of the fact that leaders from these closely-connected regions, while the deeply-divided. EU leaders and the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May debated at length over Brexit, while Arab nations were confronted with fighting terrorism, extremism and rebuilding several shattered nations. Many of these issues were addressed at the summit’s conclusion, via an all-encompassing declaration, reaffirming pledges to enhance international cooperation.
On the second day of the summit, Iraqi President Barham Salih stressed that while Iraq was in the vanguard of the fight against terrorism, reconstruction was essential to consolidate progress. This is what helps us to return the displaced; a common interest between Iraq, the region, and European countries, he added. Addressing the phenomenon of migration and its consequences depends on addressing the causes in the region, and providing an environment supportive of reform and sustainable development.
Thus, Arab countries were politically and economically stressed and Europe is squabbling over migration from the Arab world and Africa. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the summit host, called on participants to resolve differences, forge a common strategy on terrorism and co-operate on development and trade. The fact that the summit took place at all and convened in Egypt is seen as a diplomatic boost for Sisi, who has cultivated Cairo’s ties and trade with Europe but remains sharply criticised for domestic repression.
Although 40 senior figures took part in the two-day event, among notable absentees were half the rulers of the 22 Arab League states, some due to ill health, others politics. Uninvited Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was in Tehran for discussions with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and supreme guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iraqi president Barham Salih met his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Paris to discuss French jihadis. Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir remained in Khartoum, where he is battling a popular uprising.
EU attendees included Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, European Council president Donald Tusk, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, British prime minister Theresa May and German chancellor Angela Merkel. The Arabs were represented by Saudi King Salman, his ally Yemeni president Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Lebanese premier Saad Hariri and Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad. Fujairah’s ruler, Hamad bin Mohamed al-Sharqi, led the United Arab Emirates’ delegation.
Both sides welcomed the outcomes of the summit saying that the conference had been a success.; the Arab-EU Summit began building a true partnership between the two sides and will contribute to strengthening the historic relationship.
Political experts stressed that the first League of Arab States (LAS)-European Union (EU) summit was an important step as a basis for building stronger relations in the future. It was not expected that the first summit would come out with specific resolutions or mechanisms on Arab-European relations. During the two-day summit, leaders from both sides discussed ways to strengthen ties and address a wide range of issues and common challenges, such as multilateralism, trade, investment, migration, security and regional situation.
The summit also provided an opportunity for leaders to discuss the latest developments in the region, such as the Middle East peace process and the situations in Yemen, Libya and Syria.
Tarek Fahmy, professor of political science at Cairo University, said that the summit was a founding meeting for joint Arab-European cooperation, which is still in its early stages.
High European representation confirms European interest in having strong relations with Arab countries, as well as a notable Arab-European optimism regarding the results of the summit. It was clear there were issues of common interest for both sides, saying some issues were of high importance for the European countries such as terrorism and illegal immigration. The vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal from Syria is a concern for both sides. European and the Arab countries can fill this vacuum through a European-Arab force and Libyan crisis is also a major source of worry in Europe, especially for Italy and France.
In the summit’s final declaration, Arab and European leaders vowed to further deepen strategic partnership, face common challenges and share experiences. According to the declaration, the leaders expressed their determination to move forward with deepening strategic partnership at the summit level and other existing mechanisms of cooperation. The leaders also renewed their commitment to effective multilateralism and an international system based on international law in order to tackle global challenges, including increased cooperation among the LAS, EU, UN and the African Union.
In the final communique the sides pledged to continue dialogue, strengthen their partnership, regulate migration, recommit to the two-state solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and end the conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. The EU and Arab leaders, who agreed to meet again in Brussels in 2022, avoided sensitive topics and were short on specifics.
Sisi’s vigorous rejection of European criticism of mass detention of secular dissidents and Muslim Brotherhood members, and executions of convicted “terrorists”, prompted the summit to steer away from the dismal human rights records of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.
European countries remain as divided on key issues as the Arabs. Britain and France continue to provide arms for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, whereas Germany has halted weapons sales to the Saudis. Hungary, Poland and Austria refuse to receive migrants while Germany, Italy, Greece, France, Malta, and Cyprus are struggling with more than they can manage.
Europe is committed to the 2015 deal with Iran to lift sanctions in exchange for curbing Iran’s nuclear programme; Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states seek to overturn the agreement. Iraq and Syria call upon reluctant European and Arab states to repatriate citizens who joined the Islamic State terror group now that its territorial caliphate has been dissolved.
Participants renewed commitment to effective multilateralism and to an international system based on international law in order to tackle global challenges, including through increased cooperation between the LAS, EU, the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) and reiterated our full commitment to the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
This commitment will guide us in our efforts to achieve shared objectives, including in tackling common challenges such as the phenomenon of migration, where will be inspired by the Valletta principles; the protection of and support to refugees in accordance with the international law; the upholding of all aspects of international human rights law, condemnation of all forms of incitement to hatred, xenophobia and intolerance; the strengthening of the fight against irregular migration and scaling up our joint efforts in preventing and fighting migrants’ smuggling, eradicating trafficking in human beings and combating those who exploit vulnerable people; and to global efforts to tackle climate change, notably the Paris Agreement.
Summit agreed to further strengthen our cooperation towards security, conflict resolution and socio-economic development throughout the region and reaffirmed common positions on the Middle East Peace Process, including on the status of Jerusalem, and on the illegality under international law of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
They reiterated commitment to reaching a two-state solution on the basis of all relevant UN resolutions, as the only realistic way to end the occupation that began in 1967, including of East Jerusalem, and to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians through direct negotiations between the parties that addresses all final status issues.
Leaders recalled the importance of upholding the historic status quo for the holy sites in Jerusalem, including with regard to the Custodianship of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and reaffirmed the indispensable role of UNRWA and the need to support it politically and financially in order to allow it to continue fulfilling its UN mandate.
Summit expressed concern about the humanitarian, political, security and economic situation in the Gaza Strip, and called for all parties to take immediate steps to produce a fundamental change to the better in full respect of international law, including human rights and humanitarian law, especially with respect to the protection of civilians.