Building bridges and booming trade: how the UAE and Austria forged lasting ties

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed follows in the footsteps of Sheikh Zayed with visit to Vienna

Heading to the airport for his official visit to Austria, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, may well have crossed the first link between the two countries.

The Maqta Bridge, completed in 1968, was the first to connect Abu Dhabi to the mainland. It was also built by the Austrian engineering group Waagner Biro.

It was the start of a long-standing relationship. Divisions of the company, which has offices in Dubai, have played a part in many of the UAE’s most notable projects.

They include the Maktoum Bridge over Dubai Creek, built in 1969 and still maintained by Waagner Biro Gulf. Its bridge division also built the landmark hotel-access bridge across the racetrack at the Yas Marina Formula One circuit.

Then there is the breathtaking dome of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened for the world to marvel at in 2017.

Sheikh Zayed laid foundations for strong relationship

But Austria’s bond with the UAE is made from more than steel and concrete.

In 1975, Sheikh Zayed, the country’s first president, visited Austria during the summer months.

One of four visits Sheikh Zayed made to Austria, this one included a meeting with Hurst Niester, a noted falconer.

Neister, who the previous year had helped an Austrian company who wished to present Sheikh Zayed with a falcon, shared the president’s concern at the decline of raptor populations and interest in falconry.

That led, the following year, to the first International Festival of Falconry at Abu Dhabi’s Hilton Hotel, bringing together, for the first time, falconers from all over the world.

For many Emiratis, Austria also holds happy memories. Thousands flock to the idyllic lakeside town of Zell am See every summer to enjoy the lush Alpine meadows and snow-capped peaks, perhaps drawn by the memories of Julie Andrews climbing every mountain.

The news that Austria this month reopened to UAE visitors without quarantine is a cause for celebration in both countries.

Key trading partners

Tourism is one of the reasons why the UAE is Austria’s most important Middle East trading partner.

But trade provides firm foundations for a relationship that is still growing. Austria's direct investment in the UAE amounts to €7 billion ($8.31 billion) according to the country's chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, in an interview this week with the state news agency Wam.

According to the Austrian Business Council, more than 180 Austrian companies operate in the UAE.

They range from manufacturing and engineering to leisure and legal services. One of the most popular is Swarovksi, the crystal company founded in Innsbruck in 1895, and whose sparkly products adorn abayas and watches, along with pretty much everything in between.

Both countries share a joint interest in developing alternatives to fossil fuels, to create sustainable economies that meet climate change targets.

The Austrian oil and gas conglomerate OMV already works closely with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), with Chancellor Kurz speaking of a "hydrogen alliance" between the two nations.

In the future, it will be renewable energy that will connect the two countries as much as bridges.

Updated: July 29th 2021, 1:14 PM