Saudi Arabia's impactful relationship with Europe - opinion

Perhaps the main feature of this important Saudi move toward Europe is that it comes at a crucial moment for both sides, the Kingdom and its European partners.

 FRENCH PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron welcomes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for a working dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris, last week.  (photo credit: BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS)
FRENCH PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron welcomes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for a working dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris, last week.
(photo credit: BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS)

Those who have followed the movements of Saudi foreign policy in recent years know how much this policy has evolved, both in terms of flexibility, dynamism and efficiency, and in terms of its ability to take the lead and advance the kingdom’s interests around the world.

They have to do with the character of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who has given his country’s politics unique traits that have made it a major global focus. MBS recently began a visit to Greece before heading to France. This came shortly after the kingdom welcomed United States President Joe Biden.

The visit attracted widespread attention because of its implications for revisiting the foundations of the historic relationship between Riyadh and Washington, which has been marked by some contradictions and tensions in recent years. But in the end, things seem to be getting back to normal.

But the new rules and framework take into account the position of the Saudi partner and the growing regional and international influence. MBS’s visit to Greece included important talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Saudi-Greek relations 

 US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attend an Arab summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 16, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN) US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attend an Arab summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 16, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)

It was an important moment commensurate with the importance of the Saudi-Greek relationship, which holds a special place in Riyadh and Athens.

This was reflected in the signing of the agreement establishing the Saudi-Greek Strategic Partnership Council. During this visit, other agreements were signed in the field of energy, memoranda of understanding on cooperation in sports and scientific, technical and medical cooperation, an agreement on cooperation in combating crime, and others related to the protection and promotion of investments between the two countries.

The importance of Greece to Saudi Arabia is reflected in the fact that Athens was chosen as the starting point for MBS’s first tour outside the Middle East after his visit to Japan for the 20th summit in 2019, as part of a European tour that includes Greece and France. These two countries occupy a particular spot in Saudi foreign policy.

Saudi-French relations also strengthened after MBS visited Paris in 2018. Nineteen protocols and agreements were signed between the two sides. In fact, Greece is very appreciative of the Saudi leadership.

Athens established itself as a reliable partner, taking an important position, in September 2021, when it decided to send a loaned Patriot missile system and a contingent of 120 Greek soldiers from the 114th combat wing, in accordance with the agreement signed between the two countries, in April 2021, to work on equipment following the US decision to withdraw missile systems, equipment and troops from the Kingdom and areas in the Middle East.

It is a position that proves the strength of the ties between Riyadh and Athens. Greece has proven to be a credible partner for the next phase, especially as Riyadh maintains a growing and vital relationship with EU countries, both collectively and bilaterally.

Perhaps the main feature of this important Saudi move toward Europe is that it comes at a crucial moment for both sides, the Kingdom and its European partners.

FOR RIYADH, this move marks a new milestone in rebuilding the kingdom’s network of international alliances and broadening the base of strategic partnerships with countries around the world, based on diversity and drawing on a wide range of common interests between Riyadh and those countries.

This has a positive impact on the Kingdom’s economy, capacity, influence, and regional and international standing. There is a deep history upon which the Saudi-European relationship as a whole is based. King Salman bin Abdulaziz called the kingdom’s relationship with the EU historic, stressing its status as one of the kingdom’s main international partners.

The visit of MBS to Greece and France at this time is undoubtedly of key importance. As the weight of the Ukrainian crisis grows, particularly at the economic level, this shows the strong support to the Kingdom’s European partners. It follows a similar visit to France by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE

Everyone is aware of the depth and continuity of coordination and consultation between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, reflecting the GCC countries’ common focus on supporting the economies of European partners, especially in the energy sector, and on easing the anxiety caused by the effects of a possible disruption of Russian gas supplies, rising energy prices and inflation engulfing the EU.

For its part, the Kingdom needs to cooperate with all its international partners to realize the dream of the city of Neom, on which MBS makes a big bet as a strategic lever for the Kingdom’s position and global role in the 21st century.

It embodies the Saudi 2030 modernization project, which requires tremendous international investment, effort and engagement to achieve the desired goals. This is why Riyadh does not view its international moves in terms of replacing partnerships. In other words, one country will not replace another, but it is about expanding partnerships based on diversity, without sacrificing the kingdom’s relationship with any international power at the expense of others.

The scope of Saudi investment and strategic interests in the world extends to all partnerships, so much so that it is unthinkable to build exclusive partnerships with one power without another, however important and diverse those partnerships may be. The ambitions of the Saudi leadership go beyond exclusive traditional partnerships.

They are no longer enough to achieve these ambitions in the face of increasing sources of development and progress, expanding and diversifying the range of common interests, which requires building Saudi relations on new foundations consistent with these promising horizons.

The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.