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An Infographic

by Nikola Zukalova

31 January 2024


The 1970s and 1980s: Lead Up to the Cooperation Agreement and Free Trade Negotiations


1974: The Euro-Arab Dialogue, which included the Gulf countries, was formally instituted by the European Economic Community (EEC) to improve bilateral relations between Europe and the Arab world following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the subsequent global energy crisis.


1979: The Delegation for Relations with the Gulf States established in the European Parliament (since 2009 renamed “Delegation for Relations with the Arab Peninsula”). 

1980: The Council invited the Gulf states, Iraq and North Yemen to enter into non-preferential trade cooperation agreements, only North Yemen did.

1981: The European Parliament’s Resolution on EC-Gulf States relations called for the conclusion of bilateral cooperation agreements between the European Community and the individual Gulf states. The Council agreed to preliminary informal contacts with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to explore the scope for cooperation. 

June 1982: GCC Secretary General, Abdulla Bishara, visited the European Commission in Brussels for the first time. A GCC-EEC meeting was later proposed in correspondence between the GCC Secretary General Bishara and the European Commission’s President, Jacques Delors, and Commissioner, Claude Cheysson.


  • The first visit by European Commission delegation, led by Jos Loeff, to the GCC Secretariat in Riyadh for technical talks on energy, statistics, customs union and information.

  • An official energy dialogue between the EEC and the GCC was formally set up.


  • The 10-member EC approved the principle of establishing closer contacts with the GCC at a foreign policy meeting

  • The 11th GCC Ministerial Council approved the principle of direct negotiations between the GCC States, as a single group, and other countries and economic groupings beginning with the European Community, Japan and USA.


  • Proposal to establish EEC Commission’s delegation in the Gulf and a possible office in Riyadh (did not materialise).

  • GCC Secretary General visited Brussels to discuss the EC-GCC cooperation agreement, followed by two rounds of discussions in Bahrain.

  • The first ministerial meeting between the GCC and the EC convened in Luxembourg,  decided to speed up their talks on a comprehensive agreement aimed at boosting particularly economic and trade cooperation. 


1986: The European Parliament approved the conclusion of an agreement between the Community and the GCC.


1987: The EC’s Council approves the negotiating mandate for the conclusion of an EEC-GCC cooperation agreement. The 8th GCC Supreme Council agreed to initiate formal negotiations with the European Community to conclude an initial framework cooperation agreement.



  • The European Parliament's Delegation for Relations With the Gulf States held inaugural inter-parliamentary meetings with the GCC, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

  • The Cooperation Agreement between the GCC and the EEC was signed in Luxembourg and entered into force on 1 January 1990. It established the legal and institutional framework for the EU-GCC relationship, including in economy, climate change, energy, environment, and research, and included the ‘most favoured nation’ status for the parties’ exports.


The 1990s



  • The EC-GCC Free Trade Agreement negotiations were launched.

  • Oman hosted the first Joint EC-GCC Ministerial Council meeting. Since then the EU-GCC Joint Council and Ministerial Meetings have been held annually, with the exception of 1995 (when the EU-GCC Troika Ministerial Meeting was held) and 2017-2020 (intra-GCC crisis).

  • The European Community condemned Iraqi military aggression against Kuwait, imposed sanctions against Iraq and its member states joined/supported the Coalition forces.

  • The first EC-GCC Industrial Conference held in Granada.



  • The EC-GCC Joint Ministerial Council, at its second meeting in Luxembourg, decided to form three working groups for cooperation in the fields of industry, environment and energy.

  • Following the Gulf War oil spill, the EEC assisted Saudi Arabia with the Jubail Marine and Wildlife Sanctuary project, completed in 1995.


1994: The EC, GCC and Oman co-organised the first EC-GCC Energy Policy Symposium to strengthen Euro-Gulf energy links.


1995: The first EU-GCC Troika Ministerial Meeting was held in Granada and agreed to enhance EU-GCC cooperation.



  • The 6th EU-GCC Joint Council in Luxembourg added decentralised cooperation to official-level cooperation between the two regions, expanding it to business, higher education and media.

  • The first EU-GCC Conference on Gas explored the viability of GCC gas exports to the EU. 



  • The first EC-GCC Interprise Event took place in Riyadh organised by the European Commission and the Federation of GCC Chambers of Commerce.

  • Cooperation launched between the Euro-Arab Management School in Granada, Spain, and the Arab Gulf University in Bahrain.


1998: The European Commission was authorised to launch negotiations on the EC’s accession to the Middle East Desalination Research Centre.

The 2000s


2001: The European Commission received a new mandate for negotiations with the GCC, including towards a free trade agreement. A GCC-EU committee was set up to discuss a project for gas exports to Europe.


2002: The EU decided to open its first delegation to the Gulf based in Riyadh with responsibility for relations with all six GCC countries. It was opened in 2004.



  • The first annual EU-GCC dialogue on the fight against terrorism and terrorist financing took place.

  • The EU-GCC Economic Dialogue was launched.



  • The EU and GCC agreed at the 14th EU-GCC Joint Ministerial Council to add human rights and migration to their negotiations, which focused on economy, energy and terrorism.

  • The EU released 'Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East' document, which married the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the EU relations with the Gulf and the Middle East. 


2005: The EU, Kuwait's Energy Ministry and the GCC co-hosted the Euro-Gulf Energy Forum in Kuwait. Kuwait's Energy Minister and OPEC Conference President led the first EU-OPEC Energy Dialogue in Brussels.



  • The Association of European Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Gulf Cooperation Council Chambers of Commerce agreed to promote cooperation between companies from Europe and the Gulf and to promote EU-GCC trade. 

  • The EU and the UAE signed a horizontal air transport agreement.

  • EU-GCC meetings of experts on climate change.



  • The EU-GCC Free Trade Agreement negotiations were suspended. 

  • The EU Delegation in Riyadh launched the Chaillot Prize for the Promotion of Human Rights in the GCC awarded to local civil society organisations, institutions and individuals.



  • EU joined the UAE-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

  • France opened its first permanent military base in the Gulf in the UAE.

  • Oman began to provide logistical support to EU’s naval Operation Atalanta, which has since then frequented ports of Muscat, Duqm and Salalah.


The 2010s



  • The EU launched the Science and Technology International Cooperation Network (INCONET) for GCC to promote inter-regional dialogue. 

  • The EU and Saudi Arabia initialled a horizontal aviation agreement.

  • The EU-GCC Clean Energy Network was launched and held its first Annual Conference a year later. It aimed to foster closer cooperation between the EU and GCC countries on clean energy policies and technologies and ran until 2021.



  • The EU, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and 26 states co-founded the Global Counterterrorism Forum.

  • The launch of the annual human rights dialogue between the EU and the UAE, the first GCC country to do so. Other countries followed: Bahrain (2016), Qatar (2018), Kuwait (2020), Saudi Arabia (2021), Oman (2022).


2012: The EEAS-GCC Secretariat General diplomatic secondment programme was launched.



  • The EU’s second Delegation in the GCC was opened in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

  • Riyadh hosted the first EU-GCC civil aviation dialogue.



  • The EU Youth Orchestra made its Middle East debut at the Abu Dhabi Festival.

  • The GCC joined the EU’s Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) Centres of Excellence Initiative, its secretariat was opened in UAE.

  • Oman hosted secret high-level talks between the EU, US and Iran on the latter's nuclear programme.

  • The EU ended the system of Generalized System of Preferences for the GCC countries, which removed import duties from products (including petrochemicals) exported to the EU from developing countries.

  • The EU and Oman co-organised a Blue Economy conference in Muscat.



  • The UAE became the first Arab country to obtain a visa free travel to the Schengen area with the UAE-EU short-stay visa-waiver agreement.

  • The GCC Statistical Centre signed an agreement with Eurostat. 

  • The European Commission requested the Council's authorisation to start negotiating an EU aviation agreement with Bahrain.

  • The EU joined the Steering Board of the first International Centre of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism (Hedayah) in Abu Dhabi.



  • Bahrain became the second GCC country to launch the annual human rights dialogue with the EU.

  • Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry was the first in the GCC to sign a Cooperation Agreement with the European External Action Service (EEAS).

  • UAE was the first GCC country to sign an Agreement on Strategic Cooperation in the fight against serious crime and terrorism with Europol.

  • The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the Dubai Police and Dubai Customs explored cooperation to counter illicit trade.

  • The European Commission funded the first annual EU-GCC Business Forum hosted by the EU-GCC Trade and Business Cooperation Facility under the European Union Foreign Policy Instrument in Brussels.

  • The European Commission obtained authorisation from the Council to negotiate an EU-level comprehensive aviation agreement with Qatar and the UAE.



  • The GCC Police and EUROPOL signed a letter of intent to establish a mutual framework of cooperation.

  • The EU-GCC Dialogue on Trade and Investment Issues, involving the private sector, was launched.



  • The European Commission launched the EU-GCC Dialogue on Economic Diversification to exchange best practices supporting the process of economic diversification in the GCC countries.

  • The first European Union National Institutes of Culture (EUNIC) cluster in the GCC was established in Qatar to enhance cultural ties.

  • The European External Action Service (EEAS) signed cooperation agreements with Foreign Ministries of Qatar, Oman and the UAE.

  • The first annual human rights dialogue between the EU and Qatar.

  • The Gulf Cooperation Council and the European Patent Office signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Geneva to enhance the patent system in the GCC countries.



  • EU opened its third Delegation in the GCC in Kuwait, with accreditation for Qatar.

  • Oman hosted the 4th EU-GCC Business Forum and the 1st EU-GCC Regional Workshop on Energy-Water Nexus.

  • The GCC requested extensive information about the modern EU free trade agreements.


The 2020s



  • The EU launched the Enhanced EU-GCC Political Dialogue, Cooperation and Outreach Project, aimed at deepening cooperation between the EU, the GCC and its Member States, and enhancing knowledge about the EU in the GCC.

  • The first annual human rights dialogue between the EU and Kuwait.

  • Eight EU states launched the European-led maritime surveillance mission in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH) headquartered in the UAE.



  • Saudi Arabia and the EU held the first Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels. The European External Action Service signed Cooperation Agreements with Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

  • The EU National Institutes of Culture (EUNIC) cluster was opened in Saudi Arabia to boost cultural cooperation.

  • Oman exempted nationals of 103 countries, including the 27 EU member states, from an entry visa for a stay of up to 14 days. 

  • Qatar became the first GCC country to sign a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement with the EU.

  • Oman became the second GCC country to initial a comprehensive air transport agreement with the EU.

  • The EU, Oman and South Korea conducted their first joint naval and information exchange exercise in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

  • Doha hosted talks between the EU and the Taliban following the latter’s takeover of Afghanistan.



  • The EU-GCC Joint Cooperation Committee endorsed a Joint Cooperation programme for the period 2022-2027.

  • The European Commission and the EU High Representative presented a Joint Communication ‘Strategic Partnership with the Gulf,’ proposing a comprehensive and stronger partnership between the EU and the GCC and its member states.

  • The EU’s fourth Delegation in the GCC was opened in Qatar.

  • The first annual human rights dialogue between the EU and Oman.

  • The first European Film Festival was held in Saudi Arabia.

  • The EU and Bahrain co-organised a Conference on Freedom of Religion and Belief in Manama.

  • The EU and its member states actively participated in the EXPO 2020 Dubai, the first universal exposition organised in the region.

  • Luigi Di Maio was appointed as the first EU Special Representative for the Gulf region.


2023: During the G20 New Delhi Summit, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor.


2024: The first EU-GCC Regional Security Dialogue held in Riyadh. 




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