Abu Dhabi: The UAE and France are bound by longstanding strategic relations as they derive their strength from the support, follow-up and directives of the leadership of the two countries represented by President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and President Emmanuel Macron of the French Republic.
During the past years, the distinguished relations between the two countries constituted a main pillar for facing various types of regional and international challenges, played an outstanding role in combating extremism and intolerance and contributed to spreading the concepts of tolerance and coexistence among religions and societies.
Relations between the two countries dates back to the establishment of the UAE Federation, as some French petroleum company, such as Total were engaged in oil exploration in the UAE. These relations were strengthened after the first visit of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to France in 1976.
In order to enhance areas of bilateral cooperation and raise them to the levels of strategic partnership, the two countries established the UAE-France Strategic Dialogue, which began its work for the first time in 2008.
A new roadmap
Since that time, meetings of the Dialogue Committee have been organised and within it, the two parties adopted, on June 3, 2020, a new roadmap for their strategic partnership for the next ten years, i.e. for the period 2020-2030.
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The past years witnessed the signing of dozens of agreements and memoranda of understanding between the two countries in various economic, cultural, military and environmental fields — the latest of which was 13 agreements signed during the visit of the French president to the UAE last December.
The UAE and France have distinguished economic and investment relations and the non-oil foreign trade data between the two countries reflect the strength of the economic relations between the two sides that extend for decades, as the total volume of non-oil foreign trade between the two countries reached more than Dh25.2 billion by the end of 2021, according to Data of the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Centre.
Building bridges of communication
France is one of the main foreign investors in the UAE. French direct investments in the UAE amounted to 2.5 billion euros (Dh9.32 billion) by the end of 2020, while the UAE ranks 35th on the list of foreign investors in France.
The two countries pay special attention to their cultural partnership out of their belief in the importance of building bridges of communication between the peoples of the two countries. Over the past years, this partnership has witnessed many achievements, represented in the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, as well as the Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, which was established in 2006.
The two countries played a major role in establishing the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), and the UAE contributed 5 million euros to support the Arab World Institute in Paris in 2017, and in the same year the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Hall was inaugurated at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Moreover, the UAE contributed to the restoration of the Chateau de Fontainebleau’s historic Imperial Theatre with a contribution of 10 million euros, and accordingly the theatre was re-named after Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Sixth largest French school network in the world
The cultural partnership between the UAE and France has witnessed important developments in recent years. In October 2018, the Year of Emirati-French cultural cooperation was announced in Paris.
As a result, a French-language radio was launched in the UAE, broadcasting its programmes three times a week, and in December 2018, the UAE has become an associate member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie.
In the field of education, the seven accredited French High Schools in the UAE constitute the sixth largest French school network in the world in terms of enrolment, with more than 10,000 students.
A pilot phase programme
Moreover, 2018 was an important year and landmark for the launch of French language teaching in the UAE. A pilot phase programme has been implemented to introduce French language in all public schools in UAE. This initiative was launched as part of the UAE-France cultural dialogue. More than 60,000 students are now learning French in public and private schools in the country.
The number of French community members residing in the UAE is about 25,000 and it is the largest in the Arab Gulf region.