Gulf Union Plans Slow To A Crawl

Plans to transform a group of nations across North Africa and the Middle East into a European style political and economic union are stalling.

Rulers are looking to expand the Gulf Co-Operation Council by inviting Jordan and Morocco to join a wider confederation of nations.

However, despite a series of meetings and negotiations over the past two years, little progress has been made on the idea.

The confederation would add Jordan and Morocco to the GCC states of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait.

The aim is to introduce a common currency, freedom of movement and military co-operation across the confederation.

Problems of distance

But the rulers seem split on committing to a union as some smaller nations fear the largest – Saudi Arabia – would dominate.

Although Jordan seems to offer a tight fit with the GCC as the nation shares a border with Saudi Arabia.  The westernmost capital of Rabat, Morocco is 4,000 miles across North Africa to the furthest GCC eastern point of Muscat, Oman.

Between them lie the trouble-torn Arab Spring nations of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

The move towards union is probably inevitable as GCC tackles a move away from economic reliance on petrochemical exports.

The UAE in particular, is trying to build a strong financial services sector around a stock market hub.

Union is also seen as a way of avoiding more Arab Spring revolutions by creating jobs for many nations that have young and well-qualified jobless work forces.

What will happen to expats?

How economic union would affect the millions of expats living and working in the Middle East is not yet clear.

Several nations, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE are taking steps to reduce their reliance on expat workers by freezing public sector contracts for expats in favour of local job applicants.

As their populations grow and workers gain more experience, the likelihood is the Middle East will seek to take the cream of expats for technical and management roles, but phase out posts that are suitable for younger, local workers.

“The concept of a confederation along the lines of the European Union between the six oil and natural-gas rich but conflict susceptible sheikhdoms makes sense in an era of economic and geopolitical realignment, but needs a closer examination, for one size does not necessarily fit all,” commentator Johann Weick recently wrote in newspaper Gulf Business.

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