It was no coincidence that my brother, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chose France as the destination for his first state visit as the newly elected President of the UAE. Quite the contrary; it is a recognition of the deep and strategic ties that bind our two nations together: politically, economically and culturally.
President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed was elected on May 14. His appointment followed the passing of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who realised how important international relationships were and made it his mission to cultivate warm and friendly relations with as many nations as possible. Sheikh Mohamed’s visit to France continues the legacy and vision of his predecessor; to build deep, productive and lasting relationships with those who share our values, so we can continue to flourish and advance together.
The UAE and France have been strategic partners for many years across a vast array of fields ranging from our common opposition against extremism and other global security threats all the way to our shared co-operation in promoting culture, inter-faith dialogue, tolerance and co-existence, as well as expanding health care and education.
As a nation we only celebrated our 50 years in December last year – but we have made rapid progress, alongside partners like France. Today, more than 25,000 talented French families and people call the UAE home; the largest French expatriate community in the Gulf. More than 600 French companies have settled in our country, employing more than 30,000 workers. French exports to the UAE are worth about $3.6 billion annually – the country’s second-largest in the Gulf.
Our partnership goes way back and has been consistently reinforced throughout the years. Sorbonne University opened its doors in Abu Dhabi in 2006. In 2009, France inaugurated a naval base, Camp de la Paix, at Port Zayed in Abu Dhabi. French President Emmanuel Macron joined Sheikh Mohamed, then crown prince of Abu Dhabi, for the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2017, the first universal museum in the Arab world, which has become a symbol of openness and progress in the region. In 2018, we joined the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, which has resulted in more than 10,000 young pupils learning French in our schools.
These are some examples of what the UAE stands for in the Middle East; tolerance, inter-faith dialogue, and peaceful co-existence. We seek to build bridges and, where necessary, to mend fences. We believe a more prosperous region is better for not just ourselves and our neighbours but for the wider world. I know France shares this view, too.
As we look forward, it is our shared belief in the power of collaborative innovation to address the challenges we collectively face, that is the engine of our strategic partnership. The strong economic, cultural and social ties between our two countries guide us to further consolidate our relations and explore additional areas of co-operation. In practice, this will mean exploring more synergies in the field of sustainable economic development, green energy and scientific research.
During the state visit, President Sheikh Mohamed and President Macron witnessed the signing of two major energy agreements that focus on the security, affordability and decarbonisation of energy supplies. This landmark partnership, which demonstrates progressive climate action before the UAE hosts Cop28 next year, builds on the strong, close and long-standing relations between the two countries, and leverages the UAE’s position as a responsible and reliable supplier of energy.
Our collaboration on the sustainability front comes in tandem with support for each other’s rapid technological development. Beyond financing, this entails a closer co-operation in research and development for cutting-edge technologies, and academic and cultural exchanges that will help drive innovation to new frontiers and synergies across the fields of science, medicine, defence and sustainable agriculture.
In Paris this week, 11 agreements were signed renewing our joint commitment to a range of activities including space exploration with France’s National Centre for Space Studies, health research with the Pasteur Institute and co-operation in the fields of higher education and standardisation.
Learning from each other by entering into dialogue with one another is part of the DNA of our nations, and is what has made our partnership so fruitful. As such, we look forward to exchanging best practices with France when it comes to technological, social and ecological innovations to expedite the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The UAE and its people have always believed that success lies in solidarity and in collaboration – nation to nation, community to community, person to person. Sheikh Mohamed’s first state visit to Paris was a testament to this: alongside France, the UAE is determined to push ahead.
This op-ed was originally published in Le Figaro
His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation