Last week marked an important occasion in France, as Bastille Day, the country's national day, was celebrated on July 14. This week is significant for a different reason, with President Sheikh Mohamed having arrived in Paris on a two-day state visit to bolster the already strong relations between France and the UAE.
That Sheikh Mohamed chose France as the destination for his first state visit since being elected UAE President carries a special symbolic weight. Sheikh Mohamed called France "a close strategic ally of the UAE" yesterday, adding that "our countries enjoy longstanding partnerships across many fields. We look forward to further collaborations and strengthening ties towards a prosperous future".
French President Emmanuel Macron was the first western leader to visit the UAE to offer condolences in person after the passing of Sheikh Khalifa. Sheikh Mohamed, who visited France in September last year, received a warm welcome during the official ceremony in Paris on Monday.
It was a fitting gesture considering that the two nations share mutual respect and a depth of understanding that has been enriched over the decades.
Ever since the UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan's first official visit to Paris, in 1951, to agree on offshore oil drilling rights, there has been growing co-operation on a number of fronts leading to strong political, cultural, trade and economic ties between the two countries. Today, France's annual exports to the UAE are worth Dh12.5 billion, while Paris imports about Dh3.7bn worth of oil from the Emirates each year. The two countries are also invested in a 10-year bilateral roadmap of a strategic partnership signed in 2020.
For years, both France and the UAE have emphasised such values as tolerance and peaceful co-existence. They have regularly co-ordinated on myriad geopolitical affairs and actively sought peaceful political solutions to conflicts, whether in Libya, Yemen, or most recently in Ukraine. Given that the Middle East's stability is of utmost importance to both countries, they have also expressed concerns about the start-stop nature of the Iran nuclear talks.
With each passing decade, bilateral ties have grown much deeper. Indeed, the number of sectors the two countries have co-operated on is extensive, be it oil and gas, fintech, trade and investment, cyber security, space or clean energy.
An unmissable visual manifestation of their cultural partnership is Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2017. Education also plays an important role, with seven schools located in Abu Dhabi teaching up to 10,000 students in the French language. Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, which was established as a branch of Paris’s College of Sorbonne in 2006, is one of several landmark institutions in both countries that attest to their ever deepening cultural and social bonds.
Given the pace of climate change, the Paris Agreement is a big talking point. At the Cop28 climate summit, to be held in the UAE next year, it is likely to headline much of the agenda of participating countries.
The state visit is an important one. In several key areas in which France and the UAE work together, there is much to honour. In the meeting of the two leaders at the Elysee Palace, it is the strength of a key relationship that will have been reaffirmed.