German Chancellor Olaf Schulz in Riyadh (official)

Scholz’s Gulf Trip Resets the European-Arab Relationships


Tue, 11-10-2022 03:17 PM, Aden

Nancy Zidan (South24) 

Since the growing developments of the Ukrainian crisis and the shift of the Russian gas from Europe to Moscow's new clients in the east, namely Germany, which lies in the top of the Russian gas beneficiary list, became the most affected by the lack of energy resources. As winter approaches, Berlin resorts to the most important gas exporters in the world, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. The last German-Saudi meeting was held in the city of Jeddah in April 2017 between the then German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Saudi King. Five years later, Merkel’s successor Olaf Scholz visited the region accompanied by a delegation of businessmen. [1]

Over the two day trip, the German leader visited Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar before returning home. Scholz’s visit came at a time when things have witnessed drastic changes compared with what they were during Merkel's trip. This is related to politics or the very challenging situation regarding Germany’s energy needs. [2]

The paper discusses the goals behind the German-European rapprochement with the Arab region and its impact on the formulation of the European-Arab relationships with a cover of cooperation and international support based on power balance and sovereignty. This currently increases the fortunes of the Arab region in comparison with its European counterpart. 

Scholz’s Gulf trip: goals and interests

Scholz’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil producer in the world, came as part of the German endeavors to diversify its energy supplies. Scholz said that the partnership with Riyadh should go beyond fossil fuels to include hydrogen and renewable energies. The KSA is the second most important trade partner in the Arab world after the UAE while Berlin is the fourth biggest supplier of goods to the KSA. The list of the main German exports to KSA includes machines, cars, chemical and electrical products, precision engineering and optics. This has been enhanced through the German-Saudi Arabian Liaison Office for Economic Affairs (GESALO), and the Joint Economic Commission (GWK) which is a Saudi-German forum that includes representatives from the government and companies. [3]

In 2021, the volume of trade between Germany and Saudi Arabia reached 4.42$ billion according to a report issued by “German Trade and Invest”. The most important product is oil which constituted 36% of the Saudi exports to Germany followed by chemical products and raw materials. However, in November 2018, the Merkel government decided to impose arms export restrictions against Saudi Arabia for some reasons that included the Saudi involvement in the Yemen war. However, there have been exceptions regarding the joint projects with the military allies. [4] Nonetheless, within one week of Scholz’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the German government announced new arms deals with the KSA. In a message to the Bundestag, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said that “Scholz agreed on several arms deals before his trip to the region”. The message said that the exportation licenses is part of a joint program with Italy, Spain and Britain which enables Riyadh to purchase equipment and munitions for Eurofighter and Tornado planes with a total value of 35.2$ million. [5]

On the other hand, during Scholz’s presence in Saudi Arabia, prominent German politicians from different parties demanded him, in an opinion issued by “Der Spiegel'‘, to address these matters. The German-Saudi relationships, which were established in 1929, [6] have experienced some tension since 2018 after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi [7]. However, the German officials said that Germany has what it can give to its partners in the Middle East. This is based upon the realization that Saudi Arabia has an ambitious program called “Vision 2030” which includes building mega cities, highways, and rail systems.

Parallel to that, German Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dieter Lamlé said in a press conference following Scholz’s visit to the kingdom that the goal behind the trip is to enhance and deepen the economic and trade relationships between the two states as well as in the education sector, and not only for forging deals. He added: “We seek for real partnership through exchanging knowledge and experience so that the two parties can benefit from each other in exchanging knowledge and technology as well as vocational education. We of course know that KSA is a leading country in the Arab world and a member of G20. Thus, it is a heavily weighted state in the region. All Issues can’t be solved Without an active Saudi supervision”, in an indication to the importance of the communication between Saudi Arabia and Germany regarding Iran’s nuclear file and using the German technology. [8]

Abu Dhabi was the second destination of Scholz’s trip in the region as the bilateral trade volume between them in 2020 reached about 7.51€ billion. [9] He met with Sheikh "Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan" to accomplish the “Energy Security” Deal between Germany and UAE to supply LNG and diesel. The two leaders witnessed the signing of the “Energy Security and Industry Accelerator Agreement” (ESIA) that will accelerate projects of mutual interest between in the field of energy security and decarbonization. [10] This is in addition to the “Green Falcon” project and to produce the green hydrogen (carbon dioxide free) in Abu Dhabi from which industrial fuel can be made for aviation and shipping sectors. 

Hydrogen is re-exported from the UAE to Germany annually in order to reach climate neutrality. [11] Moreover, as part of German interest in the green energy, a meeting was held in July in Berlin between Scholz and Egyptian President “Abdulfattah El-Sisi” during the “Climate Dialogue”. They discussed joint cooperation in the field of liquefied natural gas, green energy and green hydrogen. Egypt is the second biggest country after the UAE in producing solar energy, green ammonia and green hydrogen and generating (11.6) gigawatts, equivalent to (1.57) million tons of hydrogen annually. [12]

As part of the European negotiation for energy in the Arab countries, France activated its diplomacy and negotiations with the UAE and the parties of the Yemeni conflict in the hope to obtain the Yemeni gas amid the surge in gas prices internationally and to alleviate the Russian pressure on Europe. In July, Paris and Abu Dhabi signed an agreement in the energy field to jointly produce liquified natural gas. According to earlier reports, the cooperation in the field of energy between the two countries is part of pressure for re-exporting the Yemeni gas through Balhaf Facility owned by French multinational oil and gas company, “Total Energies SE”. [13]

On the other hand, “Scholz” concluded his trip by visiting Qatar which has an immense gas reserve. His visit coincided with Total Energy’s declaration about a big deal with Qatar by which the giant French company will invest in the exploration of a new gas field for LNG exportation in return of a share of 9.4% from the project. [14]

Iran: Germany’s friend and the Gulf’s concerns 

During Scholz’s trip, the Gulf countries ignored Germany’s defense of the Iranian positions as he received a warm welcome. Germany repeatedly justified the Iranian behaviors in the Arab Gulf as being a response to the US provocations. It supported it in the efforts to restore the Nuclear Deal. This is against the Gulf’s desire and interests, especially Saudi Arabia who realized this very well. However, the pragmatic approach that has surrounded the Saudi policies recently makes it seize all opportunities and understand the different countries' attempts to render the challenges into opportunities. [15] 

It is worth mentioning that Germany had the biggest size in the trade volume with Iran if compared with other EU members over the first 7 month of 2020. This represented 41% of Iran’s whole trade exchange with the European bloc. [16] This is in addition to German endeavors to expand commercial participation inside Iran by participating in Iranian trade exhibitions. Regardless of the results of the talks to revive the nuclear deal, which is known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [17], the German supportive stance towards Iran and the strong relationships between the two sides are not based on economics but they lean on “historic strategic preferences”. Both Iran and Germany have convictions that the two peoples are from one origin, the “Aryan Race" [18]. Moreover, Germany is the only nuclear-weapon-free country which participates in the Iranian nuclear negotiations along with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. That is why Germany always supports giving compromises in favor of Iran’s right to enrich uranium. [19]

On the other hand, the Iranian government has shown little solidarity with the average Iranian people who are subjected to killing, torture and imprisonment [20] by the Iranian regime. The German Foreign Minister said recently that the EU has to impose sanctions against Iran regarding the violent response to the protests which spread inside Iran and the repression of demonstrators. [21]

Finally, we find that the European countries take quick steps to adopt an approach of cooperation with the region’s Arab states. The deal, signed by Scholz with the UAE to receive 137000 cubic meters of LNG which is supposed to reach Germany at the end of the year. Furthermore, there is a deal to supply 33,000 tons of diesel to Germany this month. An additional supply of diesel up to 250,000 tons per month can only make up a small part of 56.3 billion cubic meters of gas delivered by Russia to Germany in 2020. [22] Scholz’s visit is not the last European leaders’ trips to the Middle Eastern countries to enhance endeavors for recrystallizing the relationships based on friendship, cooperation, mutual interests. It is not limited to the economic field but also includes political and diplomatic ones. Saudi Arabia lately played an important role in a mediation process to accomplish a deal to exchange foreign nationals. This has been related to a separate deal to exchange prisoners between Ukraine and Russia. [23]

Nancy Talal Zidan 

Non-resident fellow at South24 Center for News and Studies


[1] Scholz to visit Saudi Arabia as Germany seeks to replace lost energy supplies, 19 September 2022, timesofisrael

[2] Kersten Knipp, Problematic partnership: How should Germany work with Saudi Arabia? 09.23.2022

[3] Germany and Saudi Arabia: Bilateral relations, auswaertiges

[4] Kersten Knipp, Op.cite.

[5] German government approves arms exports to Saudi Arabia: reports, 29.09.2022

[6] Germany and Saudi Arabia: Bilateral relations, 22.10.2020, op.cite.

[7] Germany's Scholz seeks to deepen energy partnership with Saudi Arabia, September 24, 2022. REUTERS

[8] Kersten Knipp, Op.cite.

[9] Germany and the United Arab Emirates: Bilateral relations, 19.05.2021, auswaertiges

[10] UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed meets with Germany’s Scholz in Abu Dhabi, 25 September 2022, Arab News

[11] Ernst Peter Fischer, 50 Years Diplomatic Relations between Germany and the United Arab Emirates: Towards the Next 50, 05.17.2022

[12] President El-Sisi meets the German Chancellor in Berlin, 18 July 2022

[13] France seeks control of Yemen gas facility to reduce reliance on Russian fuel: Former minister,, 21 August 2022

[14] Hans von der Burchard, Germany’s Scholz inks gas deal with United Arab Emirates, September 25, 2022

[15] Germany and the Gulf .. "Schulz" Trip and Economic Priorities | Beyond the Event(Waraa Al-Hadath) 2022.09.24

[16] Germany Leads Trade With Iran, October 19, 2020

[17] Iran Says Germany Seeks To Expand Business Ties, 07/26/2022

[18] Matthias Küntzel, Germany Can't Stop Loving Iran, February 13, 2020

* Since the 19th Century, when Iran was called “Persia” out of mistrust of the imperialist powers of Britain and France, it resorted to Germany and asked for technical support for the development of infrastructure and industry. Germany provided Iran with the backbone of its industrial infrastructure and the trained staff needed to manage it. Moreover, Germany also needed Persia because it was the only country which had rich raw materials and was not colonized by the European superpowers.

[19] Matthias Küntzel, ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Germany steps up pressure for EU to impose sanctions on Iran, September 29, 2022

[22] Hans von der Burchard, op.cite.

[23] Dan Sabbagh, Saudi foreign minister defends role in securing Ukraine prisoner swaps, 23 Sep 2022

Middle EastArab regionUkrainian crisisRussiaGermanyOil and gasEconomicPolitical relationships