Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese has called for a deepening of the relationship between the EU and the Arab Gulf states as part of Europe's overall response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms McAleese was speaking during a webinar on the post-Covid emergency as an advisor to the Bussola Institute, an organisation that seeks to foster ties between the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

She was also outspoken in her criticism of US President Donald Trump's administration.

On the EU's links with the Gulf states, Ms McAleese said: "We should be pushing and pushing to ensure that the relationship between the European Union and the Gulf states, which we are about the business of trying to enhance and develop, [is strengthened, and] that what can be done is being done, is being done with alacrity, with speed, with power, with determination.

"I'm just not sure at the moment that that message is getting across."

She criticised the fact that negotiations on a free trade agreement between the EU and the Gulf states, which launched in 1990, had stalled.

She told the webinar: "Let's look at the Gulf. Let's take it back to the Gulf. How many years, decades now, arguing over a trade deal that has not yet been done. We have a European [Trade] Commissioner, Phil Hogan, who's more than willing to engage.

"Let's get the things that are doable done. To show to our young people that things on which Europe has traditionally made its case - its economic strength, its ability to stabilise economic relations, internally and externally, let's see those things done."

US President Donald Trump came in for criticism from Mrs Aleese during her speech

Ms McAleese referred on a number of occasions to the Trump administration.

"I despair of the United States," she told the webinar. "I despair of its role both internally and in the world, and I'm just hoping the November election will solve that for us. 

"I'm hoping the November elections release us and relieve us from some of the current worries we have about the role of the United States in global affairs and global relations and [on which], frankly, a lot of my own personal and many of our hopes rest."

The Bussola Institute, set up in Brussels in 2017, describes itself as an independent and not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation, "underpinned by the philosophy of fostering and enhancing relations between countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the European Union (EU), particularly in relation to political, social, economic, security and cultural issues".

Ms McAleese is described on the organisation's website as a member of the honorary advisory board. 

Former Danish prime minister and NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmusse

Other board members include the former Spanish prime minister José Maria Aznar, the former Danish prime minister and NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Greek EU commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou, and Jadranka Kosor, the former Croatian prime minister.

The advisory board also counts the former French prime minister Francois Fillon as a member.

Mr Fillon was sentenced to five years in jail on Monday after being found guilty of providing over €1.156 million from public funds to his wife Penelope for work that was never done.

The couple are appealing the conviction.

The secretary general of the Bussola Institute is John Dennehy, the former secretary general of the Department of Education, between 1999-2007.

The organisation held a series of events in Dublin in June of last year on the themes of tolerance, diversity and inclusion, including one event at Farmleigh House, the State guest house.

On that occasion Ms McAleese joined the other honorary advisory board members for a series of presentations on "Lessons for the Future Navigation of the Relationships between EU and GCC Countries".

The presentations were delivered by the former Irish EU Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the former Irish ambassador to London Bobby McDonagh, Bishop Noel Treanor, the former General Secretary of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, and Ciarán Madden, the Irish Consul General in New York and former Irish Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney spoke at last year's Bussola Institute event in Dublin

The event was addressed by the former Tánáiste and current Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

Following the event the Irish edition of the Sunday Times quoted a security analyst and Professor at King's College London, Andreas Krieg, who alleged that the Bussola Institute was there to serve the foreign policy interests of the UAE.

Angus Taverner, a spokesman for the institute, told the Sunday Times that it was not a lobbying firm but a research centre, and that it was on the EU's transparency register to allow it to "engage more easily with MEPs and other members of EU institutions".

"Bussola was established, and has been initially funded, by a group of Emirati sponsors concerned to deepen and enhance understanding of the political, economic, strategic and social issues that connect the EU and the Gulf Co-operation Council," Mr Taverner told the paper.

Mrs McAleese was joined on the webinar, entitled Post-Covid-19 Europe: A Shift in Strategic Direction?, by Mr Dennehy, Mr Aznar, Ms Diamantopoulou, Mr Fogh Rasmussen, Mrs Kosor and Antonio López-Istúriz White, a centre right MEP.

She said the pandemic had exposed economic and social fault lines, especially around health systems, protective equipment and ventilators.

"In Ireland people feel personally weak and vulnerable from Covid, but they also feel very weak and vulnerable from its economic impact," she said.

She said Europe needed to address the needs of young people, who, she said, were at risk of helping break down the conformity around Covid-related restrictions.