H.E Christophe Farnaud, the EU ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Nawal Al Jabr (Riyadh newspaper)
Ambassador Christophe Farnaud: The changes in the Kingdom are amazing through the implementation of Vision 2030

In the framework of addressing common global challenges and achieving humanitarian integration between the Kingdom and the European Union, the first exclusive dialogue presented by "Riyadh Newspaper ", began with H.E Christophe Farnaud, the EU ambassador to Saudi Arabia, on deepening cooperation in various fields of common interest, as well as many different axes to talk about the crisis that innocent people are living in Gaza recently, which led to the escalation of violence and clashes in Gaza. We also touched upon the ongoing ceasefire initiatives and the reason for their rejection by Israel, and the International and neighboring countries ' positions on the current crisis.

1. The GCC-EU strategic partnership to deepen cooperation in various fields of common interest is a solid one, how do you see opportunities and challenges arising from global and regional developments? 

The GCC-EU partnership has entered a new, dynamic phase. We have common interests and we need a strong cooperation to face new challenges, from regional crises to climate change, from high inflation and disruption of supply chains in the global economy to energy transition and the digital revolution. The most disadvantaged populations suffer in our shared neighbourhood and the Horn of Africa.  

But the picture is not bleak, we also see positive and encouraging developments. The economic and social changes in the Gulf are impressive, with the implementation of Vision 2030 and similar programs, which have brought societal changes, new freedoms, and economic and technological advancement. 

The GCC can count on the EU to contribute to this transformation. 

2. The political and security situation has its repercussions on all countries of the world; how do you see the urgent need to establish a GCC-EU dialogue in order to counter these challenges?

The EU and GCC do have a very solid dialogue in a variety of formats. The EU-GCC Cooperation Agreement is in force since 1989 and this cooperation framework is being reinforced. Let me give you a few examples.

On 9-10 October 2023, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the GCC and the EU met in Muscat. They reviewed our relations, from climate change and environment to regional and international issues. In particular, the final statement allowed to express our common concern concerning the situation in Israel and Gaza. Ministers also agreed to organise a first ever EU-GCC Summit at the earliest opportunity. They  decided to establish a new structured Security Dialogue.

In the economic field, the EU is the second most important trade partner for the GCC. Last week, the 7th EU-GCC Business Forum was held in Bahrain, with more than 300 companies registering and discussing such important topics like circular economy and the future of transportation. It is through this very practical engagement that we can expand our economic relations and bring our people on both sides closer together. 

3. The EU is committed to peaceful international global order and full respect to the UN Charter and International Law; however, there are no traces of a unified position or a clear strategy to deal with the crisis in Gaza. How do you read these differences within the EU? 

You know, the EU is not a state, it represents 27 Member States. Their views can sometimes differ.  However, we are united on rejecting the attack by Hamas against Israel, we are united in calling on Israel, when it exercises its right of defence, to do so in accordance with international law, and in particular international humanitarian law. We are united to provide aid to the population of Gaza. We are united on the need for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

4. In your opinion, why there is no political horizon to solve the Palestinian Cause based on the two-state solution?

Let me be clear: beyond the urgent need to put an end to the current crisis, one of the major stakes  will be our collective ability to establish a new political horizon. It will be difficult. But we need to work together.  And this horizon must be based on the two-State solution. It has always been our position. A lasting solution must be achieved on the basis of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, agreements previously reached by the parties and, of course, the Arab Peace Initiative.

Our High Representative, Josep Borrell, who visited the region a few days ago, made it clear that there cannot be a forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, permanent re-occupation by the Israeli military or any change to Gaza's size nor a return of Hamas. 

The EU is intensifying efforts to revive the Middle East Peace Process, protect civilians, prevent a regional spill over and work for a just and lasting peace. Together with all well-meaning partners, including Arab countries, and especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we must commit ourselves to the peace process and the creation of a Palestinian State, living side by side in peace with Israel. This will be the best guarantee for the security of the region. Otherwise, sooner or later, a new cycle of violence will erupt.  

On Monday, during the 8th Union for the Mediterranean Regional Forum, the EU and KSA shared the same messages on protecting all civilians and achieving a long and lasting peace via a two-State solution.

5. Despite the fact that the majority of European Countries are inclined to support Israel, wouldn’t the increasing number of Palestinian victims and the lack of a solution lead to reconsidering the European policy on this issue? 

Every life matters. Nobody can be insensitive to the huge suffering of the civilian population in Gaza.  We urged Israel to exercise maximum restraint to ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with international law and international humanitarian law. As the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said loudly and clearly in Paris on 9 November during the Humanitarian conference: “there can be no double standards.” 

6. The Kingdom is calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, what is the European position regarding this crisis? 

We commended the temporary truce and partial hostage release that took effect on Friday and was prolonged on Monday. It should be fully implemented as a first step towards ending the ongoing horrific humanitarian situation in Gaza, and extended for a longer period. We hope this will create a positive dynamic leading to an end to hostilities and the release of all hostages. As you know, we continuously called for continued, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and aid to reach those in need through all necessary measures including humanitarian corridors and pauses for humanitarian needs. The EU emphasizes that international humanitarian law provides that hospitals, medical supplies and civilians inside hospitals must be protected.

7. In a recent EU Summit in Brussels, a statement called to establish “humanitarian corridors and truces” in Gaza to allow entry of aid into the Strip given the unacceptable humanitarian suffering, what do you say about this current situation? 

The European Union is gravely concerned about the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. And yes, there is a common European Council position defending pauses (‘pauses’ in the plural) and humanitarian corridors. It is our collective responsibility to be genuinely engaged and mobilised. 

And we do not just talk, we act. The European Union is the largest donor to the Palestinian people, and one of the main and most reliable donors to UNRWA. Over the last month, we have quadrupled our humanitarian aid to over EUR 100 million for this year. And in addition, our Member States have provided EUR 260 million. We have organised a Humanitarian Air Bridge operation. It is bringing vital supplies to El Arish for the people of Gaza. We have today completed 20 flights so far. And we are organising more and more flights every day.

The European Union welcomes the operational work being carried out for maritime corridors and for mobilisations for aid to be actually delivered. The protection of all civilians is key and I would like to pay tribute to the commitment of the UN and UN agencies, which are paying a heavy price in this conflict.  

We hope the pause in hostilities between Israel and Hamas will allow for a substantial surge in humanitarian aid delivery into and within Gaza, and it will not be a one-off.

8. European countries are still able to play a vital role in the conflict between China and the US, what is your position regarding the global competition between them, and will this have its effects on global peace?

The relations between the US and China are one of the driving factors in international affairs. It is not the only one. The EU with its population of 450 million, a union of some of the most economically and socially advanced countries in the world, is a global actor in its own right. The European Union and its Member States are engaged around the world to promote peace, security and prosperity and the interests of European citizens. That is what we call a “geopolitical Europe”.

Cooperation and competition are natural elements of international relations. The EU itself is pursuing a robust and realistic approach with China, whom we have defined as partner, competitor and rival, depending on what aspects of our relations we are talking about. 

And there is a lesson drawn from the COVID crisis: there are threats that we have to face together globally. We share with the US, China, and the rest of the global community some major challenges – fighting climate change, ensuring peace, stability, security and prosperity. 

9. How do you assess the big steps taken by the Kingdom in economic development and modernization, in addition to its efforts in sustainable development?  

I am impressed! Over the last years, Saudi Arabia has made considerable progress, in its economic diversification as well as in other fields. This is the right strategy, even if it will take time to diversify and develop new industries. 

Some results are already visible. Look at the growing share of women in the Kingdom’s workforce! It is a major asset. 

One important element will be the new investment law, which will boost investor confidence and attract business interested in participating in the many projects launched under Vision 2030. What we heard from our Saudi interlocutors, during the recent and first-ever EU-Saudi Investment Forum, on their efforts to attract foreign investments is very positive. Significantly enough, more than 1000 companies registered for this event.

Clearly, the European Union is a major partner for Saudi Arabia in this spectacular transformation process. It is Saudi Arabia’s second largest trade partner and the first for foreign investment. We are currently working together to establish a European Chamber of Commerce. It will be a significant step for promoting the bilateral trade and economic relations and for attracting new investments on either side. 

10. How the EU sees the Kingdom’s efforts in preserving the environment and the Green Saudi and Green Middle East Initiatives launched by HRH Mohammed bin Salman? 

The Green Saudi and Green Middle East initiatives are major positive elements for the broader strategy of the Kingdom’s efforts to reach its climate goals. Climate change is a global challenge and we have a common responsibility to leave a liveable planet behind us. In that sense, COP26, held at Glasgow in October 2021, was a turning point for Saudi Arabia as it announced ahead of the conference its ambition to reach Net-Zero by 2060 (NZE2060). We commend that Saudi Arabia has taken notable steps towards this goal such as joining the Global Methane pledge. We must use the coming COP28 in Dubai to go further together to increase global ambition towards climate neutrality and enhance climate mitigation and adaptation. One of the EU’s key objectives is therefore an agreement on global targets such as tripling the use of renewable energy and the doubling of energy efficiency. 

We should also look at climate change from the perspective of new business opportunities. The green transition offers new possibilities, which can drive new economic growth, in accordance with the Kingdom’s diversification strategy. Take, for instance, the Kingdom’s policy on hydrogen or a circular carbon economy. The European Union and the Kingdom can work together on these plans. 

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