x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

EU budget restraints will not hit UAE mission

Abu Dhabi embassy will still go ahead despite cuts being discussed in Brussels that could affect the EU's aim to expand its presence and global political influence.

The European Union's planned embassy in Abu Dhabi will not be hit by the crisis affecting the economies of the EU countries.

The EU wants to globally expand its political presence - but budgetary restraints could affect this plan.

Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, announced the plans for the UAE embassy last month.

"For other embassies we have to wait for the final decision on the budget but what we know is if we would like to open new embassies we have to close others," said an EU official on the sidelines of the European summit.

The summit of EU leaders in Brussels discussed the budget yesterday and today in Brussels.

"To open one in the Emirates we have to close others," the EU official added.

"We are closing one in the Pacific, New Caledonia, and the other will be in Suriname [in South America]."

After the closures, the plan for the moment, due to the lack of resources, is for the European External Action Service to open the first embassy in Abu Dhabi and then the next one in Tripoli, Libya.

"We do not know the outcome of the discussion by EU leaders on the budget, what we know is that our current budget is not going to increase but we are not sure if or by how much it will be cut," said the official.

Last month,Lady Ashton said she was "very pleased to announce the opening of an EU delegation in the United Arab Emirates, as this decision highlights the importance both of our geo-strategic interests in and our political and economic ties with this country, as well as with the Gulf Cooperation Council as a whole".

Michael Mann, spokesman for Lady Ashton, said Abu Dhabi was chosen because of the UAE's strong ties with the EU.

"Due to the importance of our relations with the GCC we want to have more representations there and we are planning further missions," he said.

A senior EU official said the mission would serve as a fully fledged embassy, unlike other EU delegations around the world.

"The mission will serve as an embassy and have a political and trade role," he said.

"Previously the delegations had representatives, not ambassadors, limiting the political role they had.

"This embassy will have an EU ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and will have a trade mission."

Patrice Bergamini, head of the European External Action Service's directorate for Middle East, North Africa and Arabian Peninsula, said that the choice was also down to the transparency and level of commitment presented by the Emirates in tackling terrorism.

"The UAE accompany the EU's efforts in the fight against terrorism. In Afghanistan they are on the ground and have committed soldiers and jet fighters, also their efforts in Libya," he said.

"Compared with other countries, the UAE has preferred transparent ways and channels to support economically and financially the democratic process and has engaged countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia."

The Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed, said the opening of an EU Embassy would contribute to strengthening relations between the UAE and EU, and GCC and the EU. His statement was made to the state news agency Wam last month.

He said that the EU's decision to open a mission was an important step in the interest of standing relations between the two sides, and one that highlighted the UAE's role and its distinguished relations with the effective regional and international communities.

amustafa@thenational.ae