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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Europe could play vital role in Qatar crisis, analysts say

European countries, which have a history of cooperation despite differences, could offer advice to the GCC

As the crisis between Qatar and its GCC neighbours continues to loom over the Gulf, analysts say the European Union could play a vital role in contributing to the solution.

In a talk on the Gulf Diplomatic Crisis and its Relevance for Europe that took place in Brussels on Tuesday morning, they spoke of issues of cooperation among states in dealing with terrorism, Qatar’s “poor record” in this regard and using the European example to help contribute to resolving the matter.

“We are primarily looking at Qatar's extensive practice in supporting terrorism and extremism,” said Dr Richard Burchill, one of the speakers and the director of engagement and research at Abu Dhabi think tank Trends Research and Advisory.

“This is important because the global and regional efforts to counter and overcome terrorism and extremism cannot tolerate one state acting contrary to collective efforts. The 2013-2014 agreements with Qatar attempted to put in place a collective stance on stopping support for terrorism and extremism and Qatar chose to disregard this.”

He said this issue was crucial as countering terrorism and extremism was a global concern. “Qatar needs to cooperate with its neighbours and the wider world in stopping support for terrorism and extremism,” said Dr Burchill. “Where there are designated terrorists in its territory it needs to act and it needs to cooperate with the GCC.”

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain imposed sanctions on Qatar on June 5, cutting all ties with the country over accusations it is financing terrorist and extremist groups. Egypt announced on Monday that Qatari nationals, with some exceptions, will as of July 20 be required to apply for a visa to enter the country.

Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, also said on Monday that the solution must be found within the region but that it must be guaranteed from outside.

Experts say Europe has a role to play in showing how states with different views can cooperate. “There is an opportunity for the institutions of Europe to step in and take a more direct role in the matter,” said Dr Ahmed Al Hamli, president and founder of Trends, in an article on euractiv.com this week. “European cooperation is built on the foundations of ideological and political differences. The region has been successful in building institutions that instill confidence and cooperation among states – Europe needs to bring these experiences to the Gulf to support global security.”

Marc Martinez, senior associate at Abu Dhabi think tank The Delma Institute, said the question of terrorism is crucial in Europe. “After the recent attacks in London and Manchester, British citizens have been more assertive in their demands for concrete answers to the ever-growing terrorist threat,” he said. “The European Union is divided on counter-terrorism and although its members will all pledge on the necessity to cooperate, they continue to develop their own national counterterrorism strategies.”

He added that the concept of sovereignty in the age of transnational terrorism is in question.

"Because there is no unified European strategy to combat terrorism, Gulf countries cannot expect any form of assistance from the EU itself, although there is most likely a lot of experience to gain from studying the difficulties European countries faced in their attempt to mutualise the fight against terror,” Mr Martinez said.

“Cooperation is an absolute necessity but the modalities of this cooperation will be key as it will mutually engage the participants. Negotiation should include, for example, the frequency, reciprocity and automaticity of the exchange of intelligence.”

Mr Martinez said increasing the existing level of counterterrorism cooperation between members of the EU and the GCC will most likely have to wait for the peaceful resolution of the current tensions with Qatar.

But meanwhile, according to Dr Burchill, “To have a GCC member not cooperating but also supporting the forces one is trying to overcome is detrimental to the national efforts".

He continued: “The main challenges in tackling terrorism and extremism is getting agreement on who is a terrorist and the extent of threats from extremism. But the United Nations has a designated terrorist list, the United States has one as well, and it is clear that cooperation in these situations is needed, but then states need the political will to cooperate.

“So far, Qatar is inclined to pursue its own policies but this is now becoming destabilising when the region needs more stability, not less.”