Controversy erupts over favorite of EU’s first-ever special envoy to the Gulf

A controversy has erupted over the appointment of the EU’s first special envoy to the Gulf, as internal critics have accused the former Italian foreign minister, at the forefront louis dimayoPoorly qualified for the job.

Di Maio, a former leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), served as Italy’s foreign minister for only three years until last month. He has now been chosen by a panel of European officials as the best of four candidates to become the EU’s special representative to the Gulf countries, beating seasoned politicians with more experience.

The final decision is expected to be taken by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs. joseph borell, at the end of this month or early December. Borrell may also invite the 27 EU member states to vote on the appointment.

Critics of the EU allege that Di Maio has a poor record in the Gulf, saying he presided over the breakdown of relations between Rome, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia through its clumsy implementation of a ban on arms sales voted down by the Italian Parliament.

In January 2021, the Italian government canceled the sale of thousands of missiles and aircraft bombs. Saudi Arab and the United Arab Emirates because of their use in Yemen. Announcing the ban at the time, Di Maio said the move showed “a clear message of peace coming from our country” and an “unwavering commitment” to human rights.

UAE ordered in June 2021 Italy to move its forces from Al Minhad Military Airport in Dubai in apparent retaliation for the arms embargo. Italy used the base for flights to Iran, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa during several multinational missions.

Di Maio’s critics say Gulf leaders were not properly briefed on the ban, leading to diplomatic consequences for Italy that were not faced by other EU member states who took similar actions.

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Cynthia Bianco, an expert on the Gulf region at the European Council on Foreign Relations, accused Di Maio of inciting “the most serious diplomatic crisis between Italy and the United Arab Emirates in the contemporary history of relations between the countries”. If he were to become the EU’s special envoy to the region, he said, it would be “an untimely death … of some sort”. The European Union Policy, presence, agency in the Gulf”.

An insider said the panel should have taken into account the incident and other alleged foreign policy missteps, such as Di Maio’s trip to Paris in 2019 to meet “Gilletes Jones”. ,yellow vest) protesters, an event that Relations with the French government soured. “This [appointment] Sends a very, very bad message,” the person said. “It is an absolutely insane decision and the real question is why Josep Borrell is taking such a huge risk.”

According to two internal sources, Di Maio won over more experienced candidates on the panel, including Dimitris Avramopoulos, a Greek former European commissioner who has been his country’s foreign minister and defense minister, and the minister for health. Has also been in charge and tourism. The other candidate is Jan Kubis of Slovakia, a former foreign minister who has held several positions at the United Nations. Middle East and North Africaand Cypriot Markos Kyprianou, another former foreign minister and EU commissioner.

A second source, who said he was unaffected by the shortlist, said Di Maio’s approval from the panel “has already sparked some debate” and that Borrell may “rethink his decision”. “But it would still be a problem,” the EU source said. “There is now this debate around the candidate and it undermines Luigi Di Maio and will undermine whoever comes after him.”

Hannah Neumann, a German Green MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arabian Peninsula, said she was disappointed that no women had been shortlisted. “I think sending a woman there would have been a stronger signal. And we have enough women in the EU working in and with the Gulf countries with expertise in security questions.

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He said the EU envoy to the Gulf needed to be “really fair and someone who communicates at eye level with the leadership in the Gulf and is accepted by them”.

Di Maio, aged 21, was one of the first to join the populist Five Star movement in 2009. He did not complete his university studies, and his work experience before entering politics included waiting tables, laboring on construction sites, and stewarding. In a football stadium in Naples.

But in 2013, at the age of 26, he became the youngest person to be elected as deputy House speaker, and his party came to power in the 2018 general elections.

He soon became known for his mistakes including calling Italian President Sergio Mattarella to be impeached after vetoing a controversial pick for finance minister, and by mistake Addressing Chinese President Xi Jinping as “Ping” during a visit to China in 2018.

However, as Di Maio matured into the role of foreign minister, particularly in the government of Mario Draghi, he distanced himself from the Five Star Movement and split completely from the party last summer. He admitted to being naïve in the past, particularly on calls for Mattarella’s impeachment and support for Gillette Johns.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU has put relations with the oil and gas-rich Gulf region high on its priority list. In May, the bloc revealed its ambitions for a “strategic partnership” with six Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Di Maio was appointed by former Prime Minister Mario Draghi, although Italy’s new government has not said whether it supports him.

A source close to Di Maio said that procedure had been followed correctly, adding that the Gulf countries “appreciated the work he had done as foreign minister”. The source said that since Di Maio became foreign minister, he had met his UAE and Saudi Arabian counterparts “dozens of times” and maintained “optimal relations”.

A European Commission spokesman said the process to nominate the EU Special Representative for the Gulf “has not yet been finalised” and declined to “participate in media speculation”.

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