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France's ambassador to the UAE has spoken proudly of how the two nations' ties were strengthened during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ahead of his first Bastille Day in Abu Dhabi, Xavier Chatel said frontline workers and medical institutions would be at the forefront of the celebrations after a tireless 18 months battling the virus.
Speaking to The National, Mr Chatel, who took up his position in October last year, said he wanted to personally thank the UAE doctors that stayed in France during the outbreak to treat patients.
He said the way the UAE's leadership handled the virus made it “even more attractive for French citizens” who want to settle overseas.
“The beautiful management of the pandemic by the UAE added to the attractiveness of the country as a proposition for getting settled and doing business,” he said.
“Now more than ever it is a land of opportunity for people. The French community [in the UAE] is the most dynamic in the Gulf region.
“We have seven French schools across the Emirates now and we plan to keep opening schools, which shows there is demand here.”
For Bastille Day, he said the French community would hold “modest but symbolic celebrations" dedicated to the frontline staff and medical establishments, both here and in France.
France-UAE relations are unparalleled
Mr Chatel has a long-standing relationship with the Emirates.
In a previous role as an adviser to France's defence minister, he made regular trips to the UAE.
He said these visits left him with “enough to be fascinated with yet impatient to know more”.
Now, more than six months into his new role, he said his job is to deepen the political relationship between the two countries, which is already “very sound and strong”.
On June 29, Mr Chatel was involved in a strategic dialogue that highlighted the different lines of activity between the UAE and France, from strategic to economic and cultural ties.
With three French military bases in the Emirates, as well as Louvre Abu Dhabi and Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, the ambassador said they were the mark of a great bond between both nations.
“I was reflecting [on the meeting] with the permanent undersecretary of the French Prime Ministry and noted there were very few examples in our foreign relations which has the breadth and depth across all sectors as the UAE and France," he said.
“Leaving aside countries in the EU, the relationship between our two countries is unparalleled.
“Our relationship is a choice of the heart and a choice of the mind. It started right from the beginning, 50 years ago, and has grown spectacularly ever since.
“Today, our two countries see eye to eye on just about every issue. Our strengths are complementary. I believe there is no limit to what we can achieve when we team up together.”
French citizens in the UAE feel a sense of belonging
Today, about 30,000 French people reside in the UAE, most of them living and working in Dubai.
Mr Chatel described the community as “lively, demanding and growing steadily”.
More than 600 French companies operate in the Emirates and French residents tend to work as entrepreneurs, or in the oil and gas or strategic sectors.
As the community continues to grow, the ambassador said there is a big focus on opening more schools in the future.
UN Security Council
Last month, the UN elected five new members to serve on the Security Council, including the UAE.
With France as a permanent member on the council, Mr Chatel said there was a lot it could do with the UAE in terms of transfer of experience.
The tie-up could also increase both countries’ co-operation in the political realm, because the UAE has good experience of Middle East crisis management.
Food security and energy
France exports a lot of food products to the UAE. The two countries are liaising on food safety, security and resilience.
“I have been working closely with the food minister on the issue of food security and we are putting many French firms in contact with UAE counterparts to discuss projects around agri-tech,” Mr Chatel said.
“I think both nations can benefit from what the other has to offer and I think we can add value on training and research and development.
“We have a really cool project in this field so watch this space. Sorry for the teaser.”
Speaking to The National previously, Mr Chatel said French energy companies were in discussions to develop hydrogen projects in the UAE, too, as Opec's third-largest producer moves to decarbonise its economy.
He said they were working with several stakeholders, both corporate and governmental, on developing co-operation in the field of hydrogen.
The French government is dedicating €7 billion ($8.3bn) of its €100bn economic recovery plan announced last year towards hydrogen investments.
The long wait for Expo 2020 Dubai is nearly over
Speaking about Expo 2020 Dubai, Mr Chatel said it is one of the biggest milestones in his new position.
"It will be an important moment and it’s going to be spectacular in many ways,” he said.
“I really like the French pavilion and the values it conveys.
“Sustainability is at the core and its contents will be very interesting. It will kick off a season where many French ministers and French representatives will visit the UAE.”