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RIYADH: The European Union is keen to strengthen its partnership with Saudi Arabia, EU ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonette confirmed on Friday.

The EU unveiled its first long-term strategy to shape future Gulf relations on Wednesday, when the High Representative and the European Commission adopted a joint communication – “Strategic Partnership with the Gulf”.

EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonette at the European Day Cut Cake at the DQ Palace of Culture in Riyadh. (supply)

“At a time of insecurity and major challenges to the rules-based international order, exacerbated by Russia’s war on Ukraine, the EU and the Gulf states stand to benefit from a stronger, more strategic partnership spanning several key areas We need to work more closely together on stability in the Gulf and the Middle East, global security threats, energy security, climate change and green transition, digitization, trade and investment. We also need to strengthen relationships among students, researchers, businesses and citizens links,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said when unveiling the plan.

The long-term strategy – the first of its kind between the two blocs – will be crucial for EU-GCC relations. We need each other. The EU and GCC can go a long way in strengthening their partnership.

Patrick SimonetteAmbassador of the European Union to Saudi Arabia

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Simonette said: “The long-term strategy – the first of its kind between the two blocs – will be crucial for EU-GCC relations. We need each other. The EU and the GCC have gone a long way in strengthening their partnership. That’s how we’ve felt in our different visits over the past 12 months. People realise that we have a common interest in strengthening our partnership. It’s about the economy, How we can better support our respective strategies, the Saudi Vision 2030 and the EU Green Deal.

“We have been importing fossil fuels from Saudi Arabia for a long time. We will continue, but we want to move to more sustainable consumption of renewable energy. We know that the Gulf region has huge potential for exporting renewable energy, including green hydrogen. Saudi Arabia has invested heavily and aspires to be a global hydrogen supplier, and importing this green hydrogen is very useful for us to meet our own climate change goals. It is also good for the Kingdom and its own climate change goals. So between us Can have a really good game,” he continued.

“We can work together on regional crises, we have a great deal of consistency in our views on the Middle East peace process, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Lebanon… The strategy recommends that we work more closely on regional stability. Security cooperation also It’s important. We want a more political, safer strategy. We’re negotiating the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) if we can get a positive outcome[there], we can build on this foundation and hopefully make a greater contribution to the stability and security of the Middle East Gulf,” the EU envoy said.

“We are the largest provider of foreign direct investment here and the GCC is the EU’s second largest trading partner, so we will look at how to re-engage in free trade agreements (FTAs),” Simonette added.

The joint exchange also aims to strengthen cooperation in the fields of higher education and culture. One of the goals, he explained, is to attract more Saudi students to Europe, and to attract more European students or teachers to Saudi Arabia.

Another goal, according to Simonette, is “visa-free travel to Europe” for all countries. “We are very clear that visa liberalization helps exchanges between the two sides,” he said.

He added: “I met a Saudi travel blogger a few days ago. It was interesting to discuss all the hidden gems in Saudi Arabia in terms of tourism, places where we can bring more tourists, and the same thing in Europe – Europe has More destinations can be discovered by Saudi tourists, so visa liberalization is important.”

In the future, according to the joint briefing, there will be more regular ministerial-level meetings between EU and GCC foreign ministers and energy ministers.

“Europe proposes to step up the relationship game,” the envoy said, adding that the EU would increase its diplomatic missions in the region, expanding its existing missions in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

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