A unified GCC police agency, joint naval force and looser restrictions on Gulf nationals working in other GCC countries are among several policies proposed in recent weeks that would more closely integrate Qatar with its neighbours.
Discussions about more closely binding together the Gulf countries – which have dramatically different population size and economic clout – comes ahead of the GCC’s annual summit, which will be held in Doha next month.
While integration efforts have been underway for years, the more recent proposals come amid improving relations between GCC members. A diplomatic quarrel that led Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to withdraw their ambassadors from Doha in March was officially resolved earlier this month.
“The difference is something from the past now. I prefer to call it a difference not a dispute,” Qatar Foreign Minister Dr. Khaled Al Attiyah told a news conference this week following a GCC meeting in Doha, according to Kuwait’s state news agency.
“We have to focus on strengthening the spirit of cooperation among our countries towards a solid and integrated Gulf bloc, so we need to double (our) efforts,” he added.
The same day Al Attiyah was meeting with other GCC foreign ministers in Qatar’s capital, Gulf social affairs and labor ministers were gathering in Kuwait City, where Kuwait’s Hind Al-Sabeeh called on his counterparts to make the vision of the GCC common market a reality.
While an agreement was reached in late 2007 to give Gulf citizens equal economic rights in other GCC countries, progress on the phased roll-out has been slow and cases of employment discrimination persisted years after the common market came into effect, Gulf News previously reported.
Breaking down those remaining barriers is high on the agenda of Aqeel Al-Jassim, the director-general of the executive bureau of the GCC social affairs and labor ministers council.
According to Kuwait’s state news agency, Al-Jassim said he wanted GCC countries to agree on lifting restrictions on the free movement of nationals working in member states.
While full labor mobility would allow Qataris to pursue economic opportunities across the Gulf, it may be of more initial interest among citizens of GCC countries that are currently grappling with high rates of joblessness.
Most citizens of this country already have a job at home. The unemployment rate among Qataris was 1.6 percent in mid-2014 – a fraction of the 11.5 percent unemployment rate among Saudi nationals at the end of 2013.
Al-Jassim also said GCC representatives would discuss labor mobility among expats, but provided no details. Member countries have recently started to enforce a law that bans a person deported from one country in the region from entering any other member state.
No timelines were given for the labor mobility negotiations, which took place at the same forum that reached a long-awaited agreement on a common contract for domestic workers that had been stalled in negotiations for years.
Also meeting last week in Kuwait City were GCC interior ministers, who pressed for a joint police force akin to a “Gulf Interpol.”
The GCC would operate a joint criminal database and look to tackle cross-border crimes in the region.
According to London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Kuwaiti Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khalid Al-Sabah said:
“The security services and civil society in each country have to join forces in the fight against such crimes as narcotic addiction, money laundering, cyber-crime and, credit card crimes. No country can address this challenge of organized crime alone.”
Seperately, GCC defence officials have recommended the formation of a joint naval force, according to Saudi Arabia’s official news agency.
The GCC already has a joint military arm, the Peninsula Shield Force, which has approximately 40,000 soldiers and was controversially deployed in 2011 to suppress the uprising in Bahrain.