July 29, 2005
Furthering Political Integration in the Gulf Cooperation Council
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a grouping of six states on the Arabian peninsula- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE- formed in 1981. Each of the aforementioned states is an absolute monarchy that depends upon hydrocarbons as the primary source of revenue for its rentier economy. The organization’s record on cooperation thus far has been mixed. Significant decisions require the unanimous support of all six member states. The GCC acts an effective bloc only when members’ national interests coincide. However, when consensus cannot be reached, decision-making is blocked.
Currently, the GCC lacks strong supranational organizations. National interests have previously prevented the formation of a unified Gulf army and customs union. Economically, a failure to cooperate could potentially cause permanent damage to the all six countries- each is currently trying to outdo its neighbors in an attempt to attract a greater share of the finite amounts of capital and resources present both within and outside the region. In spite of this, rival state-supported companies are being established in every significant economic sector from air transport to banking.
The success of European integration has shown that greater cooperation can lead to massive economic benefits as well as better relations between states, as can be seen in united foreign policy and defense decisions, the establishment of a large and successful free trade zone and the virtual impossibility of war breaking out between member states. Tensions between EU member states have been mitigated by strong supranational institutions as well as by increased links between states. The latter has also created powerful interests in each of them that would suffer in the event of bad ties with other EU members.
The GCC could easily adopt elements of the EU model, for instance by creating a new assembly with members selected by the national assemblies of all six states. It could then abandon its present requirement for any proposal to be unanimously approved by the heads of state of the six members, saving that condition for questions of vital national importance, like defense pacts.
This new assembly could initially have limited powers and discuss matters that are not deemed central to state survival, like education, culture and sports. Sessions could be held behind closed doors when sensitive topics are discussed. The scope of matters it would be permitted to discuss could increase gradually as the rulers saw its benefits and learned to trust it. The assembly could take the lead in greater GCC integration by passing new legislation and by asking national governments to review existing legislation that is incompatible with greater GCC aims. By standardizing laws and requirements, it would become easier for Gulf citizens to do business in one another's countries. Foreign investors would also find it more enticing to enter what would effectively constitute a larger, single market.
Regional economic champions should be created to avoid any duplication of effort. For instance, Saudi Arabia could take the lead in building new oil refineries, Gulf cargo could be routed through Dubai when possible and Bahrain could serve as the region's financial services hub. A joint GCC budget could help connect these facilities to neighboring countries.
An open skies agreement for commercial air traffic and an agreement allowing GCC nationals to have the same privileges as natives of other GCC states would also be helpful. The latter would enable them to set up and run businesses without needing to search for local partners, to trade in each other's financial markets and to invest on better terms in real estate throughout other GCC countries. That, in turn, would also allow for surplus capital in the richer GCC states to be invested more easily inside poorer markets. That, in turn, would create real development in the latter, while bringing returns to investors, thereby creating a situation that benefits everyone concerned.
A common GCC foreign policy stance would carry more weight internationally. Later, a common defense policy might also be initiated, leading to compatible weapons systems and helping with economies of scale during arms purchases.
People-to-people ties are perhaps the most crucial aspect of integration. Some initial steps that could be taken in this regard include the creation of Gulf equivalents to Europe's Champions' League football tournament and Eurovision song contest. Another would be an end to all restrictions on marriages between GCC nationals from different countries. A more significant undertaking in this direction could be to modify textbooks throughout the GCC in order to include common civics lessons- ones that would reflect a shared past and a common future. The end goal would be the creation of a common Gulf identity.
The combination in each country of heavy state involvement in the economy (and resulting questions of national prestige) as well as politically powerful businessmen with vested interests in relatively closed markets mean that political considerations must be addressed while assessing the scope for economic cooperation. However, the rulers of the six GCC states should favor regional and not national interests for the greater good of their people. To bring about greater unity of purpose and policy, rulers must recognize that existing cooperation is inadequate and current methods to enforce agreements are toothless. New institutions with real authority are needed- although power can and indeed should be ceded to them gradually.
Tricky negotiations must be undertaken in order to resolve territorial disputes. This would make help proposals for a Schengen-style border agreement that would allow residents and expatriates to travel freely between GCC member states. Only then would proposals for rail links and better road networks would be commercially viable.
Note: This is a condensed version of a paper I’m writing, if anyone wants to see that, I can put it up online somewhere.
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You're packaging a lot of hopes into one item.
First, let's not confuse economic union and coordination with political and military ones. The EU has done that, and it is looking none too fucking healthy of late. Supranational institutions, I am not sure Bruxelles is a good argument point, one might also say they helped sour many Europeans on the affaire.
Second, you're too over the place in re what integration means: people to people with a cultural angle (fine I suppose) is thrown in with harder aspects. Needs more rigour.
I agree with much of the thought behind what you're saying here, but this is too thin for being spread too far.
More thoughts later.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 29, 2005 12:24 PM
One of the lines from the intro that I removed was:
Although the paper shall not focus on economic integration, it will touch upon how political integration could help achieve economic gain.
I don't know enough about the consequences of economic union to advocate it, but I think that greater political cooperation would help avert some potential problems. Similarly, I wanted to touch upon what governments could do with regard to people-to-people links.
The central problem people have with the EU, so far as I've read, is that the institutions are too distant and out of touch with citizens. I don't think that it is inevitable that a GCC assembly would face that problem. It's not as if the current rulers are directly elected by the people anyway for them to have a sense of losing more control. (You can, of course, reach the rulers through the majlis system, but then parliamentarians could adopt that as well.)
Posted by: Dubaiwalla at July 29, 2005 02:38 PM
(That having been said, point taken, I shall try and better focus any future writings.)
Posted by: Dubaiwalla at July 29, 2005 02:39 PM
Surely a bit stickler for this, particularly with transport links, is Saudi? How could a woman - a GCC citizen woman - use these putative road/rail links under Saudi's current horror-laws?
The main problem I see, however, is that most Gulf states just don't want to cooperate - they want to compete. The plight of Gulf Air is a good example - three of the original four owners have started their own airlines. Qatar is doing everything that Dubai is doing. Dubai and Bahrain are already competing in terms of finance.
I agree with you that this integration should happen, but I am very pessimistic that it ever will.
Posted by: secretdubai at July 30, 2005 09:32 AM
Neither Kuwait nor Bahrain are absolute monarchies as both have elected parliaments and more importantly other centres of power within the political system.
The problem for economic integration which has been the engine in Europe over the last 50 years is that Gulf states' hydrocarbon based economies tend to be competitors rather than producers of products their neighbours might want. Without what was termed 'neofunctionalist' economic integration leading to political integration, the GCC has to be statist in nature.
The worst problem with the GCC though is the dead hand of Saudi Arabia. While not being able to offer its smaller neighbours any sort of security guarantees it has poisoned the political atmosphere with its wahabism and authoritarianism.
Posted by: Bahrain Mannequin at July 30, 2005 07:50 PM
I agree completely with what both of you have said with regard to cooperation vs. competition. I specifically had the airline sector in mind when I wrote about economic champions- it seems crazy for Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad in particular to be expanding and competing the way they are when they are all based next door to one another.
Dubai isn't even cooperating with its neighboring emirates in terms of transport and housing, leave alone with neighboring countries in terms of bigger issues. And anyone who's been here for a week can see how that's turned out.
What is most necessary to remedy the current situation, so far as I can see, is political will among the rulers- if each one gives up their dream of being the center of everything, all of them have a future. If not, there is a good chance of a lot of economic ugliness caused by massive borrowing and failed over-ambitious projects.
I used the term 'absolute monarchy' mainly to differentiate from constitutional monarchies in the Western European tradition and point out the predominant positions of their monarchs. While the term might perhaps not be strictly accurate in the cases of Kuwait and Bahrain (and to a lesser degree even Oman and Qatar), the rulers do have the final word on important matters, as can be seen by their suspensions of legislative bodies for years a time, and subsequent rule by decree when they got out of hand.
I'm rather curious about the last statement- with the possible exception of Sharjah, where in the Gulf has Saudi Arabia actively exported Wahhabism in the past 30 years?
Posted by: Dubaiwalla at July 31, 2005 12:51 PM
I recall from my visit there that a couple of the Emirates (Sharjah and Ajman) who can't agree who's responsible for paving the roads between the two of them, with the result that there's c. 200 meters of unpaved dirt roads between them. Which become really interesting driving during the week or so of rain.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at August 1, 2005 12:49 PM