Alexander Schönfelder, Germany’s ambassador to the UAE, discusses how both nations continue to strengthen bilateral collaboration across sectors
How would you best describe the special bond that Germany has built with the UAE over the last five decades of partnership and trust?
Germany and the UAE are connected by a very special and strong bond that has been built on over 51 years of diplomatic relations, partnership and trust.
We share a lot of common goals and priorities and work together on global challenges like climate change, advancing sustainability and the transition to renewable energy.
Trade is an important aspect of our bilateral relations. Germany and the UAE enjoy significant economic and trade relations and the UAE is Germany’s biggest trading partner in the region. The trade relations between Germany and the UAE have witnessed significant growth, with trade volume increasing further in the past year.
Another example of our excellent cooperation is the Emirati-German Energy Partnership that was established in 2017 and has included a task force on Hydrogen since 2021. It facilitates expert exchanges, study tours, delegation visits and bilateral workshops. In recognition of the importance of linking climate cooperation with that on energy issues, the partnership was expanded to an Energy and Climate Partnership in 2022.
We are also delighted that the UAE is increasingly seeing Germany as a desirable business and investment location. This is best illustrated by Masdar’s recent co-investment in the 476MW Baltic Eagle offshore wind farm in the German Baltic Sea.
As mentioned, economic relations, trade and energy cooperation are important, but only reflect a part of our multifaceted partnership. Culture and tourism, for example, are also very important to us and we are very happy to see these sectors flourish.
What were the key milestones in Germany and the UAE’s bilateral relations and what are your focus areas now when it comes to strengthening relationships with the UAE?
We look back on many memorable milestones and events in our long-standing bilateral relations. One of the key pillars is our strategic partnership – in May next year, we will have the honour of celebrating the 20th anniversary of this Partnership!
Let me share some more recent examples. Last year, during the visit of the German Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the UAE, the Energy Security and Industry Accelerator (ESIA) Agreement was signed to accelerate projects of joint interest in energy security, decarbonisation and climate action. As part of this initiative, Germany received the first shipments of low-carbon ammonia as well as LNG from the UAE. Furthermore, projects and initiatives with the aim of promoting the transition to renewable energy are being advanced.
In July 2023, Germany joined the Mangrove Alliance for Climate (MAC), which was launched by the UAE and Indonesia to strengthen the conservation and restoration of mangrove ecosystems worldwide.
We also witnessed very positive developments with a view to our relations in the fields of culture, education and sports.
All three German International Schools in the UAE have growing numbers of students. Very recently, Al Ajyal International School Al Falah joined our global PASCH-network of schools that places a high value on German language training. The Goethe Institute has launched the Studienkolleg Middle East, which will make it much easier to acquire the German language skills necessary to study at German universities.
When it comes to sports, a large delegation of athletes from the UAE took part in this year’s Special Olympics in Berlin and they were outstandingly successful.
Germany is a global leader in energy and technology. How is Germany contributing to the UAE’s energy transition?
German companies develop and produce technologically sophisticated climate solutions of the highest possible standard. As the UAE is pushing forward its plan to expand renewables and become a key player in the emerging global green hydrogen market, German manufacturers stand ready to provide the necessary technologies, such as electrolysers. In fact, there is already one German produced electrolyser in operation at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai.
Germany is also ready to provide its expertise to the UAE on its energy transition policy. Just a few months ago, the UAE endorsed its first ever Hydrogen Strategy, which was drafted with major contributions by the German scientific institution Fraunhofer.
Germany will most likely be the country sending the highest number of ministers to COP28. We expect the participation of several ministers in addition to Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz. This broad participation underlines our role as global leader in the climate field, as well as our commitment to partnering with the UAE in advancing climate action.
The cultural ties between Germany and the UAE are deep rooted. How do you plan to strengthen the bond through initiatives by both nations?
The cultural ties we share have been an important pillar of our cooperation since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries and continue to be an invaluable aspect of our bilateral relations.
We see much potential in university cooperation, especially in future-oriented fields like AI and engineering.
We also believe the bond between two nations is strongly shaped by people-to-people relationships, especially among young people. We are therefore very excited to co-organise a youth project bringing together students of our three German schools with representatives of the Emirati Children Parliament.
What factors are essentially encouraging students to pursue higher education in Germany?
Germany is a popular destination for Emirati students. Germany attracts many students thanks to its high-quality and affordable education opportunities at well-ranked universities. In addition to this, more and more programmes are being taught in English. Germany’s strong economy with ample internship and employment opportunities, alongside a rich cultural offering and a highly regarded technological environment, further enhance Germany’s appeal among international students.
What steps have you taken to promote tourism opportunities in both nations?
The UAE is becoming an increasingly popular travel destination for German tourists. We see a rising number of Germans visiting the UAE, which corresponds to an outstanding and ever-evolving high-quality hotel landscape.
At the same time, Germany is a very attractive travel destination for UAE tourists. We are delighted to see so many Emiratis visiting Germany – be it as their main travel destination or as a hub for further trips within Europe.
We promote tourism through a variety of activities and institutions, for example the German National Tourist Board with its GCC office in Dubai.
How does the embassy in the UAE plan to mark the Day of German Unity and what special events are lined up to showcase Germany as a destination for trade, commerce, culture and tourism?
Two German missions – the Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate General in Dubai – will host a joint reception today in Abu Dhabi. We are all very much looking forward to this special event and celebrate the Day of German Unity with Emirati and international friends and partners, as well as the German community.
Apart from our Day of German Unity celebration, we have some exciting events coming up on the sidelines of COP28, but also in the context of other areas of our cooperation.
For example, there will be a movie screening about the global admiration for German composer Richard Wagner at Manarat Al Saadiyat on October 11, and we have planned a concert with Arcis Saxophon Quartett, a saxophone group from Germany, at Umm Al Emarat Park on November 4. ■