UAE and France: history of strong partnership across multiple sectors

The United Arab Emirates and the French Republic continue to strengthen their strategic partnership, which is built upon mutual respect and shared visions on regional and global issues.

The leaders of both nations, President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and French President Emmanuel Macron, have played a critical role in enhancing the bilateral ties. This partnership has yielded fruitful outcomes across political, defence, economic and cultural domains.

The diplomatic cooperation between both countries has formed a key pillar in addressing various regional and international challenges, including confronting extremism and intolerance, promoting tolerance and coexistence, and contributing to global security and peace.

Historically, the relationship between the UAE and France dates back to the establishment of the UAE, when French oil companies, such as Total, worked on oil exploration in the UAE. The UAE-France relationship began shortly after the establishment of the UAE and was further enhanced following the first visit of the Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, to France in 1975. Since then, high-level official visits, regular meetings, and increasing cooperation have strengthened the partnership.

The UAE-France Strategic Dialogue, established in 2008, aims to identify existing and future opportunities and partnerships and ensure continuity of cooperation in priority sectors such as the economy, trade, investment, culture, oil, gas, nuclear and renewable energy, education, culture, health, space, security and other areas of mutual interest.

In June 2020, the two parties adopted an ambitious 10-year bilateral roadmap of the UAE-France strategic partnership (2020-2030). During the 14th session of the UAE-France Strategic Dialogue held in Abu Dhabi last June, the two sides discussed enhancing key sectors such as the economy, trade and investment, oil and gas, green hydrogen, nuclear and renewable energy, climate change, education, culture, health, artificial intelligence, food security, fintech, intellectual property rights, anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, space, and cybersecurity.

Over the past years, dozens of agreements and memoranda of understanding have been signed between the two countries in various economic, cultural, military, and environmental sectors. The latest was the signing of 13 agreements during President Macron's visit to the UAE in December last year.

At the economic level, the UAE and France have distinguished economic and investment relations, reflected by the non-oil foreign trade data between the two countries. According to data from the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Centre, the total volume of non-oil foreign trade between the two countries reached over AED25.2 billion by the end of 2021.

The cultural partnership between the two countries is also significant, as it bridges communication between their peoples. Over the years, this partnership has achieved many milestones, such as the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first international museum in the Arab world and France's largest overseas cultural project. The Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi was established in 2006 after an agreement between the Sorbonne University in Paris and the Government of Abu Dhabi.

The countries have played a significant role in creating the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH). The UAE contributed €5 million to support the Arab World Institute in Paris in 2017, and in the same year, the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Hall was opened at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The UAE also contributed €10 million to the restoration of the Napoleon III theatre at Fontainebleau Palace south of Paris, which was subsequently named after Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, further exemplifying the close relations between Paris and Abu Dhabi.

On the educational level, the UAE has seven French-accredited high schools, which make up the sixth-largest network of French schools in the world in terms of enrolment, with more than 10,000 students. In 2018, the experimental stage of the French language programme was implemented in all UAE government schools. Now more than 60,000 students are learning French in government and private schools in the country.