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During his recent visit to Bonn, Germany’s capital, Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, met his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock. Germany has long been considered an ally of the UAE and both countries have had amicable relations.

As the most populous and economically strongest country in Europe, Germany has been primarily embedded in the transatlantic alliance but given its experiences of two World Wars in the previous century, it has had a deep-seeded scepticism of extending itself as a military power. Meanwhile Germany’s soft power has gained significant strength in the past half-a-century.

When it comes to the Middle East, Germany’s outlook or policy is composed of numerous objectives and concerns towards the region at large. And with regard to the UAE, a major component of Germany’s interest has been that of trade. The UAE tops the list of all the GCC countries by way of trade and investments (FDI) with Germany.

Also, Germany is the UAE’s fourth largest trading partner after India, China and the US. Around a third of all German trade with Arab countries passes through the UAE. Specific branches of German industry are: automobiles, heavy machinery and parts as well as electric appliances and chemical products.

Joint council

The German Emirati Joint Council for Industry and Commerce was established in 2009 to enhance bilateral trade. Today, there are as many as 900 German companies operating in the UAE.

Germany allocates around 200 million euros annually towards its foreign cultural policy — money used to support various German cultural institutions around the world. In the UAE, for example, there is the Goethe Institute which promotes cultural exchange and the study of German language with diplomas recognised in Germany.

German schools have also been set up in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Such schools are mainly financed by their own individual school budgets and the majority of the pupils are not Germans.

The Deutsche Welle, a German broadcaster, provides television and radio services to reach an international audience, with 24 TV programmes available in various languages as well as Arabic.

Academic cooperation

Academic and university cooperation with Germany is an emerging field of common interest. US, British, French and Australian institutions already have a significant presence and market share in a competitive market place of higher education in the UAE. However, opportunities exist for German universities to enhance their visibility and work on brandishing their international reputation and establishing partnerships in the UAE.

Health care is another sphere wherein the UAE and Germany share close ties. Many UAE patients go to Germany for medical services. Germany has adapted and catered to an international patient client base with translation services, Arabic speaking concierge services, prayer rooms, restaurants that prepare halal meals, and accommodation for travelling relatives.

Germany has an array of specialist clinics and has established a good reputation as a service provider, which coupled with the ease of travel and a safe environment, makes it a big draw for UAE clients.

Travel attraction

From the other end, German tourists have for decades flocked to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, especially over the winter months. The UAE is seen by most Germans as a luxury destination, with special architecture, shopping opportunities and a warm and relaxing climate. It is considered the most attractive destination in the whole of the GCC by most tourists.

Germany’s image has been shaped by other activities and initiatives in the UAE, as well. For one, the German Pavilion at Expo 2020 was one of the most popular and sought-after pavilions at the Expo. Campus Germany welcomed over 2.5 million visitors, including more than 3,000 VIP delegations and 570 groups of media representatives.

The Bavarian inspired Octoberfest is celebrated every year in Dubai and other emirates.

And for sports-lovers, several German football clubs have frequently set up winter training camps in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and while training in the UAE, have been invited to promotional events.

Application of soft power

While differences between the UAE and Germany clearly exist, not least in terms of political systems, the historical past, its respective taxation mechanisms, as well as cultural particularities, there are some interesting, overlapping commonalities.

For one there is the mutual focus on relying on the application of soft power. Germany has been averse in using its military and while the country has participated in few conflicts, such as in Kosovo and Afghanistan, it was with limited capacity. The UAE too is primarily focused on soft power and trade and investment. In both cases, political stability and promotion of economic cooperation have been preferred to military engagement.

Another common area of interest between the two is their focus on foreign aid and humanitarian causes. Both Germany and the UAE are major donors and provide aid to various countries worldwide. In both cases, their objectives are primarily on developmental and humanitarian challenges.

Germany has seen a sharp increase in official development assistance in the years from 2011 to 2017, while the UAE has frequently been ranked as the world’s largest donor in development aid in relation to its national income.

Diverse and multicultural societies

Both the UAE and Germany have cherished the notion of a diverse and multicultural society. Both have embraced foreigners, be they as accepting them into the workforce, or as refugees, residents, or tourists via the popularised notions of tolerance or as in the ‘Willkommenskultur’ (Welcoming culture).

Last but not least, both countries have been long concerned about renewable energy. Germany has ramped up cooperation and investments with the UAE via green hydrogen projects since 2021. Climate and energy diplomacy are at the front and centre of German-UAE relations.

Bilateral cooperation in hydrogen has been part of the so-called ‘climate partnerships’. Adnoc just recently signed a contract with German copper manufacturer Aurubis and energy firms RWE, Steag and GWEC to ship blue ammonia to Germany.

All this is testament of how solid and comprehensive German-UAE relations are and will be for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Kristian Alexander is a Senior Fellow and the Director of International Security & Terrorism Program at TRENDS Research and Advisory (Abu Dhabi), as well as the Head of the Strategic Studies Department. He is a native of Germany and has lived and worked in the UAE since 2009.