Missing Opportunities?
The Visegrad Group (V4) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [1]

by Mitchell Belfer & Nikola Zukalová

This article is part of EGIC V4-GCC Series.

The circumstances that gave rise to the Visegrad Group (V4) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) could scarcely be in deeper contrast. The V4 was created as a safety-net with the (then) looming dissolution of the Warsaw Pact (1991). The idea was to bind the Central European states — Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary — closer together; ensure rapid integration into Western security and political structures, notably NATO and the European Union, and cushion them from the residual effects of the tumbling Soviet Union.

 

The GCC, for its part, was prompted a decade earlier. The revolutionary changes and the subsequent emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, coupled with the consolidation of power in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, spurred Arab Gulf decision makers to collectively deal with their shared, heightened vulnerabilities post-1979. This process was speeded-up when, in 1981, Iranian plots to overthrow Kuwait and Bahrain were discovered. The GCC began its life as a classic balancing alliance against the revanchism of Iran and Iraq.

 

It is interesting, and perhaps more than a historical footnote, that during the founding V4 Summit, the participating Heads of State discussed, among other things, the Gulf War.[2] The faltering USSR opened the gates of adventurism in Iraq, which promptly invaded Kuwait. The V4 and the GCC were — it seems — bound to the same international reordering but have seldom understood each other as such.

 

The V4 and GCC retain great potential for cooperation. However, it seems that many opportunities are, at present, being missed. Synergies tend to be built on bilateral levels or through the European Union’s (EU) partnership with the GCC. This is restricting a unique Visegrad-GCC region-to-region dynamic from being developed. This Information Sheet provides for the past and reviews the current state of V4-GCC relations.

 

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As noted, the V4 and GCC were shaped by and reflect very different geopolitical realities. The former is thriving in a stable region, being part of one of the world’s most developed trading blocs (the EU, since 2004) and secured by NATO’s security umbrella. In contrast, the GCC states are located in the heart of a tumultuous Middle East, surrounded by conflict, failing and failed states—in Iraq, Syria, Yemen. They are also being pressured by the twin peaks of Iranian revisionism (and its Hezbollah and Houthi proxies) and the extremism of Daesh and al-Qaeda. Despite the chaos lapping at its shores, the GCC remains an island of stability.

 

In addition to geopolitical differences, they are also economically dissimilar: the total GDP per capita of the six GCC countries was $209,964 (USD) in 2018, nearly three times larger than the GDP of the V4.[3] Qatar, on its own, retains a GDP per capita almost equal to all four Visegrad countries combined. On the other hand, the V4 countries are largely industrial and agricultural, while the GCC countries rely primarily on hydrocarbons and petrochemicals even though there is now a major push for economic reform and diversification.

 

Since all members of the V4 are also members of the EU, they remain committed to the principles and priorities of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. This has not restricted the V4 from developing partnerships with other regional groupings or states and the V4+ Framework has helped forge relations with: Benelux, the African Union, the Nordic-Baltic Eight, South Korea and Japan, among others.[4] In the Middle East, the V4 has already held talks with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel. Despite early optimism, in the Arab Gulf efforts have stalled and need to be put back on track especially since there was good, initial, traction. In 2010, Slovakia’s V4 Presidency prioritised cooperation with other regional organisations, including the GCC.[5] A year later, during the Czech Presidency, the GCC states were listed as prospective distant destinations for attracting tourists to the V4.[6] The Hungarian Presidency (2013-2014) recommended working together with Arab regional organisations, including the GCC, and to extend tourism promotion to new markets, such as the Gulf.[7] Unfortunately, such priorities and recommendations await to be materialised and there have not yet been any formal meetings between the V4 and the GCC.

 

Region-to-region cooperation is an effective way to boost economic interactions, sustainable development and political dialogue. Encouraging economic growth by providing a wider platform to local entities and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), promoting the exchange of experience and know-how in various fields, while strengthening political relations and cultural understanding between regions, reflects well in the involved countries’ international performance and standing. At the same time, this type of cooperation provides a unique framework to untangle and confront common challenges and security issues in a thorough manner. It is therefore important for both the GCC and the V4 to continue joint efforts to strengthen their interaction.

 

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This introductory information sheet is part of the EGIC series that focuses on V4-GCC relations and prospects for developing them. Hoping to contribute to enhancing mutual understanding and to support cooperation, EGIC will follow up with individual analysis for each of the V4 states to examine its relationship to the Gulf countries. In doing so, these works will identify common interests and possible avenues of collaboration. The final analysis in the series will pinpoint an intersection of regional interests based on the previous findings and suggest ways forward for V4-GCC synergy.

Notes

[1] V4 encompasses four countries in Central Europe: the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Republic of Poland and the Slovak Republic. The GCC countries, located on the Arabian Peninsula, include the Kingdom of Bahrain, State of Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, State of Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

[2] Grabiński, Tomasz: The Summit in the Frosty Ruins: The Background of the 1991 Visegrad Meeting. http://www.visegradgroup.eu/the-visegrad-book/grabinski-tomasz-the

[3]  The World Bank Group (2019). GDP per capita (current US$) - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Poland. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?locations=SA-QA-BH-AE-KW-OM-CZ-SK-HU-PL&most_recent_value_desc=false

[4] 2017–2018 Hungarian Presidency: V4 Connects. http://www.visegradgroup.eu/documents/2017-2018-hungarian/20172018-hungarian 

[5] Program of the Slovak Presidency of the Visegrad Group (July 2010-June 2011): Efficient Visegrad—Continuity, Cohesion, Solidarity, Awareness. http://www.visegradgroup.eu/documents/presidency-programs/2010-2011-slovak-110412 

[6] Innovative Visegrad: Programme of the Czech Presidency of the Visegrad Group 2011–2012. http://www.visegradgroup.eu/documents/presidency-programs/innovative-visegrad

[7] Hungarian Presidency in the Visegrad Group (2013–2014). http://www.visegradgroup.eu/documents/presidency-programs/20132014-hungarian

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