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[JEDDAH] As the Arab States of the Gulf move closer to a political union, experts say this could boost regional science collaborations and lead to a common research fund.

Foreign ministers of The Cooperation Council for The Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) agreed last month (2 September) to discuss the proposal for a closer union, modelled after the European Union. However, it may take a further two years for such a union to be formed.

The ministerial meeting came after a GCC report in July called for more integrated science research policies between the states, deemed crucial if the countries are to develop into knowledge economies.

"The suggested union will provide better opportunities to develop joint plans for scientific research, especially as the plans include setting up a fund to finance joint scientific research projects across the GCC countries," Anwar Majed Eshki, chairman of the Saudi-based think-tank, the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, told SciDev.Net.

He added that the planned fund is expected to significantly increase collaborations in science and technology in the region.

The ongoing discussions are addressing the states' individual requirements, in order to reach an agreement that would be "satisfying for all parties", said Eshki.

He expects that the union would be established in two years, considering that "the political situation is more stable in the Middle East region" now.

The Gulf countries had pledged to join forces in science, innovation and technology, when the GCC was launched in 1981. Article IV of the constitution of the council, known as the Charter, stipulates advancing scientific and technical progress in the fields of industry, mining, agriculture, water and animal resources and the establishment of new scientific research centres and joint ventures.

A committee was formed to promote cooperation between member states in the field of scientific and technological research in 2001. It was tasked with coordinating collaborations between the GCC countries in identified areas such as scientific policy and research programmes, but "it wasn't that effective in unifying strategies, as it [only] worked on occasional activities", according to Eshki.

Despite the committee's work on the unification of member states' scientific research institutions, the different levels of interest in funding and supporting science among the GCC countries makes it hard to work on an effective integration.

Essam bin Yahya Filali, former dean of the Research and Consulting Institute at King Abdulaziz University told SciDev.Net that "achieving a unified vision in scientific research between the Gulf countries would be the most important axis in the second phase after the founding of this Union and achieving its stability".

Filali pointed out that the second phase would focus on supporting economic strength and joint scientific strategies in special issues such as energy and food.